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: Stoneground Whole Wheat (Part One)

My sourdough starter turned two years old a few weeks ago. I didn’t make much fanfare about it, but it has given me cause to think more about my baking lately.

Fine-tuning a recipe and process that works consistently for me has been a sourdough journey that has spanned nearly half a decade now, including multiple starters, a trip to San Fransisco, and routine baking through a global pandemic.

While I have found occasion to vary my flour compositon a little bit, I’ll be the first to admit that I have not strayed far from “big flour” products, in particular the kind that come in five kilogram bags from the grocery store.

With summer upon us, restrictions easing, and an emphasis on buying local, I suddenly find myself in the position to seek out, learn about, and experiment with a broader range of flour varieties.

This afternoon I found a small package of whole wheat flour grown, ground and packaged just a few kilometers down the road at a rural mill called Strathcona Stoneground Organics.

I figured this was a great excuse to kick off a new series on this blog I’m calling local flours sours, where I do some hunting down of a locally produced flour, bake some sourdough with it, and then do some casual evaluation on the outcome of the bread.

It’s not going to be an endorsement of the flour or a scientific-slash-professional evaluation of the product itself, but hopefully it inspires others to venture beyond the baking aisle in their grocery store as much as I hope it does for me.

For now, I’ve substituted 20% of the standard white flour in my sourdough recipe with one hundred grams of the richly aromatic flour from this little brown bag, and the dough is just starting its day-long journey towards the oven.

Check back for part two in a couple days.