Super Woman is real. I have met her. Sure, she appears to favor the Chicago area but, let me tell you, she does get around: the place I saw her most recently was at the Grain Gathering 2016 in Washington State. Her name is Melina Kelson. Truth be told, I have never seen her in her blue and red garb. In fact she seems to prefer bakers’ whites…
…or soft shirts advertising the Bread Bakers’ Guild of America, a non-profit organization which tirelessly promotes the cause of real bread through education.
But Super Woman she is and even when she tries her hardest to remain incognita, her powers shine through. Melina has been teaching full-time for the past fifteen years (currently at Kendall College) and operating her own micro-bakery, The Bootleg Batard, for the past three (the website hasn’t been updated since the bakery opened) all the while planting and maintaining an extraordinary urban garden. She and her husband, Chef Pete Podolsky, produce the fruit and veggies she uses at the bakery as well as in their catering business.
Melina is a certified Master Baker, a certified Executive Pastry Chef and a certified Sous-Chef, among other things.
Melina donates classes for Les Dames d’Escoffier‘s scholarship fund. And last but not least, she has been on BBGA‘s Board of Directors since 2009, serves on its Certification and Bread Lines Committees, chairs its National/International Events Committee and is the WheatStalk Director. I know for a fact that the list goes on but I’ll stop here because at one point it becomes debatable whether it might not be shorter to just say what Melina isn’t and doesn’t.
So of course when I read on the Grain Gathering program that she was going to teach a sprouted wheat flour class, I literally ran for it. Especially after my good friend Meeghen agreed to attend and report on the other class I didn’t want to miss, the one on single-variety whole-grain bread that was scheduled for exactly the same time slot that morning.
I have been experimenting with sprouted wheat flour (SWF) at home ever since my granddaughter sent me Peter Reinhart’s Bread Revolution for my birthday a couple of years ago. I have used it in bread, cookies, bagels, pancakes and waffles, pizzas, and, more recently, galette dough. I love the flavor.
Although I have made my own sprouted flour on occasion, I find the process too time-consuming to engage in it regularly. Luckily for me I find the excellent One Degree‘s organic SWF where I live at an unbeatable price, much, much cheaper than online. However I know access is more problematic in other parts of the country, not to mention the rest of the world. Maybe if enough of us started clamoring for it everywhere…?
For the purpose of the class, Melina used Anita’s Organic Mill sprouted wheat flour (available in Canada but not in the United States)…
… King Arthur Flour‘s Super Sprout flour (milled for King Arthur by Lindley Mills)…
…and Anita’s soon-to-be-commercialized Ezekiel flour blend, a mixture of sprouted hard-red-spring-wheat-, spelt-, millet-, barley-, navy-bean-, and green-lentil-flours.
Anita’s SWF is hammer-milled from hard spring wheat. Super Sprout, which is milled from winter wheat, is lower in protein and produces a more flexible dough. Ezekiel flour blend smells like lentils when raw but, the smell disappears in the baking and the resulting goods have a rich, complex flavor. As the other Anita’s products, it will only be available in Canada.
What’s so special about sprouted flour? Well, grains, seeds and nuts all contain phytic acid, a substance that blocks the body’s ability to absorb many types of nutrients (notably calcium, zinc, magnesium, iron and copper.) To neutralize phytic acid and make these nutrients bio-available, you need an enzyme called phytase. Phytase is produced through fermentation and sprouting. When bakers use soakers and a long fermentation process, they seek not only to produce amylase, another enzyme, but also to produce and activate this phytase. The sprouting process activates it as well, thus reducing the need for long fermentation times.
Also, SWF has a nice natural sweetness which makes it possible to reduce sugar in pastries, quick breads, and cookies. In fact it is an outstanding flour for cookies.
It also imparts great flavor to multigrain levain breads and is delicious for straight up whole-wheat bread as well. Melina uses it regularly in her micro-bakery, both for the flavor and for the nutritional benefits. During class, she demonstrated four different uses: in multigrain bread, in butterscotch chocolate chip cookies, in peach hand pies and in Ezekiel bread.
Sprouted Wheat Butterscotch Cookies
I took only one picture of the cookies and it didn’t come out sharp, so I won’t post it. I didn’t have a chance to take others because the cookies went super fast. They were a bit too sweet for my taste but I do believe my salty tooth is the culprit: everyone else looked like they had just been transported to seventh heaven! So please do try the formula if you have a chance.
Sprouted Wheat Multigrain Bread
Melina had mixed two multigrain doughs (one Anita’s and one SuperSprout) a few hours prior to the class, so that bread could actually be shaped and baked in the amount of time we had…
Both doughs had been mixed on the light side and fermented for three and a half hours at 75°F with three folds. The dough made with Anita’s SWF was both a bit coarser and a bit stronger.
Melina divided both doughs one after another; people stepped forward to help with the shaping.
