On Saturday, April 2nd, I attended the seventh annual Asheville Bread Festival. I've been attending since the very beginning, haven't missed a one, and each year it gets better and better and more people show up from all over the country. The format has been that the first few hours are held at Green Life Grocery (now owned by Whole Foods), where local bakers display and sell their breads to the public (by local, I mean from as far away as Chapel Hill to the east and Knoxville, Tennessee to the west--about a 150 mile radius). Mark Witt, who many of you know as the host of the website internetcookingschool.com and also the webmaster for the recipe testing site for my upcoming book, even came from Cleveland and set up a booth selling baking tools such as linen couches, instructional videos, and plastic dough scrapers. At 12 noon, the focus shifted to various off-site demos and presentations all around Asheville, including the new flour mill project that I blogged about here a few weeks ago, and a number of classes by world famous bakers Didier Rosada and Lionel Vatinet and others, as well as a demo by me and Joe Lindley, owner of Lindley Mills. The classes went on till about 4 PM and were all filled to the max; we had about 150 attendees at ours, which was a new record against any of my previous classes at the festival. I'll be posting a photo gallery later this week, as soon as I have a chance to upload them from my camera (I'm very inept at those kind of simple tech things) and will have more commentary next week in this space, but I'd like to focus this week on the topic of my presentation because we introduced a new kind of flour that has me very excited about the future of whole grain baking: sprouted wheat flour.
I made two doughs in advance of the festival, on Thursday actually, and brought them with me on Saturday to Asheville, which is two hours northwest of Charlotte. Just prior to the demo we baked
off some sandwich style loaf breads, and a few hearth style batards, and five pans of raisin and cranberry breakfast focaccia, all made exclusively with the sprouted wheat flour (my helpers included students from the excellent culinary program at A-B Tech, where we held a number of the classes, as well as some of my own students from Johnson & Wales University -- they were all great! In fact, it was my students who made the doughs on Thursday).During the class, I showed how to use the flour and Joe Lindley answered questions about it.
Here's the story on the flour, which was provided by Lindley Mills:
Anyone who has ever had Ezekiel Bread or Alvarado Street Bread knows about sprouted wheat, but this new flour is something different. Those aforementioned breads use wheat berries that have been sprouted and then mashed into a pulp, supplemented with vital wheat gluten, honey, salt, yeast, and water and, voila!, it makes a pretty decent bread without using any "flour" at all because the wheat is never actually ground into flour, only into a pulp. But with the new version of sprouted wheat flour that I used at the festival, on the other hand, it starts with sprouted wheat berries but then the berries are dried, and then the dried sprouts are milled into a very fine flour, and treated as flour from that point on. The amazing thing is how much water this new flour can absorb--typically around 90%-100% of the flour weight (as opposed to a typical 72%-75% for regular whole wheat flour, and only 65%-68% water to flour for white bread). More importantly, the flavor of this sprouted flour is unbelievable--sweet and tender -- yet it forms a strong gluten network and is high in protein. I added no oil to tenderize it, no sugar or honey to sweeten it; it was perfect without any of those additions. In my opinion, it makes the best whole wheat bread I've ever eaten or made, and I think it definitely represents the next frontier in flour and bread making. The supply is limited right now so it's not yet available for home bakers, as bakeries like Whole Foods and some other companies are buying all that the three mills who make it can produce (I'm even consulting now with a pizza company that wants to use it for their doughs--this flour makes fabulous pizza crust!). But, as the capacity of the mills increases, you should be able eventually to buy it directly from them or, hopefully, off the grocery store shelves. I will keep you up to date on this as the story unfolds but, when it becomes all the rage, remember that you heard it here first.
I'll continue this next week, along with other highlights from the festival. Till then, may your bread always rise and may your pizzas all be perfect!