Local Flours Sours: Stoneground Whole Wheat (Part Two)

On the weekend I was delighted to have the chance to stretch my shopping muscles and visit the local grocery store, spending some time more carefully peruse the aisles for interesting ingredients.

The result was a few small bags of flour that promised to step me out of my sourdough comfort zone and deeper into the world of local ingredients. Specifically, in part one I cracked open a small bag of whole wheat flour from Strathcona Stoneground Organics and used it mix up a batch of 20% whole wheat sourdough.

Shortly after posting part one, I also discovered that this small local flour milling business has an Instagram account where (just two days prior) the proprietor had excitedly posted about now selling her flour at the very grocery store where I’d gone grocery shopping and found it profiled on an “eat local” display.

Neat.

My dough spent Saturday night in the fridge, proofed as loaves on the counter for most of Sunday, and made its way into a 450F oven late into the evening of last night. It was just enough time to let it cool on the counter, and then wait overnight before I could slice in and give it a taste.

Behold! Monday morning fresh bread and a crumb shot as I sliced up the first of the loaves for my morning breakfast toast:

Light and airy, the small addition of some freshly milled whole wheat added a very nice colour and glow to the final product. Overall these loaves each had a rich, crispy crust that cut evenly.

Sometimes I find, particularly when using 100% white flour, that the bread is light and airy but has a weak structure that collapses under the pressure of a bread knife, flattening against the board as I slice it. I imagine it has something to do with strong gluten and balanced bubbles that give a loaf a bit more heft against this pressure. I also imagine that links back strongly to the quality of the flour used.

I tried a bite of this bread plain (prior to toasting it and slathering the rest of the slice with strawberry jam!) and the wheat and the sour flavours paired nicely into a bread I could easily consider snacking on, just plain or with a bit of butter… and I probably will sneak back to the kitchen later this morning for a slice.

What’s the takeaway?

My goal was to make more effort to dabble in flour blends with my sourdough, and in particular find some local ingredients. I wrote a few weeks ago about the Gift of Bread and how sourdough is one of those near-perfect things to prepare and give to someone. I can only think that one steps a bit closer to perfection to give a loaf baked from ingredients sourced locally. And knowing that the taste and quality is made even better for the effort helps.

I’ve got a lot more sourcing of flours to do. I have a couple nearby farmer’s markets, a healthy collection of well-stocked grocery stores and small fresh markets, and who knows where else I may track down some interesting ingredients.

Now go bake some bread.

Gear: Cast Iron Loaf Pans

The first cast iron loaf pan I bought was an experiment. I didn’t know that I’d use it much, but I’d read online that I might be able to get crispier crusts on my banana bread with a pan that had better heat retention than the aluminum ones I’d been using.

The second cast iron loaf pan I bought was also an experiment. I didn’t know that I’d use it much, but my daughter suggested that I try baking sourdough in a “real bread shape” instead of dome loafs and rather than split my recipe and make less bread, I doubled my pans and tried just cooking two smaller loaves.

A year and a half later, experimenting complete, I can honestly say that these two pans are the most frequently used pieces of cast iron in my collection.

This specific style of pan (the L4LP3 Logic Loaf) comes from Lodge and is no longer manufactured (from what I can tell) having been replaced by an updated design.

Each of these two pans are a 10 1/4 inches long by 6 1/8 inches wide by 2 7/8 inches deep rectangular cast iron shell perfect to hold and proof half a batch of my sourdough bread or a full recipe of banana bread batter.

I use these pans so frequently, and in fact rarely even put them back into the cupboard, because almost fifteen months ago having been sent home from the office to “work from home” during the pandemic, I started baking bread on the regular.

Sourdough folks will online often compare photos of their loaves. Big dome loaves with a perfectly formed ear and baked to a perfect golden hue grace social media. These are gorgeous masterpieces of bread art (and they likely taste good too!) But my two modest loaf pans land upon my countertop a pair of neatly shaped sandwich bread loaves hot from the oven and tasting just as amazingly. Where my Dutch Oven is the artisan tool I use to bring forth an occasional sourdough creation, my two loaf pans are my workhorses, functional and simple, getting the job done two or three times per week.

Of course besides sourdough and banana bread, these pans have a list of other uses.

We take them camping and with a blend of meats, veggies, starches and sauce (covered with aluminum foil) make for a one-dish campfire casserole.

