How to Make a Natural Starter 

Many of us have been spending a lot more time at home lately. Some of us are looking to distract and engage in crafts to take breaks from the anxiety of the outside world.

Kneading and baking homemade bread is one way. It is tactile, rhythmic, and delivers great rewards along with its calming properties. If you’ve already started exploring baking bread, how about taking your bread to the next level by making your own natural starter? You may not keep the starter up forever, but it will make some of the best homemade loaves you’ve ever tasted.

Of course, you can make bread using a packet of dried yeast, but harnessing the power of a natural starter is a transformative experience. In fact, it was a natural starter that helped transform Macrina from a dream into bakery. No exaggeration. In 1991, Leslie Mackie was preparing for her annual harvest party, an autumn gathering of food lovers in which everyone brought food made from their gardens. Leslie decided she’d bake bread for the event with a natural starter made from grapes grown in her garden. She crushed the plump red grapes and added them to a mix of flour and water. After several days of love and regular feeding, the starter was alive and kicking. The loaf that she developed for that party was a hit and ultimately became our house bread, Macrina Casera. Now, more than 25 years later, we are still feeding that same starter every day and baking hundreds of loaves. Casera’s mild sour flavor is derivative of those grapes, that fortuitous backyard fermentation.

It was this loaf that helped Leslie decide to open Macrina Bakery in 1993 and the same loaf that put Macrina on the regional map in 1994 when the Casera won second place in a Sunset Magazine sourdough competition.

We now have several other starters that we use for various breads, like the starter we developed from grapes from Hightower Cellars Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon that we use in our Pane Francese. When we were collaborating with PCC on a whole wheat baguette, Scott Owen, PCC Markets Grocery Merchandiser, said, “Macrina’s collection of sourdough starters is incredible.” We like to think so and carefully feed and nurture them daily to keep them vigorous—they’re the heart of our naturally-leavened breads.

There are many ways to make a natural starter. Here’s our favorite way:

Start with fresh grapes. Discard any unfavorable grapes. Wash to remove any debris. Weigh out 1½ lbs and wrap them in cheesecloth.

Weigh out 2 lbs of all-purpose flour and 3 lbs water at 75°F. Combine the water and flour and mix until smooth.

Squeeze the wrapped grapes over the bowl to release their juice into the flour mixture. Submerge the grape sachet in the bowl. Let the bowl sit uncovered at room temperature for a full day. After 24 hours have elapsed, discard the grape sachet.

Your starter will now have life. The natural yeasts from the grapes are doing their work. Stir the starter at least once a day for a few days until you see bubbles on the surface. Once this happens, you need to begin feeding it. Mix another 2 lbs of flour and 3 lbs of water together and then add it to your starter. Mix well and allow it to sit out another full day.

You should have a vigorous starter. Choose a recipe for naturally leavened bread (you can find the recipe for our Macrina Casera in the Macrina Bakery and Café Cookbook) and taste the magic you’ve created!

From this point on, you’ll need to feed your starter like a pet. Feed it with a mix of equal parts flour and water. Hopefully, you’ll be using it frequently, so it’s easy to remember. If the starter gets too large, discard half of it. If liquid begins gathering on top, you can move it into the refrigerator to slow the fermentation.

Enjoy!

 

May Recipe of the Month: Mother’s Day Cake

This simple chocolate cake is my favorite. The base layers are our moist Mom’s Chocolate Cake. The right balance of espresso and chocolate make the mocha mousse unforgettable, and the dark chocolate ganache adds flavor and elegance. Garnish it with raspberries or chocolate shavings and you’ll have a beautiful homemade cake to surprise your mother with at her celebration.

Ingredients

Makes one 9-inch cake

Cake

2 eggs

¾ cup whole milk

⅓ cup canola oil

2 tsp pure vanilla extract

1¾ cups granulated sugar

1½ cups all-purpose flour

¼ cup cocoa powder

1 tsp baking soda

¾ tsp salt

¾ cup boiling water

9-inch cardboard cake circle

Mocha Mousse

¾ cup semisweet chocolate chips

¼ cup brewed espresso (or very strong coffee)

4 Tbsp unsalted butter

2 cups whipping cream

½ cup powdered sugar, sifted

Ganache Glaze

2 cups whipping cream

1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips

1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Directions

Cake

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Brush the sides and bottom of a 9-inch round cake pan with canola oil. Line the base with a parchment circle. Dust the oiled edges with flour to prevent sticking.

In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs, milk, canola oil and vanilla. Set aside.

Sift the sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a stand mixer bowl. Using the paddle attachment, mix on low speed for 1 minute to combine the ingredients. Add the egg mixture in three additions, scraping the bottom and sides of the bowl between. After the third addition, the mixture should be smooth.

