August Recipe of the Month: Blueberry Chipotle BBQ Chicken Sandwich

Local blueberries are bountiful and in peak form right now. They add a tart sweetness to this mildly spicy BBQ sauce and give it a beautiful deep purple hue. The frozen blueberries will break down into the sauce while most of the fresh ones retain their form. The refreshingly zesty summer vegetable slaw gives the sandwich a cool crunch that lends balance to the assertive flavors of the grilled chicken. Serve this sandwich with a favorite potato salad or handmade roasted potato fries.

INGREDIENTS

Makes 4 sandwiches

BBQ Sauce
2 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 cup sweet onion, small dice
1-1/2 teaspoons garlic, finely diced
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1 tablespoon chipotle powder
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1-1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1-1/2 cups fresh blueberries
1-1/2 cups frozen blueberries
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons molasses
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 cup ketchup
3 tablespoons brewed espresso or rich coffee
4 skinless chicken breasts

Summer Vegetable Slaw
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
Zest and juice of 1 lime
2 teaspoons honey
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 head of cabbage, thinly sliced
1/2 sweet onion, thinly sliced
1 ear white corn, kernels cut off cob
3/4 cup cilantro, coarsely chopped

Assembly
4 Macrina Ciabatta Burger Buns
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) mayonnaise

DIRECTIONS

BBQ Sauce
Add the olive oil to a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté for 2-3 minutes until translucent. Add the garlic, paprika, chipotle, black pepper and salt. Cook for 1 minute, then add both the fresh and frozen blueberries. Cook for 3-5 minutes to break down the berries. Use a potato masher or wooden spoon to help. You want some whole fruit and some to break down into sauce. Add the brown sugar, molasses, Worcestershire, ketchup and coffee. Simmer for 15-20 minutes until reduced. Let cool to room temperature.

Marinate the chicken breasts in 1-1/2 cups of the BBQ sauce. Cover entirely and refrigerate overnight.

Summer Vegetable Slaw
Prepare this slaw at least 30 minutes before assembling sandwiches. In a medium bowl, add the mayonnaise, sherry vinegar, lime zest and juice, honey and salt. Whisk until thoroughly combined. Add the cabbage, sweet onion, corn kernels and cilantro. With tongs, toss the ingredients together to fully coat the cabbage. Check for seasoning and add cracked black pepper to taste. Refrigerate until needed.

Grilling & Assembly
Preheat grill to 400°F.

Slice the Ciabatta Burger Buns in half and brush each side with olive oil. Set aside.

Brush the grill with oil. Place chicken breasts on grill and cook for 6-8 minutes on each side (to mark the chicken with hatch lines from the grill, rotate a quarter turn halfway through the grilling of each side). When done, chicken should reach 165°F on an instant-read thermometer. Remove breasts and let rest for 3 minutes.

Grill the buns cut side down, watching carefully to ensure they just caramelize and don’t burn.

Lay the toasted buns on each plate. Spread a tablespoon of mayonnaise on each top bun. Add a generous amount of slaw to the bottom bun, approximately 1/2-3/4 cup. Cut the chicken breasts into 1/2″ slices and arrange over the slaw. Top the chicken with 1 tablespoon or more of the BBQ sauce. Cover each with its top bun and enjoy!

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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.

June Recipe of the Month – Heirloom Tomato Salad with Grilled Nectarines and Ricotta Crostoni

Heirloom tomatoes might be the summer garden’s most loved bounty. Freshly picked and warm from the sun, their tender flesh bursts with that unique blend of acid and natural sweetness. Maybe because tomatoes are technically a fruit, they pair exceptionally well with nectarines. Grilling the nectarines creates caramelization that concentrates their flavor and the herbs add a refreshing touch. The vibrant summer flavors are complemented by the rich texture from the ricotta crostoni. To make a full dinner of this salad, add a tossed field green salad, grilled chicken or seared tuna steak.

