I find that when I am discussing what makes fresh flour so special, I can’t escape making multiple references to the time I spent working in the wine industry, which inevitably leads me to the sophistication of our current coffee culture. There are so many parallels.
Just like grapes and wine, until we were exposed to the great coffee bean diversity that is out there we had no idea how our palates were about to be changed. Who knew that we would be using wine industry words like tannins, body, structure, acidity, and finish to describe a good old cup of joe? Or that it would become de rigueur to have a whole arsenal of flavor descriptors at our command like black currant, plum, chocolate, citrus, toffee and caramel for the deep, dark brew? We have become aficionados and because of that the bar continues to be raised for not only how and where our coffee beans are sourced, but also for how responsibly the industry interacts with the regional growers and workers.
I believe that wheat will follow the same arc of discovery. However, like the pioneer micro coffee roasters, I am prepared to address a little skepticism where fresh flour and locally grown wheat are concerned. After all, we’ve had no real experience in our recent, or for that matter distant, past with anything other than highly processed and refined white flour. How could we possibly have the expectation that flour can have diversity of flavor and baking characteristics based on the type of wheat and possibly where it was grown? Our choices have been limited to white, off-white, or reassembled “whole” wheat flour. Those options sound crazy delicious, don’t they? Of course we have baked around them and relied on everything else in a recipe to deliver actual flavor. This is all about to change.
Will we buy fresh flour initially because we want to support a new local business and our local farmers? Yes, we probably will. We’re good like that in California. And the fact that a sustainable local grain hub is in our best interest for keeping healthy whole grains fresh and accessible? Doesn’t hurt. But ultimately the only thing that will matter is whether or not we can clearly taste and appreciate the difference as we bake and cook. I invite you to decide for yourself.
And so I present to you stone milled, whole grain Sonora as our first case study: a single-varietal flour (yes, I went there with the wine terminology!) made from a landrace wheat, long ago weeded out by more modern varietals. Sonora was widely planted throughout California until the late 1800s. Today, it is protected by the Slow Food Ark of Taste, but it’s only being grown in parts of northern Sonora, Mexico, southern Arizona, and by a handful of farmers in California. It is taller than modern wheat (which helps it shade out weeds), has a deeper root structure, and because it naturally adapted to our climate and terroir is more drought tolerant. Lucky for us, it also happens to make an incredibly beautiful whole grain pastry flour, and lends itself to many baking applications from cookies and cakes to pizza, pasta and flatbreads.
I believe the flavor of fresh whole grain flour really shines when the number of ingredients is fewer rather than many, so I offer up a simple scone recipe. Bake these or incorporate Sonora into another of your favorites and I have no doubt you will see why it is a grain worthy of your most prized recipes and a historic wheat worth fighting to sustain.
Whole Grain Sonora Scones
2 ½ cups (11.25 oz) Sonora Whole Grain Pastry Flour
1/3 cup (2.33 oz) sugar
¾ tsp salt
1 tbsp aluminum free baking powder
1 stick (4 oz) cold unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes
½ cup (3 oz) golden raisins
1 cup (8 oz) heavy cream
1 large egg
heavy cream for brushing, optional
sugar (your choice: superfine or sanding) for sprinkling, optional
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together Sonora Whole Grain Pastry Flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder.
- Using your fingers or a pastry blender, quickly cut in the cold butter, then add golden raisins and toss to combine.
- In a liquid measuring cup, measure cream. Add egg to cream and whisk to blend. Pour into bowl with dry ingredients and gently but thoroughly combine.
- Turn dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. It’s okay if there are still some unincorporated dry particles. Using a bench scraper, gently give the dough a couple of folds, which will help incorporate any bits of dry flour still not mixed in.
- Pat dough into a circle roughly 8 inches in diameter and 1 inch thick.
- Using a knife, score and cut the dough into 8 equal wedges.
- Place scones on prepared baking sheet, spacing them evenly. Brush with cream and sprinkle with sugar if desired.
- Bake for approximately 15 minutes, or until scones are golden brown around edges and set in the middle.