Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Local Flour is Ready for Its Close-up

I love Wednesdays. Yes, it is the middle of the work week but Wednesdays are also the day all the major newspapers in America publish their food sections. Meaning I spend mornings and evenings reading the food sections from the LA Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the Dallas News and the mother of all food sections, the New York Times.

Today, I was super excited to see the New York Times had two great articles on local flour and the differences in baking with local flour compared to the national brands like Pillbury and Gold Medal. In the United States, most of our flour comes from wheat grown in the heartland and the major brands of flours are blends of various wheats whereas local flour uses regional wheat.

As you know, I primarily use King Arthur flour when baking. I use King Arthur because they use hard wheat and offer what I consider the best flour that give me consistent results. But, on a road trip I took a few months ago I discovered a fantastic local grist mill that makes small batch flour, Kenyon's Grist Mill.

I especially like their Scotch Oat Flour and I add it when I'm making my hearty sandwich bread.

Pantry Challenge:  White Sandwich Bread

But my favourite flour is their Whole Wheat flour. When I want a dense old style wheat bread, I will use two or three cups of this in addition to my normal King Arthur flour. I use the King Arthur flour so I don't need to use extra gluten and I let the sponge sit longer so flavour is developed. When I make this bread it is so close to the Roman Meal bread I grew up eating along with Michigan's Lumberjack.

One thing to keep in mind when baking with local flours is that the grind is often more coarse than with the national brands. This is because quite a few local flours are ground in old style stone grist mills, like at Kenyon's Grist Mill. Also, because they use the whole wheat berry they will have a shorter shelf life. So, if you don't bake often but want to use local flour, talk to your miller about packaging a smaller amount for you or find a friend to share.

Yes, baking with local flour can be a bit tougher than the national brands because of the differences in the flour gluten from region to region but once you try it, you will find the interest and yes, the taste is worth the effort.

To find a local flour producer, check with the groups that support local agriculture to see if there is an operating mill in your area and if there is a source for local wheat.