From Seed to Loaf: Growing Your Own Wheat 

Now in her second season of growing wheat on her farm, Leslie Mackie shares the challenges and joys of her experience. 

Baking was my first love, but gardening is not far behind. To me, they go hand in hand. So when someone suggested I put the two together and grow wheat on my Vashon Island farm, I thought, why not? I dreamed of making wholegrain bread from wheat I grew myself. Last year, I planted my first crop. Regular readers of this blog will recount my post on just how hard I worked to yield a mere twelve pounds of wheat. So, you ask, why go through that again? 

Well, Im nothing if not persistent. In fact, baking teaches you persistence. Great bread and pastries are the result of recipes developed by failing better with each new version until you finally sink your teeth into a loaf that tastes just like you dreamed it would. 

Armed with the long list of lessons learned with my first crop, I cleaned up the two-acres I had tilled for wheat. When you hear about the wheat farms in Eastern Washington that measure in the thousands of acres, two doesnt sound like much. But when youre doing much of the work by hand, it looks pretty intimidating. 

Id been monitoring the weather all April, waiting for a period of rain. Last year, Id gotten my seeds in the ground too late. This year I was on it early. But the weather has its way with farmers, as theyll readily tell you. On this side of the mountains, one thing you can usually count on in April is rain. Not this year! Wed been having a historically dry month. Fortunately, near the end of April, still in my optimal planting window, a storm system was rolling in from the Pacific. 

I had bags of Bow Edison wheat seeds, a hybrid heritage grain developed by Dr. Stephen Jones at the Bread Lab in Mount Vernon that grows well in this climate. I hauled them out to the field and began casting. You cannot imagine the tranquility of casting the wheat seeds over the freshly tilled earth. Even the birds seemed to celebrate, carrying on with their song. Then the mild wind picked up, the warm sunlight faded, and sprinkles of rain pocked the dry soil. 

After spreading the seed, I still had to rake them into the soil. Even though I was soon tired, I kept at it for three hours in ever heavier rain. Finally, I clomped my way back to my mudroom. Safe to say, it earned its name. I looked out at the field, exhausted but utterly satisfied knowing the seeds will germinate properly with the three days of rain ahead. After that, a dry spell. The sun would warm the soil and begin the growth. 

With this years crop in the soil, I drove up to the Bread Lab with the wheat Id harvested last year. Steve Lyon, a senior scientific assistant at the Bread Lab, had promised to help me process it. With the help of an intern from Italy, Steve ran my wheat through an old combine of theirs. Separating the kernels by hand is a prolonged process. Doing it, you understand very quickly how threshing came to be synonymous with spending lots of energy to produce very little. But with the aid of the combine, it didnt take long for Steve and his assistant to turn my bags of wheat stalks into 10 pounds of clean kernels. To me, it looked like a bag of gold! 

Finally, I made my first loaves with wheat Id grown myself. As it goes with baking, the first loaf wasnt perfect. Id milled the wheat too coarsely. A finer grind and the second loaf turned out much better—but still not perfect. The flavor was amazing, but the texture wasnt quite right. So, on to the third loaf, with further refinements. 

If it was easy, I might get bored. Passion projects like this, and continuing to learn about this amazing grain and what you can do with it, are what make me thrilled to still be baking bread more than 25 years after opening Macrina. 

Leslie 

Olivia’s Chocolate Chip Cookie Mix

Our Olivia’s Chocolate Chip Cookie Mix is now available through DoorDash. This mix makes our famous cookie easy to prepare at home. With a minimum of effort, you’ll have warm, gooey chocolate chip cookies that’ll impress the shrewdest palate.

“Like the omelet, which many believe to be the true test of a chef, the humble chocolate chip cookie is the baker’s crucible. So few ingredients, so many possibilities for disaster,” David Leite wrote in a 2008 New York Times article. Given the number of mediocre versions that are all too easily found, it’s hard not to agree with him.

