At events such as the Grain Gathering, you constantly have to make choices. For every class, workshop, panel, or roundtable you decide to attend, there is one you must actively decide not to. And sometimes the choice is next to impossible because you really, really want to go to both.
On the last morning of this year’s GG, my friend Meeghen Eaton (a super talented baker and bread blogger also known as breadsong) and I were going back and forth trying to make up our minds between Sprouted Wheat Flour: Technique & Formulation and Going with the Grain: Developing Single Variety Whole Grain Breads when the solution suddenly appeared to us in all its glorious simplicity: I would go to one class and Meeghen to the other and we’d pool our notes and photos. And because Meeghen is the kindest of souls and the most generous person I have ever met, she even agreed to write-up her notes in a guest post on Farine.
This is her guest post. The first ever on Farine. And what a post! For sure the next best thing to being there. Thank you so much, Meeghen!
“Josey, Johnathan, and Ryan were very engaging and they led a session full of laughs, describing how to work with single variety whole grains: white wheat, red wheat, rye, and einkorn.
The session opened with talk of responsibility: Josey spoke about turning his bread-baking passion into a profession, and becoming responsible for a whole lot more that that thing he fell in love with. He talked about working with a team, encouraging their dedication and passion, and the responsibility when working with single variety whole grain – to dedicate yourself to that grain and get the most out of it – what does it need to be the best it can be?
Josey’s advice was to be sensitive to the grain and get creative. Surprise yourself and your customers as to what is possible. Be authentically curious and make this part of the job description; be focused and efficient so there is time to experiment with bread-making variables, while maintaining production.
How to address some of the challenges in making and selling 100% whole grain bread?
You will probably have some discouraging failures. Stick with it and listen to the grain. What does the grain want to become? For example, the einkorn bread, with this particular flour and hydration, benefited from being baked in a pan. The bread also had a beautiful orange color. Someone suggested a pumpkin loaf or Thanksgiving rolls could be a good application for this flour.
Be sensitive to each stage of the process; pay attention to cause and effect; don’t be afraid to go against your intuition at some points!
Josey uses 100% stone-ground whole grain, milled a day or two before mixing.
There was discussion about the variability between growing seasons: in years where the plant is stressed, protein increases but yield and endosperm is lower; in good growing years, yield and endosperm are greater but protein is lower.
Josey noted that protein quality can be an issue – for example, einkorn mixes into a sticky, hard-to-shape dough, with a consistency somewhere in between wheat and rye dough. This flour can be tricky to hydrate also; at 85% hydration, the dough felt like it needed more water, but by the time it came to shape the dough it was sticky and loose.
Milling In Your Bakery
If you are fortunate to have access to a good local mill, it may not be necessary for you to mill yourself.
Josey noted the importance of sourcing the right grain for your needs (and the challenge of forward contracts), and how milling skill doesn’t matter if you don’t have the right grain.
There may be a benefit to kernels drying/curing a couple of months after harvest, before milling.
Johnathan and Josey talked about testing freshly milled flour, and the time interval between when flour was milled and mixed (1 minute to 1 month interval). They noted no difference in flour performance or the bread’s keeping quality, but the bread’s aroma was better when the flour was used within 2 days to 1 week of milling.
There is better consistency in the final product when starter is maintained with consistent water temperature, hydration, and feeding schedule.
At Josey’s bakery:
- The 100% freshly milled whole grain rye starter is fed at 8am and at 3pm, 10% inoculation, 100% hydration, 70F-80F water.
- The overnight feed goes 16 hours at 65F-75F room temperature, 2-3% inoculation, 85% hydration, using Type 70 flour as 100% whole grain would make it too acidic.
- Starter is traded for a piece of art, or a poem!
Josey uses a multiple-stage build for all breads. The levain was checked for readiness two ways – the aroma, and the float test.
For wheat breads, the levain is young (usually 2-3 hours old) when dough is mixed, so they can push it for a long bulk. This provides strength without too much acidity in the bread.