Once the loaves snug in their proofing baskets, Melina proceeded to hand-mix a new batch for demo purposes, using a soaker made with a mixture of grains and seeds provided by Camas Country Mill.
Melina talked as she worked:
- Starch is made of 75% amylopectin and 25% amylose. Yeast can digest amylose without support, but needs amylase to convert the complex carbohydrate (amylopectin). Too much amylase and the dough will ferment too quickly. Not enough, and the fermentation will be sluggish and the browning poor. The baker needs to watch the dough and adapt either by increasing or reducing fermentation accordingly, or, more commonly, by introducing malt powder.
- The golden rule is therefore “Follow the flour, not the recipe!”
- An autolyse (combination of water and flour with no salt and no yeast) denatures gluten and makes mixing easier. It stimulates enzymatic activity, reduces the risk of oxidation and makes it easier to use more water. Normally there is no liquid levain or poolish in the autolyse.
- However if the formula calls for pre-fermenting more than 15% of the flour, then you have to use the preferment in the autolyse, otherwise you won’t have enough water.
- A 20-minute autolyse is a maximum for SWF.
- Also more hydration isn’t necessarily better. It all depends on what you want in the final product.
- Sprouted wheat doughs can tear if retarded too long. For that reason, it is better to use a younger levain: it has less acidity.
- The standard levain formula for a temperate kitchen is: 20% culture + 125% water + 100% flour fermented for 12 to 16 hours. At home in the summer, Melina uses only 5% culture because room temperature is 85°F.
- A young levain is 100% flour + 100% water + 100% starter, fermented for 6 to 8 hours. Melina likes it when it starts looking like a poolish.
- If the levain is to be used very young (within 3 or 4 hours,) then the formula becomes 100% culture + 100% water + 100% flour.
- Because the dough contains honey, lower oven temp to 460° (instead of 480° normally). In other words the oven should be at 480° until loading, then at 460°.
Meanwhile the shaped loaves had proofed. Time to stencil and score. Melina recommends making things easier for yourself by using white rice flour on board and peel.
For this particular stencils, she used a bit of King Arthur Flour’s black cocoa, which made for striking designs.
Sadly I didn’t see any of the breads and pastries after they came out of the oven. I had to get an early bus back to Seattle airport that afternoon and I left right after lunch. Melina kindly shared her photos with me though.
Considering the fact that the Ezekiel flour blend will have limited availability geographically speaking, I won’t spend too much time on it. As I remember it, the bread was baked in pans. Some of it was topped with rye flakes. I wish I hadn’t had to leave so early and could have had a taste. The flour is definitely on my shopping list for our next visit to our Canadian friends…
Others were stenciled…
Sprouted Wheat Flour Blitz Puff Pastry
Melina makes hand pies every week for her micro-bakery, using SWF blitz puff pastry and sweet or savory fillings: seasonal fruit , potatoes with bechamel, goat cheese, lemon zest and a seasonal veggie-herb. They literally fly off the shelves.
At the Grain Gathering, she used the beautiful peaches that had been brought in for the occasion.
When making the dough, the butter (best use European-style butter at 82 to 84% butterfat) and the water both need to be super cold. You cut in the fat until it is the size of walnuts. If the butter is very cold, it may be faster and easier to do it in a machine but the dough is also very easy to mix by hand. If necessary put it in the fridge for a while and come back to it a bit later.
Although hydration is higher with SWF than with white flour, when the dough is done, it doesn’t look super hydrated. It will then need a 4-hour rest to perform at its best. Remember: it is all about respecting the gluten.
- Lamination: single fold – double fold – single fold
- The dough is rolled out to ⅛-inch.
- Retard dough leftover for at least one hour before re-rolling.
- And always, always refrigerate short dough before baking!
In a pinch, hand pies can also be baked in muffin pans.
At home however Melina uses 4-inch flan rings.
- Dock the dough circles and drop them deep in the mold, always pleating as you go.
- Toss the peaches with corn starch or flour (twice as much flour as starch).
- Add lemon zest, salt and some lemon juice.
- Lemon balm is good with peaches. Wild ginger is good too.
- Bake at 500°F for 25 min (check at 20): hand pies must bake until the filling boils.
Sadly I didn’t get to see the peach hand pies come out of the oven or to have a taste! There are few desserts I like better than rustic galettes.
But even without seeing with my own eyes or tasting myself any of the baked goods produced in class, I can confidently tell you one thing : Melina Kelson is a heck of a baker and a heck of a teacher. These super heroes sure rock!
Melina, thank you for so generously sharing your formulas!
Lovely as usual…
Thank you, Jeremy!
“Melina Kelson is a heck of a baker and a heck of a teacher “. Well said! When I was in her class, as a freshmen, I said to myself: when I grow up, I would like to be like her. However, there are very big “shoes” to fill here! Indeed, “these super heroes sure rock”!
Another wonderful article, MC. Thank you.