Family grown wheat under big skies
The past week has been spent under big skies. I had travelled to my families home overlooking the small township of Warwick which is two hours drive south-west of Brisbane. As I left the city outskirts and watched the land open up before me, my hands relaxed on the steering wheel and I breathed in the space … up above the skies felt bigger.
This was a belated Christmas trip and the amount the garden had grown and developed showed how long it had been since my last visit. Apples hung heavily and tomatoes had self-sowed everywhere you looked. My parent’s garden is such an inspiration for Nat and I, and what a joy to see my youngest daughter pulling carrots, picking tomatoes, grasping flowers while asking endless questions.
Recently I discovered that my aunt and her husband grow wheat on their farm situated near the small town of Bell, 260 km north-west of Brisbane. I have many fond memories of Christmas holidays spent there playing with my cousins, watching cricket on hot summer days and exploring the farm at the foothills of the Bunya Mountains. It had never occurred to me that they grew grain and on a recent trip to my parents, my aunt left a bag of wheat for my father and I to use in our grain mills.
A data sheet left with the bag indicated that the variety of wheat we had been given was Kennedy - a prime hard wheat with high dough strength, a long mixing time and excellent baking qualities. Interestingly the data sheet also indicated the wheat had a protein level of 9.5% which did not seem particularly high so I planned a cautious bake.
This was fresh wheat from a farm … there were bits of stray material, wheat heads, damaged grains and over breakfast my daughter, father and I chatted and laughed while we sorted through a kilogram of the grains picking out the unwanted material. The grains are smaller and lighter in colour than wheat which I have milled previously. It milled beautifully in my father's Hawos stone mill.
Not long after purchasing my Komo mill, my parents had visited and become fascinated with the idea of milling fresh flour. This led my father to purchase a Hawos Billy 100 stone mill for use with his bread machine with excellent results. Although the Billy 100 is a physically larger mill using a wider millstone it contains a smaller motor than the Komo XL leading to slower and quieter milling. I was really impressed with the quality of the flour and was a little envious of the lovely pieces of bran the mill seemed to produce.
Before mixing a bread I wanted to get a feel for the flour so I asked my mum to bake us a fantastically chewy slice that is packed full of fruit and flavour. My mum does not measure when she cooks so it was a challenge to slow her down so I could take a few rough measurements.
My Mum’s Super Chewy Fruit Slice (featuring freshly milled family flour)
250g Freshly milled wholewheat flour
2 ½ tsp Baking powder
180g Mixed fruit
180g Chopped dates
70g Dried blueberries
½ cup Brown sugar
1 cup Desiccated coconut
2 cups Special K breakfast cereal
- Preheat oven to 160C
- Line a slice tin with baking paper
- Combine butter and honey in a saucepan and melt over a low heat
- Mix baking powder with the flour and sift twice to incorporate
- Lightly beat eggs
- Transfer melted butter mixture to a large bowl with all remaining ingredients and stir until combined
- Press into prepared tin and place into oven for approx 30 mins or until golden brown.
- Allow to cool before slicing
During the day I built up the levain and pondered how to treat this unknown wheat. With a seemingly low protein level I was reluctant to soak the flour for an extended period so I opted for a one hour autolyse with cooler water. I also chose to preferment 25% of the total flour to help strengthen the flour. I usually aim for a hydration level of 85% for my fresh milled wholewheat breads but with the expectation of weaker flour I dropped this to 75%.
After the autolyse I was surprised to find a firm and resilient dough and as soon as I began mixing I knew I would need a higher hydration. By the end of mixing I had increased the hydration to my usual 85% and had dough that felt strong and extensible. A stretch-and-fold at the 30 min mark confirmed the dough’s strength and I left it untouched for the remainder of the two hour bulk ferment.
After straight forward shaping and proving, getting results from my parent’s oven would remain the biggest challenge as I tried to add steam without my usual cast iron steam pans. A few ice cubes and a raging hot baking stone worked well but not to the usual standard of my oven at home.
The resulting bread had expanded boldly in the oven with a sweet caramel flavour to the crumb and light golden crust. It was slightly denser to my previous wholewheat breads and I am keen to mill this wheat at home in my Komo to see what results I get.
… and what better way to enjoy bread than with home grown tomatoes still warm from the sun, fresh picked basil, olive oil and sprinkle of cracked pepper.