Ingredients
Serves 4

1 ear of white corn
2 ripe nectarines, cut into 1/2″ wedges
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided
4 slices of a rustic Macrina loaf (choose your favorite)
1 clove garlic
3 heirloom tomatoes, large dice
2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons basil, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons parsley, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons mint, coarsely chopped
2 teaspoons reduced balsamic vinegar*, divided
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper
1/2 cup whole milk ricotta

*Note: You can purchase reduced balsamic vinegar or make your own by heating balsamic vinegar in a saucepan and reducing it by half. We recommend using balsamic vinegar imported from Italy (Aceto Balsamico di Modena).

Directions

Preheat grill to 400°F.

Peel the corn and brush the kernels lightly with olive oil. Place the corn directly on the grill, rotating every 3 minutes until fully cooked on all sides. Remove the corn and let it cool before using a sharp knife to cut the kernels from the cob. Set aside.

Toss the nectarines in 1/2 teaspoon olive oil and place across the grate. Grill for 3 minutes on each side. Set aside to cool.

Brush both sides of the bread slices with olive oil and grill for 3-4 minutes on each side. You want grill marks for the caramelized flavor. Remove grilled bread and rub both sides of each slice with a raw garlic clove for extra flavor. Set aside.

In a medium bowl add the tomatoes, corn, nectarines, basil, parsley and mint. Drizzle with the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1-1/2 teaspoon reduced balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper. Toss and let sit at room temperature for 30-45 minutes before serving.

When you’re ready to eat, spread 2 tablespoons of ricotta on each slice of grilled bread and drizzle with remaining reduced balsamic vinegar. Divide the salad between 4 plates and add the ricotta crostoni.

Enjoy!

Raising Chickens with Leslie Mackie

Many of the best things in life are unplanned. My chickens, for instance, came along like that, and they have been a most pleasant surprise.  It all started with a donation. The Lake Union Crew Outreach Foundation does fabulous work, so when they asked me to donate food for their fundraiser, I couldnt say no. Dropping off the meal, I saw a beautiful chicken coop for auction. Turns out the Lake Union Crews founder, Rome Ventura, had built the chicken coop. Seeing my interest, she offered to make one for me. She even hand-delivered it to my Seattle home. 

By the spring of 2012, I had moved to my farmhouse on Vashon Island where my daughter, Olivia, got excited about raising chickens. Together we chose eight assorted chicks. We kept them inside for two months, nurturing those fuzzy yellow cuties. We named them and watched over them, somewhat obsessively. As they grew, so did our interest in getting them outside—who knew they’d become so pungent! Finally, we were ready to break in Rome Venturas handmade coop. 

I placed the coop between four hazelnut trees to provide shelter from extreme sun. I also hoped it would provide some cover from eagles, a fearsome predator on Vashon. I built an 8-by-12-foot covered run for them so they didn’t have to stay “cooped” up all the time. This seemed like lots of space—until they got even bigger. My two dogs werent quite sure what to make of the chickens at first. There was a bit of a stand-off, but after eight months everyone seemed to respect each other. I started letting the girls” roam the property. That was a happy day in the life of a proud chicken mom. They roamed the farm finding bugs, grass and weeds to eat.  

Then tragedy struck—raccoons scaled one of the hazelnut trees and carried seven of my chickens away to feed their young. I was heartbroken. 

Fighting off thoughts of being unworthy, I moved the coop to a better location. My two small dogs, all bark and no bite, took on guardian roles. With loud barks and a quick sprint, they now chase away any raccoon or cat that wanders onto the farm. The hawks and eagles have also seemed to take note.  

Over the last six years, I have gone from the original eight chickens, down to one, added three, back to two, added four, and now I am very happy with the six that Ive had for the past two years. I have two Rhode Island Reds (brown eggs) and four variously colored Araucana (olive green to baby-blue eggs) all sporting that famous feathery beard. The oldest is Dulce, the queen, who was from the first batch. Introducing new chickens is quite a process, and it has taken a year for this team to blend. The chickens leave the coop around 7:30 a.m. to see what the night rain or morning dew has brought to the surface for their dining pleasure. They roam the whole farm, traveling in a tribe. They dont eat my flowers, but they love my veggie starts so I had to fence the vegetable garden. Sometimes they fly over six feet up to the fence post and drop in!  

