The Bread Lab: A Washington State Treasure

BreadLabFieldsThe flour most of us are familiar with—the inert, white powdery stuff from the supermarket with a long shelf life—is a very modern development in our long relationship with wheat, the most important food in history. Before industrial agriculture became dominant, milling was done at regional mills with diverse strains of wheat. The effort to create uniform flours that won’t spoil has taken much of the flavor and nutrition from our flour and the products made with it.

One of the national leaders in the effort to restore flavor and nutrition to available wheat is located just north of Seattle in the Skagit Valley. Dr. Steven Jones runs The Bread Lab, an extension of Washington State University. He is devoted to bringing grain agriculture back to our region. A hundred years ago, fields of grains filled the Skagit Valley, but as industrial wheat brought the price of the commodity down farmers shifted to more valuable crops. Recently though, farmers, using wheat as a rotation crop to break disease cycles and to restore vital elements to the soil have discovered, or rediscovered, that many varietals grow wonderfully there. This is where The Bread Lab comes in. Jones is a wheat breeder dedicated to making regional grain farming viable again. His lab develops vigorous wheat hybrids full in flavor and nutritional value that grow optimally in particular climates.

Wheat

Over six years ago, I was invited to be part of The Bread Lab’s advisory board. Back then I had no idea how impactful it would be. At the time, I was happy with our flour and didn’t imagine I would be looking elsewhere. A few bakers I knew in Seattle were experimenting with milling their own flours. I was eager to learn more. The Bread Lab proved to be an excellent resource. It gave me the opportunity to test wheat from smaller growers. Jones and his team check it for strength and provide us with its falling number, which indicates the speed of fermentation. As you can imagine, our baking schedule is pretty tight. A dough moving unexpectedly slowly or quickly can really throw things off.

Using ingredients with the highest integrity has always been central to my mission at Macrina. In flours, flavor and high nutritional value are the two most important things I look for, along with consistency and a reliable supply. My earliest fascination was with whole grain milling. Most commercially produced flour is made only with the starchy endosperm of the grain. Both the nutrient-rich bran and flavorful wheat germ are discarded because the oils they contain will turn rancid in a few weeks. But the durability that commercial flour gains by discarding them comes at an enormous cost—the loss of flavor and nutrition.

This is why, years ago, I started using freshly milled whole grain flours from Fairhaven Mills. I admire the nutty and natural caramel flavor that comes from the milled whole grain flours. When I first started experimenting with this whole grained milled flour, I was hydrating a portion of the flour to soften the bran. This worked to some degree, but I was still not getting the rise I wanted, resulting in a dense texture. The Bread Lab provided me with many strategies. With their help and plenty of experimenting, I got the results I desired. On another occasion, we had a difficulty with a flour we were getting from Fairhaven Mills. They’d had to substitute a wheat from Montana rather the Walla Walla wheat we’d been using. I sent a sample to The Bread Lab. They tested it and determined that the wheat had a smaller falling number, which means the dough develops quickly. We reduced the mixing time and with lots of tweaking got consistent results. When you’re mixing hundreds of pounds of dough destined for someone’s table in a few hours and the dough isn’t behaving you can imagine the frenetic scene that results.

SkagitWheatEvery year The Bread Lab hosts an annual conference called Grain Gathering. Professional bakers, bread enthusiasts, brewers, farmers, and chefs from around the country descend on the Skagit Valley. Workshops, panel discussions, and demonstrations cover a range of wheat-centered topics (I’ve learned lots from these over the years). At the 2015 event, they held a bread tasting for a group of experienced bakers. We tasted seven breads, each made with a different locally grown wheat. For each loaf the recipe was essentially the same, with small adaptations made to create the best loaf with each flour. The varying tastes, textures, and the overall natural sweetness was a revelation. The flour made all the difference. The experience inspired my commitment to bringing more locally grown flours to the breads we make at Macrina.