At Macrina, our house version is Olivia’s Chocolate Chip Cookies. Named after Leslie’s daughter, Olivia, the cookies are Macrina’s version of the traditional Toll House classic. A combination of butter and shortening gives the cookies a soft, rich crumb and that consummate chocolate chip cookie flavor comes from the right blend of high-quality semisweet chocolate chips and a hefty pinch of sea salt. Food and Wine even included them in a list of America’s Best Chocolate Chip Cookies.

You can find the recipe in the Macrina Bakery and Café Cookbook. But for those of you who love homemade cookies without too much fuss, try our Olivia’s Chocolate Chip Cookie Mix. You supply a stick of butter, an egg, and a quarter cup of shortening (Crisco or another trans-fat free version). We provide everything else, including the blend of premium flours we use at the bakery.

We recommend using a stand mixer, but you can also hand mix if you don’t have one. Our mix has the sugar on top. You scoop it into the mixer and blend it with the butter and shortening. Add the egg and then dump the rest of the mix in and hand mix until incorporated. Chill the dough for two hours. (You can skip this step if you’re in a hurry, but if you’ve got the time, it helps the moisture in the dough to fully incorporate, which leads to a better consistency.) Scoop onto a tray, bake, and voilà—the best homemade cookies you’ll ever have.

The cookie mix also makes a fabulous gift to mail to friends and family that could use a pick-me-up. The mix is shelf-stable so you can keep backups in the pantry for when that irrepressible urge strikes.

Bread Baking Made Easy

Our organic whole wheat bread kit makes two excellent homemade pan loaves, one for now, and one to share with a lucky neighbor. 

Do you love homemade bread but have always been too intimidated to try baking it yourself? Our organic whole wheat bread kit allows you to make amazingly easy, excellent bread at home without fancy equipment or any special bread-making skills. You’ll get all the smells, two flavorful, nicely-textured loaves, and the sweet reward of having made it yourself. For those of you with kids, this is also a great project to undertake with them.

We chose this loaf for our first-ever bread making kit because it’s one of Leslie’s favorites to make at home. “To me, this pan loaf is the perfect comfort food,” Leslie says. “It smells so good while it’s baking, and the organic whole wheat flour we include gives the bread an excellent texture and flavor.”

Our kit includes everything you need but a standard bread loaf pan, oil for brushing the pan, and honey (or agave or maple syrup). Our recipe has two options: A no-knead version, and a stand-mixer version. The no-knead method takes a little longer (an extra 90 minutes) but turns out a loaf equally as good as the one from the stand mixer. If you don’t have a mixer, this is the path for you—or if you just want to save yourself some extra cleanup.

From start to finish, you’ll need to allow for three hours of combined proofing time (four and a half for the no-knead method) and about 45 minutes of baking time. The active time—mixing the dough and shaping the loaf—won’t account for more than 20 minutes of your time.

If you’re tired of being confined to your home and want to try something new, this kit gives you the chance to turn out professional loaves without the stress. You’ll enjoy the rewards, one slice at a time, for days. 

 

Caring for Those Who Care for Us

Not all heroes wear capes, but many wear masks. And scrubs. And theyve been working insanely long hours during this crisis, giving their all to serve those in need. To express our appreciation and admiration, Macrina Bakery is donating 220 care packages each week in April to area hospitals. Each care package contains a Sliced Oatmeal Buttermilk Loaf, Rye Crostini, Sardinian Flatbread, Olivias Chocolate Chip Cookies, and Granola Bar Cookies.

Chris at Overlake said, “Everything was great! My staff greatly appreciated the generosity and gratitude.” Julie at Swedish Edmonds wrote, “I cant tell you how much the staff appreciated the care packages. They were SO excited! Thank you so much; we very much appreciate this thoughtful gesture!”

If youd like to help us support them, you can donate a care package, and well deliver it on your behalf. The care packages are $25 and we are currently visiting Overlake, Harborview, Swedish Edmonds, UW Northwest and Seattle Childrens.

In addition to the frontline healthcare workers, we know that many others are giving themselves to serve others. Our care packages are available for anyone you know who could use a little extra support right now. A huge thank you to all of you who have already ordered them.

To order care packages, please call 206-448-4089 or visit one of our cafés.

The (Tasty) Benefits of Heritage Grains

Does “great taste” come to mind when you think of heritage grains?

