Tuesday July 23, 2013 | 06:34 AM

Between May and August of this year The Root is publishing a five-part series documenting the local grain economy.

To build a local grain economy you need several parties working together. Researchers identify what kind of varieties of wheat should be developed, establish protocols for test plots, and stringently observe conditions. Farmers grow the varietals and work with bakers to understand what they need and how it tastes. Millers distribute milled flour to professional and home bakers, and expand the consumer base. Bakers work out the protocols and close the loop.

Local Grain Economy – The Bakers

I grew up on presliced bread, Bisquick biscuits, and Jiffy cornbread. It wasn’t until moving to Maine as a young adult that I began to transform the way I eat and started to put an emphasis on sustainable food consumption. Food dollars were redirected from supermarket aisles to farmers’ markets, where gorgeous produce, delicious cheeses, and artisanal breads were lined up on table after table. Little by little this nation is learning about how far our food travels and more of us are making the choice to spend dollars locally, thus supporting local producers and distributors.

It is a well-known fact; most people in this country enjoy a loaf of bread. If you are not lucky enough to live close enough to a bakery to get a whiff of the bread baking, then making some from scratch at home can be fun.

In Jeffrey Hamelman’s book BREAD: A Baker's Book of Techniques and Recipes, he writes “It’s really quite simple to make a loaf of bread: Take some flour, a measure of water, a bit of salt and yeast. Mix for a while, ferment for a while, then shape, proof, and finally bake for a while.” Hamelman makes it all sound so simple, which for him at this point it really rather should be. He is the bakery director and certified master baker at King Arthur Flour in Norwich, Vermont.

Hamelman is an advocate for using local grains and told me he is thrilled to be an advisory board member for the Northern New England Local Bread Wheat project. “Local grains hands down have better flavor,” he said. However, as any professional baker knows, it is about getting consistent results on an ongoing basis that is the key to satisfying customers. “Local grains are developmentally challenged and difficult to work with,” said Hamelman. “You need high skills to turn local flours into good breads.”

Early last year, Hamelman, Jim Amaral of Borealis Breads, Randy George of Red Hen Baking Company, and Alison Pray of Standard Baking Company gathered at King Arthur Flour’s headquarters in Norwich, Vermont to develop strict protocols for making bread, evaluating performance, and (blind tasting) scoring.

The characteristics they look for are how everything comes together during baking, the dough’s desire to spread out in context with elasticity (spring back), qualities during proofing, how well it retains strength during gluten bulk fermentation, performance in oven (e.g. does it flatten out), quality of crust, flavor, and tackiness (if sticky a day later it is defective).

Martha Page, the director of operations at Atlantic Baking Co. in Rockland, Maine, said they mix the “Brio” from Maine Grains with King Arthur flour to make their Maine Honey Wheat, a sandwich loaf that has wheat flavor and a touch of honey. “We are really excited about using the local wheat and plan to expand on our use of the Brio,” she said.

Erek Porembski, the baker at Camp Manitou for Boys in Oakland, Maine, enjoys working with Maine Grains Sifted Flour.

“It is certainly interesting to work with locally grown, locally milled, high-protein whole-grain flour,” said Porembski. “I have used this up to 100% in wheat bread recipes and as an adjunct up to 20% in enriched breads and quick breads. I think the challenges to working with it are to play to both of its main characteristics as a flour: it is high protein, and it is whole grain. The whole grain begs to have flavors slowly coaxed from it by longer fermentation time either at room temperature or under refrigeration.”

Erek Porembski’s slightly modified classic French loaf recipe:

Ingredients:
2 lbs flour
2 c Water
1.5 Tbsp Yeast
1 or 2 tsp salt (to your taste)


You'll need some additional flour for the surface where you will work the dough. If you have a sourdough starter, you should add about a half-cup of the starter and a half-cup or more flour to the recipe. I always figure my Poolish addition as a 5 percent addition to the entire recipe.

I would measure warm water, add the yeast to that, then sift the flour and the salt together. After the yeast slurry looks foamy and creamy, mix it in several additions to your dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl or mixer with dough hook attached. Allow it to stand 2 minutes before further mixing. Then knead on a floured surface using the gathering technique for a few minutes until soft and workable. If using a mixer, use a low speed and set a timer so that you won't mix over 4 minutes. 2-3 should be sufficient if you watch carefully and sift additional flour if the dough appears sticky. The dough is ready to ferment.

At work, I use a commercial proofing cabinet to accelerate the fermentation and have bread ready in time for dinner, but I prefer to allow this dough a full 24-hour primary fermentation in the refrigerator.

After kneading, spray-oil a fresh bowl and transfer the dough into it. Spray some plastic wrap with oil as well and cover the dough loosely with it. Cover the whole works with a towel and forget about it a while. When you come back tomorrow, your dough will look droopy and sad, but flour up a surface, and it'll come back to life.

(Next day) Simply uncover it, roll it from the bowl onto a floured surface and dust it with fresh flour. Give it a quick knead and a few folds. Then give it a rest for a few minutes.

Now, you are ready to form your loaves, rolls or whatever from your dough. Make your shape(s) and allow them appropriate proofing time before baking.

Heat oven to 350. Rolls should cook in about 15 minutes, breads, 20-30 or larger loaves up to an hour. When your kitchen thermometer reads 195F in the center of the loaf, it's done.

Allow it to cool for at least 15 minutes while carry-over baking is finishing. Hot, steamy bread is best 20-30 minutes out of the oven. Smaller rolls can be enjoyed more quickly.

As a variation, I use this lean dough recipe as a basis for making Garlic Knots in the kitchen.

I add a few cups of fresh roasted garlic cloves, some Italian seasoning and milk powder to the dry ingredients, then while it's mixing, I drizzle it with Olive Oil. Adding the milk and oil turns this from a lean dough, to an enriched dough.

After fermenting for an hour at 114F, roll it into sheets, cut it into strips and knot them, tucking the ends under the knots. These proof for about half and hour, before they are baked at 350F.

Brush them with minced-garlic infused drawn butter and sprinkle with grated parmesan as they come out of the oven. Kids love 'em.

Top image "Mrs Gagnon making buckwheat pancakes" by John Collier 1942 Library of Congress/U.S. Farm Security Administration. Bottom image "Garlic Knots" by Erek Porembrski.

About this Blog

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About the Author

Sharon Kitchens is a neo-homesteader learning the ins and outs of country living by luck and pluck and a lot of expert advice. She writes about bees for The Huffington Post and stuff she loves on her personal blog, deliciousmusings.com.

When she is not writing, she enjoys edible gardening, reading books on food and/or thinking about food, hanging out by her beehives and patiently tracking down her chickens in the woods behind her old farmhouse.

In her blog, Sharon profiles farm families, reports on farm-based education and internships, conducts Q&A's with master beekeepers, offers tips on picking a CSA, and much more.

Sharon can be contacted at kitchens.sharon@gmail.com or on Twitter @deliciousmusing.

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