With the mixer on low speed, add the boiling water in a slow stream, taking approximately 30 seconds. Increase speed to medium and mix for an additional minute.

Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan.

Bake on the center rack for 30 to 35 minutes. When finished, the top will be set and the sides should pull slightly away from the edges. Let cool for 1 hour.

To remove the cake, run a knife around the edge of the pan, then invert it gently onto a piece of parchment. After the cake has completely cooled, cut it horizontally into three equal layers. Set aside.

Mocha Mousse

In a medium saucepan, melt the semisweet chocolate chips, espresso and unsalted butter. Remove from the heat. Let cool to room temperature.

In a stand mixer bowl, whip the cream to a soft peak using the whisk attachment. Add the sifted powdered sugar. Continue whipping until the mixture forms medium firm peaks.

Remove the bowl. In three additions, fold in the cooled chocolate mixture. Set aside.

Ganache Glaze

In a medium saucepan, bring the whipping cream to a boil. Turn off the heat and add the chocolate chips. Whisk to make a smooth glaze. Let cool to room temperature (it will thicken slightly).

Assembly

Sprinkle a little sugar onto the 9-inch cake circle (or cardboard cut to size and covered with aluminum foil). Top with the first cake layer and spread with one third of the mousse. Repeat this process with the second layer. Then cover with the last layer of cake. Make sure the sides line up and the top layer is flat. Adjust if needed. Then spread the last third of the mousse evenly over the top and sides until it is smooth. Chill the cake for 30 minutes.

Place a 9-inch cake pan upside down on a rimmed baking sheet. Center your chilled cake on the inverted cake pan. Pour half the ganache over the top of the cake so that it is covered evenly. Allow the excess to spill over the sides. Add remaining glaze to the sides and smooth for a nice presentation. The chilled cake should allow you to model the glaze to a smooth surface.

Garnish as you like. Sugar sprinkles, flowers, fresh fruits, berries and chocolate shavings are some of our favorites. Enjoy!

 

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.

April Recipe of the Month: Roasted Steak Crostini with Arugula and Lemon Aioli

This recipe makes a great appetizer or can be enjoyed as an open-faced sandwich with a green salad for a light meal. Flat iron steak is nearly as tender as tenderloin but is more economical. The marbling in this cut adds flavor, and the meat grills beautifully. If you can’t find it, try substituting hanger steak or tenderloin. Seasoning with black pepper adds a piquant roundness to the meat. Vibrant lemon aioli and crisp arugula enhance each bite with flavor and texture. The crostini pair well with red wine.

Ingredients

Makes 12 crostini

1½ lbs flat iron steak

3 Tbsp cracked black pepper

2 Tbsp kosher salt

¼ cup aceto balsamico (balsamic vinegar from Modena), divided

Macrina Baguette

1 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided

3 bunches fresh arugula

1 lemon (zest and juice)

2 egg yolks

1½ tsp Dijon mustard

1½ tsp chopped garlic

1½ cups canola or sunflower oil

Directions:

Season both sides of the flat iron steak with the cracked black pepper and kosher salt. Drizzle 2 Tbsp of aceto balsamico over the steak and let it marinate for at least 30 minutes.

Cut the baguette on the bias (diagonal cuts) into slices measuring roughly a ½-inch thick. Slices should be about 4 inches long. Preheat a grill pan or outdoor grill to medium-high heat. Brush both sides of the baguette with olive oil and grill until crisp and marked by the grill. Set aside.

Wash and remove the fibrous stems from the arugula. Set aside in paper towels to dry. Zest the lemon and set aside.

To make the aioli, whisk the yolks, 1 Tbsp + 1 tsp fresh lemon juice, mustard and garlic in a medium bowl until combined. Continuing to whisk vigorously, add the canola oil in a slow stream until it’s fully incorporated. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate the aioli until you’re ready to use it.

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Preheat the grill pan or your grill to medium-high and sear each side of the steak with grill marks, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer the pan to the oven (or place the steaks to the side of the flame on your outdoor grill and cover) for 6 to 8 minutes. For medium-rare steaks, the internal temperature should be 135°F. Let the steak rest for 10 minutes.

Spread the grilled crostini out on a platter and top each with 1 tsp of aioli. In a medium bowl, toss the arugula leaves with the lemon zest, the remaining lemon juice, 2 Tbsp olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Divide the arugula between the crostini.

Thinly slice the steak and place 2 to 3 slices on each crostini. Finish the crostini with a dollop of aioli and a drizzle of aceto balsamico. Enjoy!