Many Americans consider heritage grains a health food—something they should eat, not something they want to eat. Fortunately, that appears to be on the cusp of change. Top chefs and bakers have been cooking with new heritage grain hybrids to thrilling results.

One of my favorite events of the year is Grain Gathering, an annual three-day event held every July at the Bread Lab (the event started in 2011). Expert bakers, millers, grain scientists, farmers, and industry representatives gather in the Skagit Valley. Their goal is to break the dominance of commodity wheat and to find a way to sell America on the benefits of heritage grains. Flavor is the number one selling point. Nutrition is another along with environmental sustainability. Virtually every community in America used to grow wheat. More robust heritage wheat hybrids could again make this economically feasible, benefitting local economies.

At a Grain Gathering a few years ago, I was introduced to two hybrids developed by Bread Lab. One is called Skagit Magic, which is grown in the Skagit Valley and milled at nearby Cairn Springs Mill. The other is called Expresso Wheat (or, in the lab, T-85). It is grown in Walla Walla and also milled at Cairn Springs Mill. When I started Macrina, flours like these just weren’t available.

For Macrina’s twenty-fifth anniversary this year, I developed two new breads that utilized these new organic flours. I spent many hours playing around with various techniques and found the heritage flours work best with a slow fermentation. This helps develop subtle, bright flavors and hydrates the bran. I made our Skagit Sourdough with the Skagit Magic. This is one of our most grain-forward and flavorful loaves. The Whole Grain Baguette is our other new loaf, which we make with the Expr results. At Macrina, our two latest breads feature heritage wheats—the primary reason being the astonishing flavor they add. Edouardo Jordan, the star chef and creator of JuneBaby, named America’s best new restaurant by the James Beard Foundation, opened Lucinda Grain Bar, a concept focused on ancient grains. “As Americans, we eat some of the most flavorless, unhealthy grain-based products in the world,” Jordan said. “Commercialization has stripped down all the nutritional value in our grain product. We are excited to explore the flavor and potential of ancient grains.” Jordan noted that some of the best grains in the world are grown in the Skagit Valley.

The Bread Lab, located in the Skagit Valley, deserves no small amount of credit for this. Part science lab, part high-end bakery, this extension of Washington State University occupies a 12,000 square feet space in Mount Vernon that includes a research and baking kitchen, a cytology lab, the King Arthur Flour Baking School, a milling laboratory and a professional kitchen. The director of the Bread Lab, Dr. Stephen Jones, is currently one of the most influential voices in the food world. Jones is determined to bring diversity to the range of flours widely available. Currently, the bland, chalky white flour born of industrial agriculture is found in almost all the bread sold in America. You won’t find much else at your local supermarket either. By breeding heritage grains that have both taste and nutritional benefits, but that also have the robustness that farmers need to produce high yield crops, Jones hopes to make regional grain farming viable again.

The standard flour available at grocery stores today comes from wheat that has been bred to be optimal for a fast-food hamburger bun. A hundred years ago that wasn’t the case. Diverse wheats grew and were milled in communities across America. Between 1890 and 1930 America went from over 22,000 flour mills to less than 200. The State of Washington had 160. Now there are two. The widespread use of new roller mills that could efficiently strip the grain of both the bran and the germ creating a flour that had an almost indefinite shelf life ushered in this change. This coincided with the rise of the industrial production of food. We got sliced bread in plastic bags and the phrase, “The greatest thing since sliced bread.” However, we lost a wide range of regional flours milled from an incredible range of wheats, many of which had much better flavor than what worked best for industrial bakeries. Not to mention nutrition. Jones writes, “By using only the white portion of the seed, wheat is reduced from a nutrient-dense food to one that lacks basic nutrition.”

When I started Macrina in 1993, it was thrilling to be part of the artisan bread movement that brought French and Italian-style breads to many cities in America. I’m even more excited about the heritage grain movement—so much so that I’m growing heritage wheat on my Vashon Island farm this year!  Seeing grain scientists, farmers and bakers unite around the idea of building a better tasting and healthier bread may just be the greatest thing since sliced bread.

