Alexa here to share a little bit about a recent project of mine: new SCONES!
For those of you who are members of our Community SupportedBakery program or used to visit us at the Orinda Farmers Market (re-opening next weekend - go support!) you are familiar with the big, sloppy, rich scones we make. I would describe them as American style cream scones because a) we Americans love big in-your-face flavors and b) bigger is better. I like to make sure our scones have a bit of a crispy edge with a rich moist center with a healthy dose of mix-ins like fresh fruit, herbs or cheese
One of our CSB members and regulars from the market told us he preferred a more simple, lighter scone common in southern england. The first thing that came to mind when he described his ideal scone was this scene in The Crown where Queen Elizabeth remains completely composed while angrily putting clotted cream and jam on her lovely, fluffy, white scone. A scone fit for a queen!
On a quest to try some new flours, we went to the Temezcal Farmers Market a few weeks ago to meet David Kaisel of Capay Mills. David is awesome. He grows his own grain and sources from other farmers in the region. Then, he stone grinds them for unique, fresh flours and provides local bakers lots of great information about the grains so they know what to expect when using it. We caught him at this last market before his first "vacation" in years: heading to Italy to learn more about milling! He's posting lots of great pictures of milling and eating on the Capay Mills Instagram - definitely check it out!
After a good long chat about baking we picked up a few bags of flour to try:
- We got some Sonora Wheat which gets its name from Sonora, a state in northern Mexico and the desert in that area. It is the oldest surviving kind of wheat in North America. It makes very stretchy dough perfect for flour tortillas.
- Aaron also got some Rye Chops which are cracked rye berries he'll be using in a delicious rye bread he's working on.
- Last but not least, my personal favorite, we grabbed a bag of Chiddam Blanc de Mars (what a name!). This flour was popular in the late 1800s among British and French bakers for its lovely light texture. It sounded like the perfect candidate for scones!
As you can see in the photo here David's Chiddam Blanc de Mars has a lovely yellow color to it. Definitely not a white flour. Wheat berries, used to make flour, are have three main parts: the Bran (fibrous outside skin), the Endosperm (the starchy "meat" of the berry) and the Germ (the nutrient rich little packet of goodness for sprouting new grain). White flour has the germ and bran removed for a flour that has a lighter color and texture which results in a much more neutral flavor. Whole grain flour, on the other hand, uses the whole berry (bran, endosperm and germ together). With all that extra fiber in them, whole grain flours soak up more moisture and cut the gluten protein strands short so you tend to get a more crumbly texture. This makes it very different than white flour with but incredibly rewarding to bake with and, most importantly, EAT!
So I tried my hand at Devonshire scones, which if made with white flour would resemble Queen worthy scones. The wee little scones I made might not be the towering white scones of her majesty, they will certainly do just fine for me! The warm color reflects the incredible flavor inside. It almost reminded me of a nutty cornbread. I sent along some samples to our CSB member scone connoisseur and he said " I loved the texture, wonderfully light, beautifully crumbly, neither too dry nor over moist." I'll take it! Prefect with a dab of Aaron's lime marmalade and some a dab of creamy whole fat yogurt. Unfortunately I don't keep clotted cream in the fridge but that may have to change.
I am going to play around a little with the hydration and size in the next go around but I am excited after this first test! I definitely want to make some highfalutin white flour scones for comparison. Maybe we can put them in CSB shares one week soon!
So, why is white flour the norm in grocery stores? Why do we shy away from all this nutrition and flavor that comes from whole grains?
I read a great book called Mess of Greens that explores how gender, race and economics weave themselves through southern cooking. One example of how these concepts can get mixed up in food is found when examining the differences between southern biscuits (basically a style of American scones) and cornbread.
Biscuits are made of white flour lends itself to layers, light texture and neutral flavor. The extra steps in processing make it more costly to produce. Wheat is doesn't grow well in the south, so historically, it had to be transported to the south which made it even MORE expensive. Baking biscuits also requires a bowl, counter top for rolling them out, a cutter, pan to bake and proper oven to bake them in! Cornbread, on the other hand, is made from whole grain corn flour, a plant native to North America that grows fairly well in the south and all you need to make it is a spoon, a bowl, ingredients and a fire to cook it over. Bottom line: making biscuits required a lot of resources to make so they became a symbol of being well off and/or white. Its fascinating to see that, no matter what side of the Atlantic you are on, societies have decided that fluffy white biscuit/scones are a way to show off how classy you are. Whole grain flours certainly have more flavor and nutrition but can be more perishable. White flours might lack distinct flavor but they are their texture makes them a great background to beloved seasonal jams. As far as I am concerned they are both delicious, just different.
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Have a great weekend.