Printable PDF.

Seeds of Hope: Garden with Future Gatherings in Mind

Leslie Mackie finds a measure of tranquility in these uncertain times by planting her garden with visions of friends feasting at her table.

Planning my next garden begins almost as soon as I’m pulling the last of the late fall produce. What would I like more of? Are there new vegetables to introduce? More dahlias? As I’m ordering seeds, I imagine the dinner parties my garden will help supply. What I never imagined in all the planning is that I’d be planting the seeds in a time of such uncertainty and fear, at a time when I can’t even invite friends over.

From the age of 22, I have always tended some type of garden. It started with multiple herb pots on window ledges. Eventually, I graduated to amending soil along parking strips, eking the most out any sunny area, often removing grass or overgrown scrubs to create a garden bed. No matter how small the garden, it’s always given me a sense of security. I’ve also found, that amid all the busyness and stress of starting and operating a busy bakery, gardening forced me to slow down. Even if only for part of an hour, the time in the garden steadied me with its stillness.

This year, with all the swirling anxiety, I need that stillness more than ever. With my hands in the dirt—planting seeds, weeding, or harvesting—I’m literally connected to the earth. It takes my overstimulated mind away from the media and gives me a reprieve from wanting to solve all the world’s problems. While I garden I dream of dinner parties I don’t yet know I’ll be able to have, but it helps to think of my friends gathered on a summer evening on my garden patio. Hopefully, it will happen.

One of the first crops I always get in is my sugar snap peas. Then I lay out the summer mix. I don’t rush to get everything in—even now that I live on six acres on Vashon and have had to start thinking more like a farmer than an urban gardener. Pacing things and considering what I’m likely to eat in abundance, mainly so I don’t get overwhelmed by all the work. I also plant crops like lettuce and kale in stages by seeding new crops once a month to keep the supply going all summer.

To keep things manageable, I fenced off my property to concentrate most of my garden and “garden life” to just under two acres. That’s still a lot, compared to my city apartments, but I enjoy it. My dogs and chickens roam the fenced area. Bushes of berries and a grape arbor help form a kind of outdoor architecture. Roses and Dahlia’s for cutting provide beauty and a long patio for entertaining extends from my house into the garden.

I use my raised garden beds for a rotation of summer vegetables, herbs, and fruit. I intermingle flowers throughout. Not only does it add beauty to a leafy garden, but they can help provide shade to plants like arugula that will bolt in full sun. They also help with pollination, attracting those ever-important bees.

Despite all my planning, when the summer abundance arrives, I build dinners from what’s available. If I’ve planted well, I always have a steady supply of herbs and varieties of lettuce ready for picking.

To make watering more manageable, I added a simple irrigation system and a timer to help water the raised beds. On hot days, I’m often inclined to give them a bit more water, but it helps take the anxiety out of letting the garden get too dry.

When things begin to grow, it’s important to visit your gardens often. Not only does it leave me with that inner-stillness I mentioned, but it’s important to remember that the more you harvest, the more new growth you get. This goes for flowers as well.

Every year there comes a time when I wish I’d planted something differently, but I’m always grateful for what I have. More importantly, the slow, quiet work and the planning for lovely meals and gatherings, and the promise of growth and beauty fills me with hope and serenity. This year, I need that more than ever.

If you’ve got the space, even just a balcony, get a few pots going. Planting a seed in good soil and carefully tending it shows us the natural power of transformation. And when the time comes, nothing tastes better than homegrown herbs and vegetables. Your long-awaited dinner party will have a meal full of vibrant, just-picked flavor and your quiet satisfaction at the journey you and your seeds have made from a time of anxiety to one of renewal.

A Savory Soup from Seasons, Our New Cookbook

Stuck at home and wondering how to fill the time? When we have the time, we love to cook. And in times like these, our thoughts turn to comfort food. The Lentil Bacon soup from Seasons, the new Macrina Cookbook, is one of our favorites. It’s hearty and simple to prepare. Of course, we recommend serving it with a fresh baguette, which, if you don’t want to go out, can be ordered through DoorDash. (Pro tip: use code MACRINA10 for 10% off your first order during the month of March.)

Our cookbook as available at the cafés or you can order it delivered through our website.

LENTIL BACON SOUP

This lentil soup is simple to prepare and provides nourishing warmth—perfect for a winter lunch or light dinner. It has layers of flavor: the smokiness of the bacon, an aromatic base of onions and carrots, and the acidity of the tomatoes. The savory lentils absorb all the flavors and thicken the soup. As it simmers, the fragrance of garlic and fresh thyme fills the kitchen. Leftovers are even better the next day.