 

Winter Pear Crown

Looking for something with delicious flavor to add to your holiday table? Or a showy appetizer? Our Winter Pear Crown will make a gorgeous addition to any meal. Or serve it as an appetizer with Cambozola or your favorite blue cheese.

Made with ripe Washington State pears and spiked with a dash of black pepper, the bread has a natural sweetness and the moist texture of a classic French loaf.

Leslie began making this beautiful hand-formed crown during the holiday season in Macrina’s early days, and it has earned a devoted following. Utilizing the excellent late-season pears—Washington State is the top grower of pears in the country—we dice the plumpest, tender Bartlett pears available and gently mix them into the dough with just enough black pepper to casually announce itself. Phuong Bui, our head baker, and his team then hand-shape each loaf into a crown.

Any leftovers make a luxurious breakfast treat. Warm it and serve slices with butter, or up your game and present it with a ramekin of olive tapenade. The bread is versatile, makes a stunning table centerpiece, and goes with almost anything. Get one while you can. We only make them during the holiday season.

Summer Supper: Chez Leslie

When Alice Waters opened Chez Panisse in Berkeley on August 28, 1971, no one would have predicted how much she’d change our understanding of natural ingredients, how we grow them, and how we cook them. The proliferation of America’s local-seasonal-organic foods and the farm-to-table movement grew out of this new approach to eating.  

Flash forward to summer 2019. There is no better place to experience ultra-local cuisine than the smallfarm-filled epicurean paradise of Vashon Island. This is a big part of the reason Leslie chose to host Les Dames D’Escoffier’s 7th annual Summer Supper and Farm Tour at her Vashon Island Farm.  

Thirty guests were treated to an exclusive tour of local farms, followed by a four-course al fresco meal on the patio surrounded by hazelnut trees and roaming chickens. Naturally, the dinner featured Vashon Island ingredients. Each course was paired with wines from Palouse Winery and Maury Island Winery 

The farm tour started at Nashi Orchards, a premium producer of handcrafted perry and hard cider. They grow Asian and European pears and heirloom apples on 27 beautiful acres, using sustainable practices. Cheryl and Jim Gerlach, the owners and cider masters, talked the group through a history of the industry. “We work very hard to manage our soil and the condition of our trees to ensure the flavor from our fruit is in every bottle,” Jim said. They helped guests distinguish the subtle differences in the varieties of fruit and took guests on a tour of their new tasting room in the town of Vashon.  

The next stop was to Old Chaser Farm, where Matt Dillon, the award-winning chef behind Sitka & SpruceBar Ferdinand and The London Plane, led tours of the 20-acre organic farm where he raises vegetables and meat, including cows, sheep, goats, pigs, and chickens. While walking through the fields of ripe vegetables, Matt talked about Seattle’s current restaurant scene and the importance of sustainability in farming.  

Back at Leslie’s for a cocktail hour, guests snacked on appetizers, including a favorite made with local figs and mascarpone, and enjoyed a signature cocktail made from a local red currant syrup, ginger beer, BSB bourbon, apricot puree and soda water. A naturalist, Greg Rabourn, led guests around Leslie’s farm pointing out wild edible plants we might not recognize.  

Before the meal, everyone gathered for a few words about Green Table Grants. Then guests took their seats, and several long-time Les Dames members began serving food that would have made Alice Waters proud. 

Metropolitan Market’s Ode to Peaches

Hurry to Peach-O-Rama to savor a Sweet Peach Brioche made by Macrina with Metropolitan Market’s sweet, just-picked peaches.  

Macrina Sweet Peach Brioche

Each Summer Metropolitan Market holds its annual Peach-O-Rama, and the aisles fill with lovers of sweet, juice-filled peaches. The many varieties of peaches have one thing in common: Each is picked at the peak of ripeness, packed carefully to prevent bruising, and trucked straight to the store.

Pence Orchards in the lower Yakima Valley is one of Metropolitan Market’s primary suppliers. A fourth-generation family farm run by Sharon and Bert Pence, Pence Orchards only picks the peaches when they have tree-ripened and have reached an ideal sweetness. The peaches don’t go into cold storage. Instead, they are carefully nested into single-layer packing. They arrive the next day in the produce section at Metropolitan Market just as succulent and perfect as they were when they dangled from the branch.

