Behold, this loaf, the staff of life!
It is beautiful to look at, chestnut-coloured, with a patina of flour on its expanse of crust, dark brown with a bit of char along its scoring lines.
Breathe it in deeply! Close your eyes. It transports you! The aroma is intoxicating, earthy, buttery, and exotic.
Glorious to taste, the crunch of crust, creaminess of crumb, a dense chew with darker notes, the subtle hint of wheat, grass, malt.
Transporting you to a simpler time
You cradle it in your hands, hold it to your chest. It emanates warmth, if not physical, then emotional … a psychological connection to nurture, memory, and the life force.
It transports you to a simpler time, vivid, clear. The undercurrent of dreaminess, otherworldliness.
Then again, a plastic-bagged loaf from the shelf of your supermarket might seem mundane, a square loaf of pillowy fluff, artificial. Ham, cheese and lettuce between two square slices of white bread.
And multi-use! Pinch off a piece of these loaves, roll it between your fingers, and you have a great set of earplugs! Shut out the neighbour’s chain saw or the TV blaring in the next room.
A platform for your favourite condiment
I favour the former experience. And that’s not to say you’re wrong if you enjoy “store-bought” bread best of all. Some aspects of Wonder Bread have attractions, like its low price, and its slices are OK for toasting or acting as a platform for your favourite condiments.
But if you’re reading this, you’re most likely a fan of the so-called artisan loaf. It’s on a different level than Wonder Bread in every sense.
I’m not a big fan of the word “artisan,” as I explained in this post several months back. But the word is convenient when differentiating loaves of bread.
Artisan bread: a checklist
So what do I mean by an artisan loaf?
Here are some characteristics that might comprise a loaf of artisan bread:
• Mostly made by hand
• stone-milled flour
• High percentage of whole grain
• Naturally leavened (sourdough)
• Use of ancient and heritage grains, like einkorn, spelt and Kamut
• Simpler and fewer ingredients (mostly flour, water, salt)
• Nutritious and flavour forward
• Perhaps wood-fired
Bread made in an electric steam-injected oven tastes much like bread made in a wood-fired oven. It has a different appearance but tastes the same. Well-made loaves can also contain dry commercial yeast and still be delicious. Every artisan loaf need not meet all of these criteria.
The loaf you buy at a farmer’s market is probably “artisan.” It probably checks off at least four of the above characteristics.
The loaves we make as the Happy Monk Baking Company are avowedly artisan. Each hand-made loaf has a high percentage of stone-milled, organic whole grain flour. And in so doing, we aim for the highest flavour and nutrition profiles. Our commitment to sourdough leavening is an additional push in this quest for flavour and nutrition.
People in the bread world who work with farmers to produce locally grown grain impress me. So do people who mill their flour at local mills. When it’s available, we at the Happy Monk Baking Company like to use flour and grain grown as close to home as possible.
Locally grown, locally milled
We’ve just run out of the Metchosin-grown wheat flour 1 we’ve used for the past several months. Our next nearest choice is the Red Fife whole wheat we get from Fieldstone Organics, an organization of organic farms in Armstrong, B.C. This farming “co-operative” also produces spelt, einkorn, Kamut, and other varieties of wheat and legumes.
Almost all our flour is milled by Nootka Rose Mill on Happy Valley Road in Metchosin, a 10-minute drive from Stillmeadow Farm. The mill is co-owned by Fry’s Bakery and WildFire Bakery, both of Victoria. And their beautiful flour is milled on a state-of-the-art New American Stone Mills mill.
I mix Nootka Rose flour into Happy Monk bread when it’s little more than one or two weeks old. That’s compared to store-bought all-purpose flour, with its added minerals and preservatives, can be months or years old when it’s sold.
Freshly milled flour equals more excellent nutrition and greater flavour. And ultimately, it produces better-looking loaves, too!
I initially set out to mill all the whole-grain flour for the Happy Monk Baking Company. In those early days, 2 I used a Komo Fidibus XL countertop flour mill for this. It was a powerful home-bakers mill that produced excellent tasting flour, but it was too time-consuming to make up to 10 kg of flour if that was called for in a bread formula.
I started buying Nootka Rose’s beautiful amber-flecked whole wheat flour, an easy solution that saved time and ensured consistent quality.
But now we’ve come full circle. Three months ago, I acquired a proper-sized mill that will easily handle the quantities of flour needed for weekly bread production.
The Jansen Grist Mill
It’s a “new-used” mill called a Jansen Grist Mill, first used by Fry’s Bakery, then moved to Nootka Rose for extra capacity. It was primarily idle by the time I started buying flour there.
It’s the perfect intermediate-sized mill for the Happy Monk Bakery, producing better flour than the Komo Fidibus in a fraction of the time. The Jansen Grist Mill also has street cred with bakers and bakery owners and is used widely throughout North America.
It was designed and manufactured by Roger Jansen, a former bicycle builder from North Carolina. Byron Fry, the most recent owner of the mill, took a stone-dressing workshop from Roger in California several years ago.
Baker street cred
Roger has since passed away, but his mills have left their mark. Jennifer Lapidus, the North Carolina-based miller/owner of Carolina Ground Flour, started her milling operation with a Jansen Grist Mill and featured pictures of them in her terrific bread/milling book, Southern Ground: Reclaiming Flavor Through Stone-Milled Flour.
Randy George, owner and baker of the Vermont-based Red Hen Baking Company, recently acquired a Jansen. He wrote a great blog post about how he discovered the mill and brought it into his bread-making operation.
You’ve likely enjoyed flour from the Jansen Mill if you’ve bought Happy Monk bread in the last while! The Jansen mill has been part of the Happy Monk bread production for the last month. You’re already getting fresher, more nutritious bread with the flour we make.
It’s a great pleasure to re-introduce “house-milled” flour to the Happy Monk bread operation. I’m on a learning curve, though; it will take a while to get the flour to where I want it. Byron Fry is working with me and promises to come to Pender to help maintain the stone burrs on the millstones.
I’m probably more excited about this mill than most other people in the world, so I mustn’t go on any longer than I have. Now you have the assurance that your weekly bread now has another level of artisan quality.