In them I’ve cooked pastas, meatloaf, pastries, potatoes, squash and more.

Any recipe that calls for a loaf pan in our house these days defaults to the cast iron while their flimsier cousins collect dust in the cupboard.

I bought these two pans as experiment not knowing if a heavy, sometimes-awkward replacement for our old loaf pans would bring any additional value to my cooking. I would say that after a couple years of experimental data, they definitely do… and I’m not looking back.

Our Well-Loved Cookbooks: Flour Water Salt Yeast

So . . . I ordered yet another cookbook yesterday.

I’ve recently been watching a cooking channel on YouTube (perhaps one you have heard of, unlikely one you figured I’d watch) and the host released a cookbook last year, so I splurged. Until a make a few recipes from the book itself, I don’t feel that I’m in a solid or fair position to offer a review or opinion. Hopefully in about a month or so (after I spin up a few of the recipes and get a sense of the style) you’ll see such a post here. Until then…

My lacking of an opinion is not the case with Ken Forkish’s Flour Water Salt Yeast.

I remember when my newly kindled interest in sourdough bread-making started to really heat up. I’d begun culturing a starter and then I went scouring the internet for advice. A lot of people recommended this particular tome. I added it to my collection and spent a few solid days reading the details, pondering the techniques and anticipating my next loaf… mostly because that first starter was still pretty new and not ready to use.

I could write a lot about this cookbook.

I could tell you that the tone has always struck me in the same way as I felt when I worked my way through university and had this one lab-rat job for a boss who had a PhD in molecular biology and couldn’t believe he had to explain this stuff to me and fine, but pay attention and do you mind if I crank up the radio and we’re all going out for beers after work, you in? Pleasantly mentoring? Friendly condescending? Lovable know-it-all-ish?

Or, I could tell you that within the words contained on these pages there is as much elaborate history and detail about bread theory as there is actual recipes, and if this was online everyone would complain that they need to scroll for five minutes to get to the ingredients list but since this is a book it’s as much a beautiful read about bread (and pizza crusts) as it is anything else. Be prepared to read as much as you cook.

I could even tell you that if you read this book, no if you seriously read it and understand it, you’ll change the way you cook and you’ll go out tomorrow and buy a digital kitchen scale and understand that the math and French you learned in high school could serve more than an abstract purpose in your life as you start to refer to bread as having desired hydration levels and calculate flour percentages in your dreams. Shush! My sixty-percent levain is resting!

Basically I could just tell you that if you want to make good bread, I haven’t found a better volume. This is a great cookbook and one that will endure in my personal collection for a long time.

Ten Bread Creations Worth Warming Up Your Cast Iron

An idea that often blows my mind is that a handful of ingredients like flour, water, salt and sugars can be blended together to form some of the tastiest food staples.

Bread is one of those few universal foods, and cast iron turns out to be a great way to cook it …in a whole variety of ways. Here are 10 Friday ideas for adding some gluten to your day.

1. Sourdough. Baked big and bold in a Dutch oven and crackling as it cools waiting for a dab of butter, slice of fresh cheese, or dipped in oils and vinegars.

2. Cornbread. Served on the side or to swipe up the leftover sauce from your plate, a hearty bread hot from the oven.

3. Biscuits. Buttery and buttermilk, light and fluffy and served with a hot stew or a big bowl of fresh homemade soup.

4. Banana Loaf. Browned bananas blended into a batter and baked in a cast iron loaf pan into a warm, sliceable serving, then toasted and topped with butter.

5. Rolls. Simple bread sides to make a handy sandwich or accompany a big meal.

6. Corn Tortillas. Squeezed thin and round in a cast iron press.

7. Doughnuts. Deep fried in a Dutch oven full of hot oil and sprinkled with sugar or drizzled with sweet glazes.

8. Naan. A little spicy and charred, washed with a bit of ghee and dipped in a delicious curry.

9. Yorkshire Pudding. Added to a rich roast meal, puffed and golden brown.

10. Discard Fry. A hot pan and a bit of sourdough discard destined for the bin, instead sprinkled with spices, or sugar & cinnamon and fried into a tasty treat.

People like lists. I like people. So I’m giving the people what they like. I ran a blog for 16 years and one of the most popular posts ever on that blog was a list of “100 things” that I’d compiled and posted. I’m trying to recreate something similar over the next couple months for the cast iron guy blog. This post will eventually form part of that mega list.