Lately I have been looking for a good local source of organic, stone-ground unbleached whole wheat flour at a reasonable cost. My search to pay more attention to the quality of the ingredients that go into my bread was inspired by John Downes, The flowers of Flour
John Downes is credited with starting the modern sourdough movement in Australia and in this post he talks about organic stoneground flours having exceptional qualities.
Organic, and particularly stoneground flours have the most exceptional organoleptic properties. That is, upon analysis they generally taste, smell, look and feel the best.
After getting over my initial envy of all the choices in flours he talks about using, I thought about my own baking and that while I am getting confident in my method and producing consistently good bread, what I really need to take my bread to the next level, a bread that truly tastes, looks, feels and smells the very best; is to get back to the basics elements and find the best local source of the best ingredients. I want to find the best local source of quality organic flour, the best possible salt and the finest water I can use.
So I thought I would start with flour...
Since I started baking just over 15 months ago I have been using an unbleached white baker's flour called BRERO which I found on-line. After paying for postage and delivery it is costing my around $3AU/Kilo. I have just been using this as my mainstay flour and adding some other plain wholemeal flours or rye flours usually sourced from the local supermarket to add extra texture or flavour. Now I can't say I am unhappy with the results from Brero flour, as the proof is in the baking, but I really wouldn't know if there is a better result to be gained from an all organic stoneground flour and I don't actually know what they are putting in it. The Basic Ingredients website states that they routinely test and evaluate different white flours before they decide what to use in their "Brero" flour. They state that the ideal specs for a suitable flour requires parameters such as Protein Level, Falling Value, Ash level, Starch Damage and Enzymatic Activity to fall in a fairly specific range to make it ideally suitable for Sourdough Baking. Fair enough, however when I get my 5kg package delivered it has no such breakdown on the label. I don't really know what they are sending me.
So step one is to try to source a good stoneground unbleached organic flour that I can find locally and do some comparison baking for around the same price $3-$3.50/kg.
After some research online and a few false starts including driving out to obscure business parks only to find the "Organic Wholesaler" has moved, closed down or left town on vacation, I think I cracked it. At least for me locally in the Hunter area, I found a great shop called Organic Feast at East Maitland, near where I work. I visited there the other day and was pleased to find they stocked the Demeter Farm Mill range of flours and grains. A bit more research and I am confident these organic flours could be the best I can get easily get my hands on at a reasonable price. In my research I discovered Dementer Farm Mill is owned and supplied by the Wholegrain Milling Company, a family owned company from Gunnedah, NSW, that has specialised in high quality stoneground organic flours for 25 years. Bingo! this was one of the flours mentioned by John Downes as
"the best flours available on the planet"
- so worth a try eh?
Now for the Salt..
I always though salt was just... well salt, and they all are pretty much the same aren't they? I figured the role of salt in baking, as for most cooking is just to add or enhance flavour. Apparently not in baking bread..., salt plays a far more important role. It not only enhances flavour, but also controls bacteria, strengthens the dough by tightening gluten, and helps prolongs shelf life.
So up till now I have been using common everyday Saxa cooking salt but I had noticed others mention 100% sea salt and other various "high end" salts. After doing a little research I found a number of articles and posts that talk about the various salts available for baking and I have seen notes about how each form influences how easily the salt blends with dough. Each form of salt is different in volume as well as the way they dissolve, mix, and adhere. (See Graham's note here about adding coarse flakes)
So far I have not yet sourced locally, a good Australian salt but I understand we produce some of the best salt in the world. I was thinking of trying the Murray River Pink salt, as these are salt flakes harvested from pure underground saline waters. I would be interested in some other suggestions from Australian bakers.
In the meantime I will try using some stone ground Himalayan crystal salt which I picked up at the organic store. It's supposed to be the purest, most mineral rich, salt on earth being formed 250 million years ago...so it's gotta be good, right?
And the Water...
I read somewhere when I first started baking that using tap water is a problem in that the chlorine in it can kill off the beasties in your starter and not help your bread dough develop properly..So I have always used chilled filtered water. I use the Brita filter system which I think pretty much removes all chloride and any impurities from our drinking water. It does not remove the trace minerals or fluoride and gives me a nice tasting, clear water which so far I believe is the best water I can use.
So having started down this path I will post my results as I start using the best ingredients in my breads. This weekend I began the experiment by using 20% organic spelt wholemeal flour with my usual multi-grain weekend loaves and the Brevo baker's flour.
I did use the Demeter Farm Mill, organic multi-grain mix and some pine-nuts and sunflower seeds for crunch. I must say I am already starting to taste the difference.
In the coming weeks I hope to try 100% organic flours & grains.., so we will see.
Of course it may all be just subjective indulgent and self-delusion in regards the exceptional "organoleptic properties" of high quality stoneground organic flour and good salt and water... but as we all know literally at our gut level, once you see, smell, taste and feel a really exceptional sourdough you intrinsically know the difference and cannot ever go back to that bland commercial stodge sold as bread in most places today.