Peach-O-Rama started over 20 years ago and was inspired by the founder and chairman of Metropolitan Market, Terry Halverson. He says, “My family lived in Yakima when I was young, and we picked peaches for eating, jam, and canning. Mom made pies and we ate peaches for dessert often. They were as good as you could get. There was nothing like making a mess eating the fully loaded, juicy, aromatic peaches.”

That childhood love fueled the desire to find a way to get the best fresh-from-the-farm peaches into the store. The result is an ode to the peach, those juicy nectar laden gems. Of course, the celebration isn’t limited to the produce aisle. Wander over to the bakery and you’ll find Macrina’s ode to the peach: the Sweet Peach Brioche. Our collaboration with Metropolitan Market features slices of their juicy peaches with cinnamon sugar and sweetened fromage blanc in a lightly textured brioche bun, finished with a dusting of fine sugar. You’ll have a hard time stopping at one!

Fresh Fruit Crostata

Fresh Fruit CrostataImagine you’re three years into owning and operating your dream bakery. Then imagine getting a call that Julia Child, the legend herself, wants you to appear on her show Baking with Julia. Back then, before Iron Chef, Anthony Bourdain and the Food Network, Baking with Julia was THE cooking show. It won both an Emmy and a James Beard Award.  

That was Leslie in 1996. After the thrill and shock wore off came the inevitable question, What will I cook? It had to both look and taste great, for Julia Child didn’t mince words.  

The Fresh Fruit Crostata, of course. 

The lattice topped crostata is a rustic Italian fruit tart. It can be made with any fruit but is best with at least two kinds, one firm and one juicy. In the kitchen of Julia Child’s imposing Cambridge clapboard house (where the show was shot) Leslie used raspberries and figs. The crostata came out perfectly, and Julia Child loved it.  

“That experience is one of the greatest memories of my life,” Leslie says. “All of the humor and wit and personal connection that you see from Julia Child on the show came across even more between takes. It was unbelievably stimulating and thrilling to be there.” 

This summer, we will be showcasing the crostata in our cafes with nectarines and berries depending on what is fresh or in season. Look for Leslie’s favorite, the nectarine blueberry, or the runner up, nectarine raspberry, to make frequent appearances.  

We make the buttery crust with a sesame almond dough. Hints of lemon zest and cinnamon add complexity to the fruit, and it gets a long, slow bake, which caramelizes the fruit sugars making it luscious and jammy at the edges.  

In classic Macrina style, the crostata isn’t overly sweet. Serve it at room temperature, or even slightly warmed, with lightly sweetened whipped cream or ice cream.  

Stop by a Macrina café this summer to try the crostata that Julia Child raved about. 

Roly Poly: Leslie’s Favorite Pastry

Leslie’s favorite pastry is Macrina’s Roly Poly. “The smell of Roly Polys warming in the oven brings me back to childhood memories of being in my Grandmother Bakke’s kitchen. We would wait by the oven for the cinnamon rolls that we had just made together to finish baking,” Leslie says.

Time spent baking with her grandmother and mother inspired Leslie to attend the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. From there, she went on to apprenticeships with award-winning chefs and bakers and finally opened Macrina in 1993. “When we were creating breakfast treats in the early days, the treasured memory of my grandmother’s rolls came to mind,” Leslie says. “There were no measurements, just about this much and then that much. At some later point, I’d documented approximate amounts for our family recipes and carried them with me wherever I went.”

Leslie will never forget the memories that became the basis for Macrina’s Roly Poly recipe. “The best part of my grandmother’s rolls was the filling of cinnamon, sugar, raisins, coconut, and walnuts. No one ingredient overpowered the others,” Leslie says. “At Macrina, I had the wonderful advantage of already having the laminated dough we used for croissants. It had many thin layers of unsalted butter ready at my disposal.”

The combination of Grandmother Bakke’s filling and the laminated dough was just about perfect. Leslie added a dollop of cream cheese frosting and the Roly Poly was born.

“The Roly Poly is my all-time favorite breakfast pastry,” Leslie says.