Whole / Wild / Wet / Slow / Bold
What are the characteristics that define good bread, both in terms of the process and the ingredients? An excellent question, I'm so glad that you're curious! These rules aren't hard and fast (and I'll be the first one to support a deviation in the quest of deliciousness), but I do think they're principles by which most good bread is made.
Many folks are surprised when they find out that we actually have a mill at The Mill...but it's true, we have a stone mill that we use to freshly mill all of our whole grain flours everyday. We can mill flour exactly the way we want, and use it right away.
Why go to the extra trouble of milling the flour yourself? That's an excellent question, and I've asked it myself a hundred times.
A helpful metaphor, perhaps: compare a cup of coffee made with beans that were ground days/weeks/months before, to one that's brewed with beans ground moments before. Or take pre-ground pepper compared to the stuff fresh out of a pepper mill. Night and day, right?
The short answer: more delicious bread that's better for you. (I'm not sure fresh-ground pepper is better for you, but who cares, really?) A longer answer... Whole grain flour starts going bad the moment it is milled. Compared to white flour, which is all starchy endosperm, whole grain flour contains bran and germ, which oxidize and degrade rapidly. As we use mostly whole grain flour, we have a deep interest in using it when it's as fresh as possible. How to have the freshest flour possible? Mill it yourself.
But we're also just insatiably curious bakers - we want to get as deep into the process as possible, and having control over the transformation of grain into flour is something we're so excited and proud to say is part of our everyday baking practice. It also allows us to have relationships direct with the farmers growing the grains.
whole: whole grain
We bake whole grain bread. This may come as a surprise to some of you, as we haven't really defined ourselves as such, but it's just true - every single one of our loaves is made with mostly whole grain flour that we stone mill fresh in the bakery. We don't use exclusively whole grain flour, many of our breads contain up to 45% sifted bread flour. But our favorite breads are the ones bursting with flavor and energy, the ones made exclusively with stone ground whole grain flour, milled moments before being mixed into dough. We just think these breads are both more interesting to make, and more interesting to eat. We work with a bunch of different grains: einkorn, rye, spelt, khorasan, corn, oats, buckwheat, a bunch of different wheats such as Sonora, Cabernet, Cristalo, Bolero, Merica, and the list goes on and on. We've got a stone mill in the bakery so that we can control the granulation and then use the flour immediately in whatever fashion we dream up - mixing it directly into dough, or soaking it overnight, or toasting it and mixing with boiling water, or cooking it into a porridge... new possibilities present themselves everyday, so long as we can keep the adventurous spirit alive.
We bake sourdough (wild yeast) bread. And by that I don't mean that we add a little sourdough starter to our dough for kicks, while also adding commercial yeast to do the heavy lifting; all of our loaves are made exclusively with a wild yeast culture as the sole leavening agent. Sourdough starter is a magical little beast. It’s a combination of flour and water, along with wild yeast and bacteria that are naturally found on flour and in the environment. Starters can be tricky to work with, as you need to constantly monitor their development and characteristics in order to make the bread you’re after. In order to keep your sourdough starter alive, you have to “feed” it regularly with flour and water, and by doing this you can coax the wild yeast and bacteria into the proportions that are good for bread baking. Most bread is made with yeast that's made in a factory, and this yeast is created in order to make bread rise quickly and dependably. But it wasn’t always this way – the first breads ever were most definitely “sourdough” – made with a mixture of flour and water that was allowed to ferment by the power of the wild yeast that was lucky enough to find its way into the mixture. The best breads that I've ever had have been made using a sourdough culture. If used properly, a sourdough culture yields bread that tastes better, lasts longer, and is healthier for you.
wet: fully hydrated
We fully hydrate our grains. It’s a lot easier to end up with moist bread if you start out with moist dough. why don’t more people put more water in their bread doughs? because it makes for a dough that is very sticky and tricky to handle, and well, that's a pain in the ass now isn't it? this is especially true if machines are dividing the dough, or shaping it into loaves. only the sensitive human hand can handle dough like this, and even then, it takes hundreds, thousands of loaves to get the hang of shaping "high hydration" dough consistently. most breads out there have 60-70g of water for every 100g of flour. our breads have between 75-125g of water for every 100g of flour, and this totally depends on the particular flour of a given bread. we aim for a dough that is fully hydrated and yields a bread that has a moist and supple crumb.
slow: long fermented
We don't rush our bread. Good things take time, didn't your gramma teach you that? The flavors and textures of a long-fermented loaf are just flat out better than those of a short-fermented one. The life cycle for most of our breads goes something like this: our sourdough culture hangs out for 16 hours before being mixed into dough, our dough relaxes for 4 hours before being shaped into loaves, our loaves chill out for 18 hours before being baked into bread. So our bread dough has matured over a couple of days before it's baked into bread, which gives the yeast and bacteria of our sourdough culture time to perform their magic: producing the perfect mix of acid, alcohol and gas to make the most delicious, nutritious bread.
bold: boldly baked
We bake our loaves dark. When a loaf goes into the oven it is the moment of truth - did we make the right decisions over the last 48 hours? And so begins the waiting game for that loaf to complete its transformation. You can't rush this phase of the process, just like every other one. We bake our breads anywhere from 30-120 minutes, depending on the size and type. Regardless, we bake each loaf till it's crust is dark and substantial and its insides are fully cooked. Folks occasionally point out that we burnt our bread. While I admit that our loaves are significantly darker than those from most bakeries, I also stand by the flavors and textures created by the bold bake, and encourage critics to employ their taste buds.