My chickens are well fed, no surprise there—organic grain, leftover Macrina bread and vegetable scraps are their main diet. In exchange, they produce 3 to 6 eggs a day as a group. The eggs are richer in taste than a typical supermarket egg, with creamy, bright orange yolks. You notice the difference right away when eating them cooked plainly or baking with them. Aiolis get a brilliant color from the bright yolks, lemon butter cakes and vanilla custards take on a golden hue, everything is more delicious with fresh eggs. My girls join any outdoor dinner gathering. You cant pick them up, but two will let you pet them. They cluck, coo, trill and peep as though carrying on a lively conversation. As the light diminishes, they make their way back to the coop, and I close them in to keep them safe. 

I love my girls! 

Leslie 

Phuong Hoang Bui

Update: 6/14/2019Macrina’s Head Baker, Phuong Hoang Bui, started working at Macrina in 1994. To celebrate his 25th anniversary we gathered with him and his family at Palisade Restaurant to share our gratitude for everything he has done for Macrina and the way he brightens the workplace with smiles and his cheerful heart.

“The best part of the heartwarming dinner was Phuong sharing his fond memories of Macrina,” says Jane Cho, Production Manager. “Behind his kind, respectful mannerisms, he is a comedian and loves to laugh and tell a good story. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to work with Phuong for so many years and to be inspired by someone with such integrity in everything he does.”
To learn more about Phuong’s amazing journey from Vietnam to Macrina read this blog that Leslie wrote about Phuong.

Original: 10/14/2012

Throughout my new book, More from Macrina, interspersed among the recipes and beautiful photography, are stories about the people and partnerships that make the Macrina community.

Phuong Hoang Bui has worked at Macrina for 18 years and as much as anyone, he embodies the spirit of the Macrina community in a way that makes me so proud to have him as a colleague.  I first met Phuong through the International Rescue Committee, where he had been eagerly seeking employment.  At our first meeting, Phuong conveyed a deep desire to work and to learn – I hired him as a dishwasher on the spot. This was in 1994 – just after Macrina first opened.

Phuong

While he worked as a dishwasher, Phuong would always make himself available to help with food prep, to help shape bread, and to watch the bakers load the ovens – constantly seeking opportunities to learn more so that he could grow professionally while supporting Macrina’s growth.

18 years later Phuong manages our entire wholesale production team – fifty employees in all, diverse in age, ethnicity and experience – and Phuong takes great care to help them all develop the skills to succeed in their work, and for many of them, to adapt to a new life in Seattle.

Before starting at Macrina, Phuong had been trying to get to America from his native Vietnam for some time.  His first attempt was as a boat refugee when he was captured and imprisoned for two years.  When he was released Phuong received help and support from friends and family, which led to his arrival and new life in the United States.

Today, everything Phuong does through his work at Macrina demonstrates his gratitude for the help and support he has received. Phuong works with his team to help them develop professionally and embrace new opportunities, just as he did (and continues to do).  Phuong’s desire to repay the kindness he was shown when he first arrived here reflects so much of the culture here at Macrina, and just as Phuong is grateful for the life he has here, I am grateful for the chance to have him be a part of our daily life at Macrina.

Learn more about Phuong and his amazing journey in More from Macrina. 

June Recipe of the Month: Ricotta Panna Cotta with Local Strawberries

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This recipe is in honor of Gina DePalma, the acclaimed pastry chef from Babbo restaurant in NYC. Her book, Dolce Italiano: Desserts from the Babbo Kitchen, inspires a reverence for simple recipes. Too often chefs over complicate dishes to make them more worthy. Sometimes less is more, a philosophy central to much of Italian cuisine. This recipe embraces straightforward preparations and quality ingredients. Good cream will really stand out, for panna cotta is one of the world’s most delightful versions of cooked cream. Sweet Washington strawberries and a Macrina Walnut Anise Wafer are perfect complements to this eggless custard.

