Dave Miller on Baking with 100% Whole Wheat

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My bread baking obsession has fallen into roughly three periods or phases. First came the Nancy Silverton years, when I went through her complex and not always successful recipes. Then came a period when I was too busy to bake much, so I turned to no-knead bread, dominated by Chad Robertson’s first cookbook. Results were better but I was still making white bread.

My new bread baking adventure began this weekend when I took a workshop taught by Chico, California baker Dave Miller. His breads are almost all 100% whole wheat. He mills his own flour from carefully sourced heritage grains. Using a levain (a starter), he creates loaves that foreground the flavor of the grain. In short, he shows that bread can have as much flavor diversity as wine.

Miller is a true master craftsman. He’s also a superb teacher: humble, patient and generous. He’s also convinced me to completely change the way I bake bread. Over the next few months I’m going to adapt his techniques to my home kitchen and I hope to share what I discover. In the meantime, here’s what I learned:

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Recipe for the World’s Best Whole Wheat Pancake

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The last survivor, captured with a camera phone before being devoured, because we wanted to eat the pancakes more than we wanted to document them.

This morning I cooked up the best pancakes I’ve ever eaten. They were 100% whole wheat but they were so light and fluffy they tasted like they were made with white flour. And the way they were made is the beginning of a grain revolution. Here’s the secret:

  1. Use heirloom grains.
  2. Mill your own flour.
  3. Ferment for a long time with a sourdough starter.

The heirloom grain I used is Sonora wheat, probably the oldest wheat in the Americas. It’s a soft, winter wheat traditionally used for tortillas.

Recipe (based on Nancy Silverton’s pancakes)
210 grams starter
2 tablespoons maple syrup
3 tablespoons safflower or corn oil
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder

The night before making these pancakes I take a tablespoon of mature starter and add it to 100 grams of freshly milled Sonora wheat flour and 110 grams of water. This mixture will be the 200 grams of starter you’ll use in the recipe.

The next day mix all the ingredients together, fry them up in a pan and get ready to have your pancake paradigm shifted.

New frontiers in baking
Freshly milled heirloom wheat mixed into a very wet dough and fermented for a long period with a sourdough starter is also the way that Dave Miller, a Chico California based baker, makes his bread. He takes 100% whole wheat dough, every bit as wet and gloppy as pancake batter, deftly shapes it into loaves and bakes the best bread on the west coast. The Los Angeles Bread Bakers, a group I co-founded, is hosting a sold out class with Miller later this month and I hope to share on this blog what I learn. There is increasing evidence that this method of baking results in a much healthier product.

Bread Ovens of Quebec Free e-book

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North American has two regions famous for oven building: New Mexico and Quebec. The design of the ovens of Quebec have their origin in much older French ovens. The Canadian Museum of History has posted an amazing, out of print book, Lise Boily and Jean-François Blanchette’s 1979 book The Bread Ovens of Quebec, in its entirety online. The book includes the history of the Quebec oven, how to build an oven, bread recipes and even “popular beliefs, spells, incantations, and omens” associated with ovens.

I’m really happy with the adobe oven we have in our backyard–it has produced many a tasty pizza and I look forward to having people over to give me an excuse to fire it up. Ovens, in Quebec households were associated with life itself and I understand why.

If you’re interested in more information on DIY ovens, I’d recommend The Bread Ovens of Quebec along with Kiko Denzer’s Earth Ovens and Alan Scott’s The Bread Builders (brick ovens).

If you’d like to see an oven built in the Quebec style, these folks have posted their experience of building one.

Grist & Toll: An Urban Flour Mill

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Southern California has its first flour mill in a hundred years: Grist & Toll. G &T will be milling grain grown by small farmers here in the Southwest. We’re on the verge of a grain revolution and small mills like Grist & Toll are leading the way.

Dig Grist & Toll’s Austrian grain mill and sifter:

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Rumor has it that Santa is bringing me a mini version of this mill.

Grist & Toll is open for special hours this holiday season:
Friday December 13th 12-6pm
Saturday December 14th 12-5pm
Friday December 20th 12-6pm
Saturday December 21st 12-6pm

Grist & Toll is located at 990 S. Arroyo Parkway #1 in Pasadena, California.

Stop on by and get the bakers in your life some hard to find flours. Make those holiday cookies with tasty Sonora wheat!

If you’re not in the Southern California area leave a comment with some tips on where to find interesting grains where you live . . .

Does Sourdough Offer Hope for the Gluten Intolerant?

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Lactobacillus sanfranciscensis.

In the last 20 years bakers around the world have revived the art of baking with a sourdough culture. At first this revival was related to flavor, but increasingly bakers are turning to sourdough cultures in the interest of health. It’s possible that the unique qualities of sourdough cultures may offer hope to those who think they are gluten intolerant or have an allergy to wheat. 

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