To get the desired level of fermentation without any sour aroma, Josey and Johnathan made these suggestions for levain builds:
- 75% starter inoculation for a 1.5 hour fermentation
- 40% starter inoculation for a 2.75 hour fermentation
- 10% starter inoculation for a 4 hour fermentation
- Einkorn hydrated at 85% with gentle mixing and folding due to the low gluten strength.
- Wheats hydrated at 90%; a double hydration mix (initial mix, then salt and water 2). Autolyse – if autolyse will be for a long time period, it can be refrigerated or autolyse a portion of the flour.
- Rye hydrated at 100% and rye needs acidity – 30% pre-fermented in the levain. Josey talked of the difficulty of the ‘flying roof’ that sometimes happens in rye breads. Pushing hydration and insufficient acidity were mentioned as possible causes.
For wheat doughs, fold at 30-45 minute intervals, for about 4 hours. Dough volume will increase 30%-35%, but may increase up to 50%.
Johnathan described the dual purpose of folding: dough development (gluten loves a stretch and release action) and the incorporation of air, and how whole grain doughs really benefit from the incorporation of air. Johnathan noted that folding should become a more delicate process as the dough begins to ferment. If the dough is really wet, Johnathan described the “belly dance” fold, where the dough can lifted up and flapped back and forth, almost like a sheet.
At the end of the bulk fermentation, the dough is “fizzy” or “sparkly” (gassy) when shaped; when the dough is pinched there will be bubbles.
For rye dough, Johnathan offered a suggestion from Louis Volle – when pressed, if the dough springs back 1/8”, it is ready to pan.
Josey said the best bread is retarded at some point, either in bulk or during proof, but at his bakery retarding during final proof makes the morning bake process easier (less decision making – first load is baked straight from cold; subsequent loads might get some warming time if they seem under-proofed).
Whole grain breads are given their full bulk, but keep marching along so are proofed to a lesser extent before retarding…something that requires some juggling.
Ryan noted that cold dough, when it hits the hot oven deck, holds its shape better for the bake.
What you call the bread and a slight change in formulation can have a big impact on how it sells. Red White & Rye or California Red sold better than Whole Wheat or Stone Ground Wheat.
Making a connection with the customer helps. Ask your customers what they think of the product name. Is there a way you can connect the bread to human effort? For example, someone mentioned at their markets, they sold out every time when bread was made with “student-ground flour” milled on a bike-powered mill.
How to overcome any negative impression of whole grains a customer may have? Demonstrate the difference fresh whole grain flour makes (customers may have only experienced products made with flour that is not fresh or perhaps rancid). Taste will change preconceptions; you can open experiences and doors for customers. Let people know that whole grain bread’s flavor will change a lot over its first few hours out of the oven (starches will set, sourness will mellow).
Building customer relationships really helps but you can only expect so much compassion from your customer when the product is not all it can be. You can help your customer appreciate the beauty of imperfection but you have to make a product you can stand behind. If the customer tells you about something they didn’t like, thank them and explain the challenge of making that bread, then go back and go with the grain (embrace it and figure out what it wants to do).
Whole grain bread can be a redefinition of what is bread, or what is the ideal bread. For example, whole grain is more bread than air, whole grain is bread achieving its full potential; develop your own spectrum (for example, flavor and aroma descriptions… honey notes, the aroma of cinnamon (as the red wheat bread Josey, Johnathan, and Ryan baked – incredible!), what is unique?).
For people who do not bake, help them to understand the value in the product.
What are the secrets to making good whole grain bread? In conclusion, Josey, Johnathan and Ryan emphasized using young levain, achieving an active bulk for gas production and volume – and offered this thought: maintain your curiosity, and have a good opinion – of your loaf, each other, and the process.
As audience members we witnessed this; there was no mistaking the camaraderie, good will, and respect these bakers have for each other, and the craft!”