One of the challenges The Bread Lab faces is that making local wheats prevalent takes more than introducing them to local bakers. Local grain economies that existed before the mass produced flours drove them out of business must be rebuilt. That includes persuading farmers to grow the grains, mills to grind them, stores to sell them and buyers to purchase them. Contributing to a healthy and sustainable local food economy is not just a good thing for Macrina to do, it’s a great thing for our bread. You just can’t beat the taste that freshly milled whole grain flours provide.

With the success The Bread Lab has experienced they’ve outgrown their small space and this summer will relocate to a 12,000-square-foot building. King Arthur Flour is partnering with them to add a full-scale mill and educational center. The state-of-the-art facility, and the passion and knowledge of Jones and his team, is a unique treasure. We are lucky to be so close to the innovation taking place in Skagit Valley, innovation with benefits that extend through the state and beyond.

Leslie

Farm to Brunch: Touring Seattle Tilth

logoEarly this June I visited Seattle Tilth’s farm incubator in Auburn with Marilyn Mercer, Elizabeth Hall, Mandela Turner, and Crystal Kitchin, Macrina’s brunch team. We were especially excited to visit the farm – Macrina is one of the lucky few establishments that buys freshly grown vegetables from Seattle Tilth for our weekly rotating brunch menus.

Seattle Tilth started in 1978 with its Urban Agriculture Center in Wallingford. The Tilth Association began as an alternative agriculture movement with the aim of supporting and promoting biologically sound and socially equitable agriculture in the Pacific Northwest. While the parent association disbanded in 1984, Seattle Tilth has continued to grow and thrive with a stated mission today to inspire and educate people to safeguard our natural resources while building an equitable and sustainable local food system. They teach people to grow food organically while taking care of the environment through a wide variety of classes, programs, and community events. There are classes for both kids and adults, many of them located in Seattle’s most diverse and densely populated urban neighborhoods. They’re an amazing resource for organic gardening education in the region.

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One of their newer programs is the farm incubator.  Matthew McDermott, the director of Seattle Tilth Farm Works, and Chris Iberle, the Food Hub Manager, led us on our tour of their forty-acre site in Auburn. They call it “The Red Barn Farm.”  While we walked through the fields of young starts, Matthew filled us in on the history of the land. Originally owned by former Seattle Supersonics Greg Ballard, who bought the land for a kid’s basketball camp, it was later donated to Seattle Parks and Recreation. They make it available to Seattle Tilth Farm Works as part of their Parks Urban Food Systems program.

The program provides farm business training and support to immigrants, refugees and people with limited resources in South King County. Each year they add ten new farmers to their training program that runs from February to June, reserving ten spots for returning farmers. Their aim is to help new farmers get into small farming, teaching them not just the elements of organic farming through hands-on experience, but also business planning, operations, and marketing. Matthew explains that the average age of an American small farmer is 60 years old. They hope to lower that through their program.

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Each of the twenty farmers tends a quarter-acre parcel, growing vegetables for Seattle Tilth’s CSA subscription program that provides subscribers with a weekly box full of fresh, delicious produce from June through October. The farm also supplies the fresh produce for their Good Food Bag program, which helps supply healthy organic vegetables to qualifying limited-resource families. We saw peas, radishes, onions, garlic, corn, squash, and pole-beans. In addition to the open fields they have 13 100-foot hoop houses, most of them planted with tomatoes. Due to the low snow pack this year and the possibility of a drought they mandated a water irrigation system. To supplement their water supply, they have a large cistern that collects rainwater. At the end of our tour, we stopped by the cleaning station where the farmers wash and trim their veggies, weighing their daily harvest and logging it onto the weekly production board.

French Toast

It feels good to be a part of a program that is training young farmers in the best practices for sustainable and environmentally sensitive farming. Moreover, their produce is simply delicious. Visit one of our Macrina cafe locations over the weekend and try something off of our rotating brunch menu to see for yourself.