Ingredients

Makes 6 servings

RICOTTA PANNA COTTA

1 cup whole milk ricotta

1 cup whole milk, divided

1-1/2 cups heavy cream

1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 vanilla bean

1 packet powdered gelatin (1/4 oz)

STRAWBERRY TOPPING AND ASSEMBLY

10 strawberries

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1/4 teaspoon sherry vinegar

1/2 teaspoon fresh oregano, chopped

1 package of Macrina’s Walnut Anise Wafers

Directions

Place the ricotta and 1/2 cup of the milk in a medium bowl and whisk to dissolve the lumps. Add the sugar, gelatin and heavy cream to a medium saucepan. Cut vanilla bean lengthwise, and scrape the seeds out with a paring knife. Add the seeds and bean to the heavy cream. While whisking constantly, warm mixture just to the boiling point, then turn off the heat. Gradually pour the heavy cream mixture into the ricotta mixture and whisk to combine well. Remove the vanilla bean and strain the mixture through a fine cheesecloth or mesh strainer. Add the remaining 1/2 cup of milk and mix to combine. Divide the mixture between 6 sorbet glasses or stemless wine glasses. Place in the refrigerator for 4 hours to set.

Finely dice 9 of the strawberries and place in a medium bowl. Cover with the sugar and sprinkle in the sherry vinegar. Mix well and let sit for 1 hour before serving. Thinly slice the remaining strawberry into 6 rounds. Top each panna cotta with a strawberry round, a spoonful of sweetened diced strawberries and a sprinkle of oregano. Serve with a wafer cookie and enjoy!

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Meet our Family: The Brothers Nguyen

Macrina Bakery relies on many highly-skilled bakers. The brothers Andy and Dat Nguyen are two of our best.  

We still make all our bread by the same methods we did in 1993 when Macrina Bakery first opened in Belltown—only now we make much more of it. Long, slow rises, with carefully maintained starters and forming every loaf by hand is a labor intensive way to make bread. But it’s the way great bakers around the world have been making the best loaves for centuries. Making bread this way is who we are 

As we’ve grown, we’ve had to find and train new bakers. Our head baker, Phuong Bui, is one great example. And it was through Phoung, or more precisely, his mother, that we found two other key members of our bread team. Phuong’s mother met Andy and Dat Nguyen in an ESL class at South Seattle Community College in 2003. She mentioned her son was hiring at Macrina. Andy was the first to be hired, Dat followed a month later. 

Phuong trained them both how to shape our various loaves and they joined the forming team. Both brothers were quick learners and showed great initiative. Within a few years, they’d both mastered each of the bread-making steps: mixing, kneading, proofing, shaping, and baking. “Learning each station was difficult,” Andy says. “But now after fifteen years, even the holidays aren’t stressful, just busy.”  

Today, Dat is our Baking Assistant Manager. He oversees a crew of nearly 20, stepping in to help at every stage as needed. Sometimes it’s to speed production along, sometimes helping coach new employees, and making certain he can be proud of each loaf. “I’m thrilled Macrina has trusted me with more responsibility,” Dat says. “I take great pride in making great bread.” 

Andy works the rack ovens, baking hundreds of loaves every day. He ensures that each comes out with that crisp, caramelized crust our customers have come to know. With so many loaves and many types of bread, it’s part craft, part art and takes a high degree of precision and focused attention. 

Andy lives in Burien with his wife who followed him from Vietnam. They have an eight-year-old daughter who attends White Center Heights Elementary, which has a Vietnamese dual language program. On weekends she likes to go shopping with her father, often asking him if they can go out for a very American lunch—at McDonald’s. Andy prefers Thai food but sometimes indulges his daughter. He relaxes by tending the gardens in his backyard. 

