Local Flours Sours: Duchess Bread (Part One)

You know your family thinks you are slightly obsessed about something when supporting your hobby winds up under the Christmas tree in holiday gift form.

After baking some hundreds of loaves of sourdough the last couple years, I guess my family has noticed my obsession. This year I received a 5kg bag of bread flour under the Christmas tree.

But let me back up…

There is a well-known local French-style bakery in Edmonton called Duchess Bake Shop.

There are now two locations, but for years but one address served a frequently long line up of customers selling pastries and sweets from a building in a gentrified neighbourhood just west of the downtown core.

I’m not really a sweets and confections guy, but I respect a good local bakery, and I’ve stood in my share of queues for a box of goodies from Duchess.

My wife, on the other hand, will line up for a week for the right cookie. And in her quest to locate and single-handedly support all our local bakeries through tough pandemic financial times, she has become well acquainted with the online menus of many of these local establishments.

As it turns out, Duchess not only sells baked goods but also sells baking ingredients, including — that’s right — 5kg bags of their own custom bread flour blend.

Holiday mode now falling behind us as we resume our normal back to the grind lives, I cracked open my Christmas present and prepped my standard sandwich loaf dough with 500g of bakery bread flour blend.

Now details on both the bag and the website are scarce, so I don’t know exactly what makes this flour special or unique in any way. Maybe it’s locally milled. Maybe it’s a unique blend prepared for the French bakery’s secret receipes. Or maybe it’s just flour and it has been bagged for the sole purpose of supporting their charity of choice.

Either way, I’ve got a pair of loaves proofing on the counter and my obsession-meets-gift flour will soon be transformed into some delicious sourdough. It gives a new meaning to “Christmas bread.”

Check back for part two to find out how it turned out!

Local Flours Sours: Peace Country Rye (Part Two)

If you read my weekend article about the Peace Country Rye flour blend that set the stage for my sourdough effort, you may recall how much I was anticipating baking a great-tasting rye bread from my sourdough process.

By Sunday evening I had two hot loaves, fresh from the oven.

Then one of these sourdough loaves took a two hour drive southbound shortly after it came out of said oven. It somehow snuck into the arms of my mother-in-law who, having driven up for a Sunday visit, couldn’t escape without some bread from her favourite son-in-law, lucky-for-her timed to come out of the oven just in time for her departure.

Timing is everything with this process, after all.

The split dough proofed on the counter, shaped directly in my pair of loaf pans for nearly twelve hours prior to baking. I was up at 6am to prepare for my run. To give it the best chance for a long day of big rise, 6am is definitely not too early.

Yet twelve hours seemed long, especially considering how warm (in the high twenties Celsius) it has been outdoors this week.

Some insight from the web: I was watching a Youtube video last week about capturing wild yeast for sourdough. (The general topic tends to pop up in my feed with some frequency these days, go figure!) This particular vid had some information (among other topics) about The Science of Sourdough project that has been trying to answer the age-old question: Sourdough? How does that work? Specifically, the project seemed to be digging through an attempt to collect thousands of data points from global participants kicking off a homemade starter with the goal of discovering “how geography and different flours affect microbial growth over time, and how those microbes affect the taste and texture of bread.”

In other words, how does sourdough work, and why does my bread take twelve hours to rise while someone else might have a loaf ready to bake in half that amount of wait time?

The answer might simply be because of the yeast I caught, or the place I live, or the flour I use. Flours, yes. Yeast is everywhere after all. And it grows better in some places than others. I’m feeling that this playing around with locally milled flours may not just result in some new varieties of breads, but give me some insight to my own two-year-old starter and how viable he is. How he reacts to new things. His favourite flours, even.

Of course I kept one loaf for myself, and I can report that despite the long rise (maybe because of it) the Northern Albertan rye flour produced a great loaf with a lovely crumb, a warm hue to the bread, and the expected slightly-nuttier taste I was hoping for from a rye-white blend.

Definitely one of my favourite blends so far.

Worth the work. Worth the wait.

And since I gave one loaf away, probably a blend I’ll be repeating in a day or two. I should probably get started.

twelve hours!

Local Flours Sours: Peace Country Rye (Part One)

All this experimenting with food is getting expensive. I was at the grocery store again this morning buying some varieties of vegetables to grill over the fire this evening, and a big hunk of meat to slice up for a batch of beef jerky, so of course I stumbled by the baking aisle and found another locally milled flour to scratch my local flour sourdough dabblers itch.

Until this morning I had not ever heard of Peace Country Milling & Grains but anyone who lives in this area knows that the “Peace Country” is a huge swath of land up in the North West of the province named for the Peace River that runs roughly transversely eastbound through that area. The largest city in the area is named Grand Prairie and is familiar to us because a my wife traces some of her paternal ancestry to a couple generations of relatives who immigrated to, settled in and farmed upon that area. Many a five-hour drives did we used to make for visits while there was still enough of her kin there to justify the multi-day trip.

This particular mill seems to be hunkered just fifty kilometers outside of Grand Prairie in an area even those of us who live pretty much in the middle of nowhere would consider remote and pretty much the middle of nowhere.

I bought a bag of their rye flour. Rye is a variety of wheat that tends to have a darker colour, nuttier taste, and a lower gluten content resulting in a bread that is darker, more substantially flavoured, and denser from a weaker rise.

I’d been experimenting with a more commercial variety of rye flour over the winter months and pushing my sourdough percentages past more than about 25% rye flour turned the final product into a bit of a poundcake.

So, with this local flour I started with a generous, but still cautious, twenty percent rye to eighty percent white blend and then otherwise followed my standard go-to sourdough process.

The dough is hydrated and resting for an overnight rise in the fridge even as I write this.

Rye bread has always had a bit a special space in my heart, though. I’d be the first in line for a good Reuben sandwhich if we lived near a good deli, and in fact the day after I ran the New York Marathon in 2016 we hiked over to Katz’s Deli in Manhattan, not an insignificant distance from our hotel the day after running forty-two kilometers (and much, much farther from Grand Prairie where my bag of rye flour originated) and ordered a thick pastrami sandwhich piled high on a couple slices of rye bread.

What a connection!

And maybe I’ll hunt down that photo and continue the story in part two, after my own rye is baked and tasted.

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.