Leslie Mackie

Flour and Heart: A Celebration of America’s Best Bakers

Bob's Red Mill Cake

I received an invitation from Bob’s Red Mill to join seven other celebrated bakers and pastry chefs from around the country for an event in New York City on May 12th. We were each given a type of flour and asked to create a new recipe for the event. A large bag of Bob’s Red Mill Organic Unbleached All-Purpose Flour arrived, and I set to work. With rhubarb in season and my raspberry bushes just beginning to fruit I started playing around with a few ideas. Some organic flours I have used have been inconsistent. I found Bob’s to be very predictable, both in pastry and bread. It bakes nicely, is not too heavy, and has good texture. The recipe I settled on for the event was a Rhubarb and Raspberry Upside Down Cake, a sweet and buttery favorite that pairs the tang of raspberries with the tartness of rhubarb.

I flew to New York with Jane Cho, Macrina’s head pastry chef, and together we prepared 250 tiny cakes, topping them with whipped cream. Astor Center, where the event was held, was beautifully decked out. Many food magazines, such as Food & Wine, Saveur, and Martha Stewart Living stopped by for a nibble, as well as a great number of food bloggers and tastemakers. And Bob Moore, the real Bob we know from the label, wearing his signature red vest and golf hat, made the rounds. He repeatedly thanked all of us “for making Bob’s Red Mill what it is.” Well into his eighties, Bob is a charming and very gracious man, and it is easy to see how he has built such a strong community around his product. The values of his now employee-owned company are first-rate, as you’d expect from a company dedicated to sourcing the finest grains and flours and milling them with old-world techniques.

The next day we toured some of New York’s finest bakeries: Sullivan Street Bakery, Tom Cat Bakery, Balthazar Bakery, and Amy’s Bread. We returned to Seattle exhausted, exhilarated, and honored to have been a part of Bob’s Red Mill’s celebration. To have shared the stage with so many other talented pastry chefs and bakers was special. Look for my Raspberry Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake at one of our cafes this summer.

 – Leslie Mackie

PCC Natural Markets: Bringing Bread Full Circle

PCC Natural Markets

The PCC Natural Markets staff on a tour of our Sodo production facility.

Nestled between the folds of the rolling Palouse Hills and Blue Mountains sits the Walla Walla Valley. Ripe with meandering creeks that feed the Walla Walla River, this fertile land is home for much of Washington’s agriculture, including Williams Hudson Bay Farm. Owned and operated by brothers Tom and Ray Williams, this farm is part of the PCC Farmland Trust. Founded by PCC Natural Markets in 1999, the Farmland Trust is a way to help keep Northwest organic farms in the hands of farmers.

As Leslie Mackie searched for new ways to feature nutritious, locally sourced ingredients in our products, she learned about the Williams brothers’ whole-grain wheat processed by Fairhaven Mills. We began testing the organic whole wheat flour in some of our breads and found it added a wholesome nutty, sweet flavor perfect for our Whole Wheat Cider bread. Now, whenever you bite into a sandwich or burger made with our Whole Wheat Cider loaf, buns, or dinner rolls, you’re enjoying the Williams brothers’ harvest.

“I have always been a fan of PCC Natural Markets,” says Leslie Mackie. “But, with such a nice tie to the PCC Farmland Trust, it seemed like a natural progression to sell these delicious buns in PCC locations.”

More and more, consumers are interested in knowing where their food comes from, but Seattle has long been ahead of that curve. Leading the charge for sourcing better food from sustainable, trustworthy producers was PCC Natural Markets. What started as a food-buying club with just 15 families back in 1953 is now the largest consumer-owned natural food retail co-operative in the country with 10 locations spanning from Issaquah to Edmonds and plans to open its 11th location in Columbia City this summer.

As of 2014, you can find PCC shelves stocked with everything from our seasonal items like Colomba Pasquale to breadbasket staples like Rustic Potato Rolls and, of course, our Whole Wheat Cider Buns.