Dat lives with his parents who emigrated to Seattle three years before Dat and Andy arrived. Dat has a six-year-old son who also attends White Center Heights elementary and is enrolled in the same dual language program as his cousin. Dat helps his aging parents with their needs. Recently, Dat has also had to contend with some of the skills his son has picked up at school, namely how to research new toys on YouTube. 

Both families remain close, often gathering on weekends and holidays. During football season they get together to root for the Seahawks. Over the years, both brothers have returned to Saigon to visit friends and family in Vietnam. Andy always makes a side trip to Long Khánh, a small city in Southeastern Vietnam to visit his wife’s family. 

At Macrina, we are incredibly proud of these two master bakers who have become part of our family. Without their talent, hard work, dedication, and ability to train and coach new employees we would not be where we are today. Thank you Dat and Andy for 15 great years! 

May Recipe of the Month: Mocha Raspberry Éclairs

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Mother’s Day always reminds me of how my mother’s passions influenced me. She was the first gourmand in our family. One of her favorite treats were éclairs from Rose’s Bakery in Portland. I have such indulgent memories of those crisp and airy cream puffs filled with pastry cream and dipped in chocolate glaze. This éclair embraces those memories with a nod to Macrina’s Chocolate Raspberry Cake. The airy golden-brown éclair is layered with rich mocha mousse and fresh raspberries. A glaze of bittersweet chocolate ganache gives balance to the creamy mousse and sends chocolate lovers like me to the moon.

Ingredients
Makes 8 éclairs

Pâte à Choux
1/2 cup whole milk
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
3 eggs

Mocha Mousse
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup brewed espresso
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup powdered sugar, sifted

Ganache
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup bittersweet chocolate chips

Assembly
1 pint fresh raspberries
1/4 cup clear sparkling sugar
Edible flowers or petals (optional)

Preparation

Pâte à Choux
Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and preheat oven to 400°F. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the milk, sugar and butter. When the sugar is dissolved and the butter is melted, add the flour. With a wooden spoon, mix well and cook for 1-2 minutes. Transfer the dough to the bowl of a stand mixer. Using the paddle attachment, mix on low speed for 1 minute to cool the mixture. Add the eggs one at a time, ensuring you’ve fully incorporated each before adding the next. Transfer the dough to a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2″ tip. On the prepared baking sheet, pipe eight 4″ long éclairs. Leave about 1″ of space between each éclair. You can smooth out any irregularities by dipping your finger in water and brushing the dough into shape.

Bake for 15 minutes, then reduce oven temperature to 350°F and bake for another 10 minutes. The éclairs should sound hollow when tapped at the base. Let cool 20-30 minutes.

Mocha Mousse
Heat a double boiler and add the chocolate chips, brewed espresso and butter. Stir until the chocolate melts and the mix is combined. Cool for 15 minutes.

Add the heavy cream to the bowl of a stand mixer. With the whisk attachment, whip the cream on medium speed. Gradually add the powdered sugar. Whip to medium stiff peaks.

Remove bowl from mixer. Fold the cooled chocolate mixture into the whipped cream until it’s well combined. Keep cool until you are ready to use it.

Ganache
Place the heavy cream in a small saucepan over medium heat. When the cream begins to bubble at the edges turn off the heat. Add the chocolate chips and whisk until they melt into the hot cream. Set aside.

Assembly
Cut the top 1/4″ from each éclair. Dip or brush chocolate ganache onto each top. Fill a pastry bag with the mousse (or use a spoon). Fill each éclair base with mousse (it should rise about 1/4″ above the edge). Cut 24 raspberries in half and place 6 halves on each éclair base. Cover with the ganache-glazed top and sprinkle with clear sparkling sugar. Garnish with any extra raspberries and the edible flowers.

Enjoy!

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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 with thrilling results. 

One of my favorite events of the year is Grain Gathering, an annual three-day event held every July since 2011 at the Bread Lab. 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 last 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 Expresso.

Skagit Valley – The Best Grains in the World

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, recently 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 foot 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 flour available in most grocery stores 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. A diverse range of heritage wheats were grown and 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 created 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 yearSeeing 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.