Across the country, forward-thinking chefs and bakers are partnering with grain breeders and independent mills to create new-breed flours, breads and pastries with considerably more vitamins, minerals and antioxidants than your average baguette. Viva la revolución.
Granted, milling one’s own grain sounds extreme, but fresh flour surpasses artisanal preciousness or food fetishism. Unlike heritage meat or limited-engagement harvests (here’s looking at you, ramps), the most noteworthy aspect of freshly milled flour is not provenance or rarity: it’s the dramatically elevated nutritional value.
In other words, perhaps one can live on bread alone. Here’s how industry leaders are changing the carbohydrate conversation.
Forget whole grains. Think whole kernel.
“There are more nutrients in our most heavily milled flour than in any commercial whole wheat flour,” Adam Leonti informs a class of aspiring amateur bakers at his Brooklyn Bread Lab. Formerly executive chef of Philadelphia’s Vetri restaurant, Leonti now helms this cutting-edge institution at the forthcoming Williamsburg Hotel, where he uses a 10,000-pound stone mill to create milled-to-order breads, flours and pastas.
Kernels of wheat are comprised of three layers: bran, endosperm and germ. As grain agriculture and production were industrialized in 20th-century America, the nutrient-rich wheat germ — which contains protein, fiber, zinc, magnesium and more — was removed during the milling process because it reduced the shelf life of commercial flour.
“When you mill your own flour, you grind the bran and germ into the flour, which is where most of the vitamins and minerals are found,” explains Ilona Oppenheim, whose recent cookbook, Savor, champions such rustic pursuits as foraging and home milling.
Commercial flours and bread products labeled “whole grain” seem wholesome, but they generally consist of white commodity flour mixed with a small amount of bran. The germ remains absent, as does nutritional value.
Breads with benefits
Whole-milled flour has a shorter shelf life than its supermarket brethren (it starts to turn within 7-10 days), but interestingly, baked goods made with it remain buoyant and butterable for more than a week.
Those with gluten sensitivities may also find baked goods containing fresh flour easier to digest, because longer fermentation periods break down the gluten before dough is baked. Chicago’s Hewn bakery, for example, ferments their dough for 20 hours, and Brooklyn Bread Lab for 24. Wonder Bread, Leonti reports, rises in 45 minutes.
Best of all, baking with freshly milled flour imparts denser textures and richer, more varied flavors than commodity flours. Chris Wilkins, founder of Root Bakery in Johns Island, S.C., compares the diversity of flavors found in the wheat category to that of grapes, tomatoes or gourds.
Evrim Dogu, a baker and miller in Richmond, Va., agrees.
“Milling custom flours… gives you access to flavors you could never get from any distributor, anywhere,” Dogu explains. His Sub Rosa Bakery sources heirloom wheat, corn, rye, spelt and eikorn from area purveyors, and mills it on-site for use in breads, polenta and pastries.
Grain to table
Dan Barber, Michelin-starred chef of Blue Hill at Stone Barns restaurant and agricultural center, is an unlikely critic of the farm-to-table movement. Yet in his 2014 bestselling book, The Third Plate, Barber did just that.
“It’s a passive system — a grocery-aisle mentality,” he declared, as a bushel of heirloom carrots saw itself out.
One of the philosophy’s oversights, Barber argued, was omitting grain from the conversation. Restaurants that celebrate sustainable protein and produce have bags of bleached white commodity flour in their kitchens. More than 80% of Americansreportedly make an effort to buy local foods, but consumers who purchase fruits and vegetables at farmers markets typically still buy bread products made from industrial flours, whether they’re shopping at Walmart or Whole Foods.
Now, heritage grains, fresh flours and the bakery products made from them are getting their just des(s)erts — and are increasingly available coast-to-coast. Last month, industry innovator La Brea Bakery announced a line of Reserve breads using single origin heirloom grains and a 24-hour baking process. A partnership with family-owned Wheat Montana Farms, all three Reserve loaves are available nationally.
Earlier this month, Manresa Bread, a bakery from star chef David Kinch that mills whole ancient grains on-site, opened a second location in Los Altos, Calif. Brooklyn Bread Lab’s wares will be sold at a forthcoming Whole Foods in the borough’s Williamsburg neighborhood. Pittsburgh’s 20-year-old Loafers Bread Company mills single-origin grains on-site, and sells its baked goods at three locations.
Those who want to (literally) take matters into their own hands might considerKitchenaid’s home mill attachment, and the wealth of mail-order whole grains and wheat berries available on the Internet. Slightly less overachieving home bakers can order whole-milled flours online from Carolina Ground, Community Grains and Grist & Toll. Or, go grassroots and ask vendors at your local farmers’ market. There are many roads to revolution.