“Customers are loving this partnership,” says PCC’s Grocery Merchandiser Scott Owen. “We began selling Macrina breads in King County locations and they sold so wonderfully well we expanded the products to all of our stores.”

Upon a recent field trip to our production facility in Sodo, we were able to show PCC staff exactly how that flour, processed at Fairhaven Mills, and produced on a PCC Farmland Trust farm, is turned into a loaf of bread sold in their stores.

Sharing food made with the very best ingredients, sourced as close to home as possible is something we take great pride in and solidifies our bond with PCC.

“It is such a joy with work with PCC,” adds Leslie. “The staff is appreciative of our products and genuinely excited to sell our breads.”

Demi Baguette: The Not-So-Humble Ham and Cheese Sandwich

Earl of Sandwich

The first sandwich started with a few basic ingredients: meat, bread, maybe some cheese. We’re talking about the fabled lunch of the great food innovator John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich.

Sandwiches have come a long way since the Earl’s day in the 1700s. Americans eat about 200 sandwiches on average each year. Whether you prefer yours stuffed with egg and bacon at breakfast, towering with turkey at lunch, or griddled with cheese at dinner, we’re willing to bet you’ve enjoyed at least one sandwich today.

While we serve a smattering of sandwiches featuring creatively combined ingredients on our breads, our Demi Baguette sandwich goes back to basics. This Lunch Menu mainstay is stuffed full of savory ham slices, creamy Fontina cheese, tendrils of fresh organic field greens, and a smear of lip-smacking Dijon.

Not only is our ham and cheese a comforting classic, only a little grown up, it’s uncompromising in quality. Recently we looked for a way to improve this sandwich, which led us right to Hempler’s. Located in Ferndale, Washington, just a hop, skip and jump away, the family-owned company has made mouthwatering, high-quality ham for over 80 years using ingredients with sustainability in mind. Pit-smoked and sweetened with a bit of honey, Hempler’s ham is completely free of allergens, gluten, MSG, phosphates, and artificial color. It’s also nitrate and chemical free. Who knew something so basic could be so good?

Get a taste of this new ham on our Demi Baguette at any of our cafés and let us know what you think.

Flour 101: A Few of Our Favorite Flours

National Flour Month

Let’s face it, without flour our bread racks would be bare, our pastry cases empty, and there would be a little less bounce in our steps. It’s a key ingredient in just about everything we make, so it’s only natural that we put a lot of consideration into the brands and types we use.

In honor of National Flour Month, we’re dipping into the fluffy world of flour with a little series taking you from grain to loaf. First up, let’s talk about our favorite flour suppliers and why Leslie selected each one.

Fairhaven Organic Flour Mill – More and more we are reaching for Fairhaven Mill’s flour for our products. The folks at Fairhaven strive to work with local farmers whenever possible, and as a result 70 percent of the grain used in their flour is grown right here in Washington. The whole-grain milled flour that we get from Fairhaven is made with grain grown on the Williams Brothers’ farm in Walla Walla. Milling the grain completely intact preserves its nutrition and natural sweetness. That exceptional flavor and texture really shines through in our Vollkorn, Pane Francese, Greek Olive and Raisin Pumpernickel to name just a few.

Cook Natural Products – Leslie chooses Cook’s identity-preserved wheat flour, because it creates a very flavorful bread. Identity-preserved grain is never mingled with other grains nor is it ever modified, so bakers know exactly what to expect with quality and flavor. This fine ingredient is one of the reasons our signature Baguette is so delicious.

Shepherd’s Grain – Shepherd’s Grain flour is a favorite staple among many local bakers. Recognizing the benefits of sustainable agriculture, this brand sources grain from family farms built with those practices in mind. Their growers use no-till and direct seed farming to conserve soil, prevent erosion and increase fertility. You’ll find Shepherd’s Grain Low-Gluten Strength Flour in our Mrs. D’s Vegan Cookie.

