Sunday, November 4, 2012

community grains hard red winter wheat boule

so the thing about 100% whole wheat sourdough is that it can be terribly dense, the rind can be like cardboard, and the flavor not much further from that. when you eat it, you have to chant some mantra that will trick you into thinking you like the blasted loaf: this is really, REALLY good for me, so i really, REALLY like it. well, you don't. and that's okay, because after today's post you won't have to lie to yourself anymore.

community grains.

this, dear reader, is all you need to know when it comes to red winter wheat flour. i happened upon a 4-lb bag recently and immediately got to work with it. what came of my very first sourdough boule using community grain's red winter wheat flour was like a little miracle.

okay, i'm cheating a little. i didn't exactly happen upon a bag. i once worked with the founder of community grains, bob klein, who also owns oliveto restaurant in the bay area where i used to be a chef, a.k.a., 'the good ol' days.' catherine meng, his assistant, contacted me recently and asked if i would like to try out some of their goodies.

hell yes sister.

sidebar: speaking of meng, she is also a mighty-fine poet. my favorite line in her book of poetrythe moss and lichen argue over who is the most poetic.  damn.

what you don't know is that i have never had any luck at all with 100% whole wheat sourdough bread, in fact, i've even struggled with loaves that contain only 20% whole wheat flour (if you've noticed, i really don't use it all all). when i bake with whole wheat flour, it never gets the oven-spring that i like, and the flavor is always really, well, bad. i have baked many a 100% whole wheat loaf behind your back using other whole wheat flours which promptly ended up in the trash bin while i was chanting that health-lie-chant and grimacing at the flavor and the texture of the whole (wheat) ordeal.

right out of the bag, community grains whole wheat flour is different. it smells nutty and fresh, which immediately increased my hopes. other flours smell like the paper bag that they come in. and upon first sight, i was thrilled by the bright red flecks of grain in the artisan-milled flour. thus, i was hooked and set out to do a little research about why community grains flour is so special.

community grains is a small, sustainable company in california that works closely with california farmers to grow wheat, heirloom beans and italian heritage polenta (which i will be working with this week, so make sure you check out my other blog, farm to table geek. until you have had their red flint floriani polenta, you have not lived). and they only work with local (california) grain growers which means a teensy carbon footprint.

the thing that intrigues me most about community grain's milling practice is that they mill the whole grain in its entirety, while conventional milling companies use technology that splits off the bran and germ at the onset of milling, only to add it back into the flour later. hm. it makes sense that grains milled in a way that never separates the germ, bran, and endosperm and instead mills the whole kernel together the way that community grains mills their wheat results in a 'true whole grain' flour, a much healthier whole grain flour with the appropriate and wholly natural ratio of bran, germ and endosperm. when you think about the conventional practice of splitting off the bran and germ, then adding them back into the flour, it makes you wonder how much more or less is added to a given 'batch', and if they even use the same bran and germ that came off of the grain that they had originally milled. whatever the case, this seems like it would definitely create an 'imbalance' in the resulting flour. it makes so much sense now, when i think of it, the reasons why i have been having so much difficulty with texture, flavor and hydration when using other whole wheat flours in my breads.

i'm also aware that commercial grain growers grow hybridized wheat varieties that have been developed to enhance the more 'desirable' characteristics. for wheat, this means varieties with higher gluten have been favored. hybridized wheat plants are also shorter and support a heavier seedbed (more seeds/bigger seeds) and grow much faster. they are also bred to resist drought and fungi and to increase yield. this translates as the difference between a 'genetically enhanced' tomato and one grown in your own back yard.  i remember reading not too long ago that it is not wheat that many people are allergic to, but these hybridized strains. it makes sense. so many of us would never eat modified produce for obvious reasons (mostly because they lack flavor), but for some reason this intolerance for genetically engineered food slips from our minds when it comes to the flour that we buy. if we are buying flour from large corporations with commercial milling practices, we are undoubtedly eating grain that has been enhanced to benefit the corporation that grows the grain - speed of growth and yield are revered, and it seems that flavor and health properties become secondary. i wonder also how this hybridization affects the nutritive value of the grain. and now, how many of us are thinking of clearing our cabinets of all those bags of flour with just the thought of this?

food for thought.

community grains is a small company, and their body of goodies is growing. you can buy their flour, polenta, beans and pasta on their website and from limited venues like market hall in the bay area. i'm glad that catherine and bob sent me this flour to work with. it's like a very large, very important piece of my bread baking puzzle has been discovered and placed in the heart of it all. i can't imagine going back to a lesser consciousness. as the venerable thich nhat hanh once said, once the door of awakening has been opened, it cannot be closed again.

here are the deets.

community grains 100% whole hard red winter wheat sourdough boule



40g starter
100g community grains hard red winter wheat flour
100g h2o

ferment for 6 hours.