¼ cup olive oil

1 medium onion, diced

4 Roma tomatoes, diced

2 medium carrots, diced

2 stalks celery, diced

1 medium fennel bulb, diced

4 cloves garlic, finely chopped

2 Tbsp fresh thyme, chopped

5 slices of bacon, cooked and chopped

½ cup white wine

1 cup dried lentils

6 to 8 cups chicken or vegetable stock

Salt and freshly ground pepper

In a medium soup pot or deep saucepan, combine the olive oil, onions, tomatoes, carrots, celery and fennel. Cook over medium heat with the lid partially on to steam the vegetables. Cook until the vegetables are translucent and smell sweet, about 5 to 10 minutes. Add the garlic, thyme and bacon. Cook for 3 minutes until the garlic smells sweet but is not dark or burnt. Add the white wine and reduce by half. With a wooden spoon, scrape up any caramelized bits on the bottom and stir into the mix. Add the lentils and stock. Cook for 45 minutes to 1 hour in order to concentrate and develop the flavors. Lentils should still hold their shape. Season with salt and pepper. This is delicious topped with sour cream and served with warm crusty bread.

March Recipe of the Month: Boston Cream Cupcakes

This riff on the American classic makes decadent cupcakes fit for any occasion. Its combination of buttery yellow cake, silky pastry cream and dark chocolate ganache has been popular since the first Boston Cream Pie in 1881. While making all three elements may look like a lot of work, you can make the pastry cream and ganache while the cupcakes are baking. Once everything cools, filling and frosting the cupcakes is quick and easy.

INGREDIENTS
Makes 12 to 14 cupcakes

Cupcakes

8 Tbsp unsalted butter (1 stick), room temperature

1½ cups granulated sugar

1¾ cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp salt

3½ tsp baking powder

3 eggs

1 cup + 2 Tbsp whole milk

2 Tbsp canola oil

1 Tbsp vanilla extract

Vanilla Pastry Cream

2 cups half and half

½ cup granulated sugar, divided

Pinch salt

4 egg yolks

¼ cup cornstarch

½ tsp powdered gelatin

1 Tbsp vanilla extract

2 Tbsp unsalted butter

Ganache Frosting

1½ cups whipping cream

½ cup bittersweet chocolate chips

½ cup semisweet chocolate chips

DIRECTIONS:

Cupcakes

Preheat oven to 350°F. Brush the top of a 12 cup standard muffin tin lightly with oil to prevent the tops from sticking after baking. Place cupcake liners in the tin.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter for 3 to 4 minutes. It should be soft and pale in color.

While the butter is creaming, sift the sugar, flour, salt and baking powder into a medium bowl.

In a separate bowl, combine the eggs, milk, oil and vanilla.

With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture to the creamed butter in 3 additions. Stop the mixer between each addition to scrape the sides of the bowl. Mix for another minute to breakdown any remaining clumps of butter.

Keep the mixer on low speed and add the egg mixture in 3 additions. Continue to scrape the sides of the bowl between additions. Once all the egg mixture is added, increase the speed to medium and mix for another minute.

Scoop the batter into each liner until about ¾ full. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes. The cupcakes should be set on top and golden brown at the edges. Let cool for 45 minutes.

Vanilla Pastry Cream

Place the half and half and ¼ cup sugar in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil.

In a separate bowl, combine the remaining sugar, salt, egg yolks, cornstarch and gelatin.

Add small amounts of the scalded half and half to the egg yolk mixture, whisking constantly to temper the yolk mixture. When ¾ of the half and half is combined, pour the tempered mixture back into the saucepan with the remaining half and half. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly. Once the pastry cream thickens, remove it from the heat to prevent curdling. Whisk in the vanilla and butter and combine well. Strain the pastry cream into a medium bowl. Press plastic wrap against the pastry cream to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate the covered pastry cream for 45 minutes or until cool.

Ganache Frosting

In a medium saucepan, warm the whipping cream over medium heat. When it begins to boil, turn off the heat and add the chocolate chips. Whisk to dissolve the chocolate. Pour the ganache into a bowl and let cool for 30 minutes. Swirl it with a spatula occasionally for even cooling. Refrigerate the ganache for the last 10 minutes. The ganache should be smooth and spreadable.

Assembly

Remove the cooled cupcakes from the muffin tin. With a spoon or a small scoop, remove a large gumball size scoop from the center of each cupcake. Fill each cupcake with cooled pastry cream. Using a spatula, generously spread chocolate ganache frosting across the tops and garnish as you please. Chocolate shavings, brandied cherries or colored sprinkles are our favorite toppings.

Enjoy!

Printable PDF.

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.