Road Trip: Kneading Conference West - Grand Central Bakery

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Road Trip: Kneading Conference West

If our head bakers look perky, it’s because they spent three days at Kneading Conference West, exploring the world of regionally grown grains. Think summer camp for bread and wheat geeks, with lectures, kitchen and lab sessions, plus lots of noshing on all kinds of yeasted things pulled from the wood-fired ovens set up on the grounds. Yes, it was that grueling.

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WSU’s Mt. Vernon Research Center hosts bakers, farmers and millers every fall for Kneading West, an offshoot of Vermont’s annual Kneading Conference.

Here’s a recap:

Keynote speakers Naomi Duguid and Andrew Whitley inspired and challenged the audience of several hundred craft bakers, millers, brewers and Serious Home Bakers (SHBs) to take their knowledge of an age-old craft, share it widely … and innovate! Whitley, author of “Bread Matters” and the force behind the UK’s Real Bread campaign, talked about why ‘Real Bread’  –  produced without additives and as locally as possible –  is better for us, our communities and the planet. Duguid, an award-winning cookbook author, shared photos from her far-flung travels to illustrate how cultures have developed unique breads based on what they have available. The next step for us? Go out and create our own bread traditions with the new grains being developed in our region.

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Grand Central’s Laura Ohm coaches a student in the finer points of pastry dough.

Grand Central’s Laura Ohm – head of the commissary kitchen and princess of pie and pastry dough – teamed with Baker & Spice’s Julie Richardson (who once worked at GCB) to teach a pie classThe two explored pastry doughs made with white and whole grain flours as well as butter, lard, and – gasp – duck fat. Participants learned the secret to flaky pie dough (cold ingredients, mix and form with hands), and watched the pros make double-crust pies and galettes. Lucky were the folks who jumped in to taste the Tarte Tatin made with whole wheat/duck fat crust. Quack.

Earth oven savant Kiko Denzer led a workshop on building wood-fired ovens out of mud. Then a group of conference folks made one. Seriously.

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Kiko Denzer’s earth oven workshop was not a spectator sport. With many hands joining in, it went from dirt to done in a day and a half.

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Mark Doxtader of Tastebud (Portland) and Mike Dash of Rolling Fire Pizza (Seattle) brought their mobile wood ovens and – in the middle of WSU’s apple orchard — demonstrated top-drawer bagel and pizza making.

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A world of flavors: Making the rounds were handmade crackers made with Red Fife wheat, one of the new varieties available to craft bakers.

Using Doxtader’s wood oven, Duguid (below) and fellow Toronto baker Dawn Woodward showed how to make flatbreads and crackers from a variety of whole-grain doughs, and later, led a session in sweet pastries.

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Pear Tart with Whole Wheat Crust, one of several pastries cookbook author Naomi Duguid produced in the wood-fired oven.

Professional bakers – including GCB’s Sean Coyne and Mel Darbyshire – got saucer-eyed checking out WSU’s new Bread Lab at the Mt. Vernon Research Center, outfitted with professional ovens, mixers and analytical equipment that lets bakers, millers and wheat breeders collaborate like never before. Said head honcho Steve Jones: “We have machines that measure the amount of torque required to mix the dough, machines that will blow bubbles in dough, and a computer will measure the size of a bubble and the amount of air pressure in it, which indicates how nice of a spring you would get in a loaf.”  Word.

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GCB head baker Mel Darbyshire susses out the bread-like aromas in cider.

Fermented cider, fermented bread – not so dissimilar, we discovered. At a session under the apple trees, bread heads were asked to analyze flavors and aromas in hard ciders – then they crowd-sourced a glossary of flavor components in bread.

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From left, Piper Davis, Andrew Whitley, Byron Fry and Stephanie Crocker, reflect on the trials and triumphs of running an artisan bakery.

Some of the more interesting baker/entrepreneurs in the Pacific Northwest, from Stephanie Crocker of Seattle’s Sugar Bakery & Cafe to Byron Fry of Fry’s Red Wheat Bread in Victoria, B.C., gathered to talk about process, profits, and lessons learned in the artisan baking business. Moderator Piper Davis shared her own stories and kept the discussion honest and on point.

Breadfarm’s Scott Mangold (another GCB alum) showed how he tweaks dough formulas at his tiny (and delightful) Skagit Valley bakery to work with locally milled grains, and discussed the flavors different flours add to bread.

Who’s going next year? Race you there!