240g levain
500g community grains hard red winter wheat flour
400g h2o
15g vital wheat gluten
12g salt
25g extra virgin olive oil

in a large bowl, whisk the flour and vital wheat gluten together. set aside. dissolve the levain in 375g of the h2o. add the flour/vital wheat gluten to the melted levain and mix until you arrive at a cohesive mass. autolyse for 1 hour.


after the autolyse, add the salt and the remaining 25g of h2o. squish and knead until all of the salt and water is incorporated. add the olive oil and do the same squish-knead until it's fully incorporated.


for the next two hours, ferment at cool room temperature, performing a series of turns every half-hour.

after the 2-hour ferment with turns, pop the dough in the fridge and ferment unmolested for another 2 hours.


after the 4-hour bulk fermentation is complete, turn the dough out onto a workspace that has been liberally dusted with organic brown rice flour, form into a loose round and rest 10 minutes.

after 10 minutes, form into a tight boule, then pop into a bowl lined with a linen that has been liberally dusted with brown rice flour. ferment in the fridge for 15 hours.


one hour before you plan to bake the boule, preheat the oven installed with a baking stone and both portions of your cast iron combo cooker.

after an hour, unearth your dough, score, and slide into the shallow end of the comb cooker. pop the lid on, slide into the oven, turn it down to 475 degrees and steam for 30 minutes.

after the 30-minute steam, remove the lid, marvel at your beauty, turn the oven down to 450 and bake until chestnut brown.

be sure to rest the loaf for at least 2 hours before slicing.

VERDICT: oh. my. god. this is the best whole wheat sourdough that i have ever baked or tasted. it achieved amazing oven spring and a fully gelatinized crust that crackled when it cooled. the crust was shattery, not tough/hard/leathery like so many other whole wheat breads that i have baked in the past. the aroma was heady and earthy/sweet/malty, and the flavor was incredible with a natural sweetness and a lovely earthiness that made me whack off a slice every time i walked past it. but here's the best part: the texture. it was the texture of BREAD, not rubber, not cardboard, not something indefinable. it was moist and chewy and, well, like the bread that i expect from my kitchen.

i finally found my whole wheat flour for my whole wheat sourdough bread!

to the staff of life!

this post was shared on wild yeast blog's yeast spotting.



  1. I always inspired by your post Francis-Olive! Your bread is always so beautiful, am sure they are delicious as well.

    Btw, I also would like to thank you so much for visiting my blog. You encourage me to bake more bread :)

  2. Impressive Francis-Olive, impressive. and so enjoyable to read, as always.
    this flour sounds great, wish it was cheaper to deliver goods overseas.
    I see that you added gluten to the final dough. how smart! that something I will be willing to do if the result is a good oven spring even using 100% whole wheat (which here is ground sooo coarse it's crazy...) or other tasty flours which do not contain much gluten. where do you buy your gluten from? I learn always so much from you!

    1. sis. dammit. had i known i would have sent you some vital wheat gluten with the pan. :(

  3. hey sis. i got my gluten from bob's red mill. it really worked well for this bread/flour. just be careful not to overdo it, or it could affect the texture of the bread (for worse) and impart an 'off' flavor. i was even hesitant to use 15g, alas, it worked out so well. i have thrown away so many loaves of 100% whole wheat flour. i've monkeyed with fermentation times, hydration, amount of starter, and it never worked. this time it was like magic happened. happy day indeed.

    let me know when the combo cooker arrives. i simply cannot wait!

    1. you are not the only one! I am dying here waiting for it :)
      being trying to bake a very wet dough in my upside down lacreuset and it was a disaster. really wished I had the combo... sis, we may start a fruitful baking related import/export US/Sweden here (so I could get my gluten and other stuff).
      love u girl, and this loaf looks really magical.

  4. I look forward to getting some of their flour. Currently use 2.5 qt dutch ovens. Maybe I'll have a new offering from Larkin's Loaves.

  5. Hi Francis-Olive,
    I realize that you don't post to this site anymore, but just in case you check comments: I just made this loaf and am very happy with the results (an at home baker for a year, using my own starter. I've baked through Ken Forkish's book and am just starting to wrap my head around Tartine's). I had a bag of Community Grains in my pantry and was thrilled to put it to such good use! I'm wondering about the use of olive oil? Just for moisture or are there other reasons too? Thanks for this site, btw: I'm really enjoying it!

    1. thank you Meaghin! i love hearing when someone has success with my formulae! xo

  6. Hi,

    I happened across your blog and you bake beautiful bread. Thank you for the inspiration!
    I am wondering if this formula would work without the vital wheat gluten? Is it essential?

    Thank you!



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