As simple an ingredient as flour may be, sourcing the best not only impacts the food we make, it affects our environment and farmers too. You can find more information on the flour we use as well as recipes for many of our artisan breads in our More from Macrina cookbook.

Now that we have the basics covered, check back next week when we’ll get into the nitty gritty of working with wet dough!

Mustard and Co.: Just Plain Good

Mustard and Co.

Photo courtesy of Mustard and Co.

It seems like most people don’t give mustard much thought. Its section in the condiment aisle is dwarfed by towers of mayonnaise, ketchup, barbecue sauce and an alarming array of hot sauce. That bright yellow bottle is familiar, but what’s in it?

That’s what Justin Hoffman wondered as he scanned the list of ingredients on a jar of mustard at a deli one day. As his eyes fell on the words “white vinegar,” he was hit with what he calls “divine inspiration.”

“It struck me as cheap and bland,” Justin remembers. “And at that moment I decided I was going to make a honey mustard using balsamic vinegar, which I saw as a more complex and tasteful option. It’s since been quite an unexpected journey. It’s like a child dropped into my arms, for which I must now care.”

That child is Mustard and Co., a swiftly up-and-coming condiment business that he formed last year with his friend and business partner Bryan Mitchiner. Justin spent the last few years tweaking his recipe. Only a handful of ingredients go into his mustard, but he’s dutifully sought out the best. Unlike most mustards, Mustard and Co.’s is never subjected to heat, resulting in a curiously spicy kick that’s balanced with a bit of curry and raw honey.

Bryan dropped off a bottle of their signature blend at Macrina not long ago for us to consider selling in our cafés. It didn’t take much more than a taste to convince us.

“They are exactly the kind of local company that we would like to support,” says Crystal Kitchin, general manager of cafés. “They are very nice and their product is all-natural, which pairs nicely with our bread.”

Not only can you find Mustard and Co. on our shelves these days, but Head Savory Chef Elizabeth Hall has been folding it into our lunch menu. It was practically made for our Pretzel Roll.

Justin’s favorite way to eat it? “Put a little chèvre on a cracker, top it with a piece of smoked salmon and a drizzle of mustard and it will take you to a new place.  I also love it in potato, tuna or egg salad mixed with a bit of mayo, or aioli if that’s your preference.”

Mustard Aioli
Click here to print this recipe!

Ingredients

1 large egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped garlic
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
*1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon Mustard and Co. mustard
1/2 cup canola oil

*Available in our cafés or online.

Instructions

1. Whisk the egg yolk, garlic, lemon juice and mustard in a medium bowl to thoroughly combine.

2. Start adding the canola oil just a few drops at a time, whisking constantly until the mixture begins to emulsify. As it thickens, continue adding the oil in a slow stream, making sure each addition is thoroughly blended before adding more.

3. Season to taste with salt, then cover the aioli and refrigerate until needed.

4. Enjoy spread on a corned beef sandwich or as a dip with a soft pretzel.

Rustic Potato: Fellowship From Farm to Table

Potato Loaf

Every week about 15,000 pounds of Russet Norkotah potatoes arrive on our doorstep. From there, they are mashed (peels and all), mixed with unbleached flour, yeast, extra virgin olive oil, and sea salt, and then crafted into one of our biggest selling breads: Rustic Potato.

These spuds get their start as seedlings under the watchful care of Mattawa’s Wahluke Produce, nestled in the arid Columbia basin. Wahluke Produce is owned by the Christensen family, who has farmed the area for three generations. Even though it is a fairly new potato variety, the easily adaptable Russet Norkotah is a staple on this farm. Light in texture and full of flavor, they are a baker’s dream for whipping up perfect potato bread.

Eventually these potatoes find themselves on your table in the form of a sliced loaf, lightly toasted, and slathered with sweet preserves; a basket of warm, soft rolls, passed among family; or perched on a party tray as petite sliders sandwiching your favorite fixings.

Here are Macrina, we believe that good things are even better when they are shared. And, our potato bread is a perfect example of the communal bond from farm to table.

Good Grains! It’s National Flour Month!

Macrina Bakery Flour ScoopEach year we celebrate the usual March holidays – National Pi Day, St. Patrick’s Day, and Women’s History Month, but, most importantly, we honor National Flour Month. As a bakery, flour is one of our basic ingredients, whether it’s whole grain, whole wheat, or all-purpose.

Since the beginning of civilization, flour has been the staple of cuisines around the world. When our ancestors discovered they could crush grass seeds into a powder, they dined on flat, hard cakes cooked over a fire. It is the Egyptians in 3,000 BC that figured out how to harvest and use yeast, creating soft loaves by fermenting the dough with heat from the sun.

Luckily, we do not have to grind the grains ourselves. News of this innovation traveled, Romans created watermills, and with the Industrial Age came the technology to mill the flour in large quantity. We have a handful of wonderfully dedicated millers that we rely on for our flours. One of them is Fairhaven Organic Flour Mill in Burlington, about one hour north of Seattle. Fairhaven began in 1974 as a cooperative, and since 2007, has been family-owned by Kevin and Matsuko Christenson. Leslie had the opportunity to visit the mill a while back and was taken by the Christenson’s sincere pledge to buy only locally grown, organic grains that are milled weekly in small batches so they retain as much nutrients as possible.

Macrina Bakery Flour BowlAmidst the earthy aromas of the fresh, weighty whole grain flour, the Christensons shared their passion for the farmers with whom they have continued to support over the years. It is that commitment to their craft that is most appreciated by the Macrina family. We use Fairhaven’s Rye Flour for many of the artisan breads we produce, including Vollkorn, Pane Francese, and Greek Olive Bread. The recipes for these breads are included in our cookbooks, Macrina Bakery & Café Cookbook and More From Macrina. We hope you will pick up Fairhaven Organic Flour for your bread-making needs and test out some of our recipes in honor of National Flour Month. Happy baking!

Inspiration through Unity: How a Bakery and Winery broke bread

Tim and Kelly Hightower

Tim and Kelly Hightower

One thing you will notice in all of our breads is the care and inspiration baked into each item. A favorite of these inspired bread stories is the Hightower Cellars Bread Starter, a sourdough bread starter made with skins from Sauvignon grapes and developed with our  dear friends Tim and Kelly Hightower.

In the mid 1990s, while keeping their day jobs, Tim and Kelly Hightower pursued their passion of winemaking. In Woodinville, WA, the couple’s research and determination proved successful with their inaugural release of 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon. Soon after, they moved to Benton City in Eastern Washington where they purchased acres of prime vineyard land.

Hightower's vineyards.

Hightower’s vineyards.

Macrina’s friendship with Hightower Cellars began years ago when Leslie visited their beautiful winery perched within the Red Mountain appellation hills near the Yakima Valley, three hours east of Seattle.

In 2010, these passionate, gifted winemakers proposed to Leslie a pretty quirky idea, offering cabernet sauvignon wine grapes to be used as a sour bread starter. Sourdough starters can be developed from the natural yeast found on grape skins, adding leavening and delicious flavor.

A few dashes here and there of this and that, and soon we pulled our Pane Francese from the oven. This is an Italian version of a crusty baguette: batonlike, with a light, porous crumb and a crisp, caramel-brown crust. Our Pane Francese is a beautiful, tasty creation with a story rooted in a genuine, heartfelt bond between artisan industries.

From a simple meeting sprang the creation of a bread that the Hightowers could use for tasting and Macrina could offer in our cafes. We think you, and your guests, would love the pairing of these two artisanal favorites this holiday season. Now that you know the story behind the bread, and the wine, we hope you will enjoy both at your table.