Carolina in Carolina Biscuits
In addition to several loaves and a few pastries from the numerous artisan bakeries at the Ashland Bread Festival, I picked up a few bags of flour from a some of the local Southern grain millers. Owning a bakery for almost 15 years, I often reflect and find it surprising how detached I was from my own supply chain, and I truly appreciate my now privileged position as a traveling nomad seeing our country first hand and fully immersing myself in the places I visit.
I mentioned in an earlier post about the benefits of sprouted wheat flour from Lindley Mills, and am now moving on to experiment with another gem I picked up called Crema Pastry Flour, from Carolina Ground, a mill specializing in grains grown and ground in the South.
First off, this ten dollar two pound bag of flour was spendy. But this is not just any flour, it is very special flour. You can feel the difference between your fingers, and while talking to the owner, I learned that her milling process is very slow and precise and requires a great level of care and observation. I seem to recall hearing that love has no monetary value, and I know for sure time is money. Slower food means more labor which logically translates to higher cost.
Located in Asheville proper, Carolina Ground was started by Jennifer Lapidus, a former wood fired oven baker who “traded her apron, peel, and chainsaw, for coveralls, respirator, and electric pallet jack.” She’s also got a Master’s in Creative Nonfiction, and this being her third known creative endeavor, besides raising a child, this thin and feisty woman finds herself knee deep in the local grain movement. Now, this much needed grain revolution is “sprouting up” across the US and gaining momentum from the growing demand for food that is tied to particular place and therefore tells a story.
It’s predictive that Jennifer’s former bakery was called Natural Bridge Bakery, because now as a miller she finds herself nestled between the baker and the farmer. She now has a bigger family.
All Carolina Ground flours are milled from organic grains that are grown in the South, which, because of the humid and fickle climate, is a bit of an art form itself, as compared to wheat grown in the more predictably cool or dry climates of say Kansas. But local IS important not only for art and community, but as it turns out, nutrition as well. The shorter the distance from farmer, to miller, to baker, the less reliance we will have on chemical additives and adulterations of our grains in order to withstand the long transport stage. As it turns out, this is the way it used to be done.
Replacing their labor intensive stone counterparts, steel roller grain mills held the promise of the future by saving time and thereby reducing the cost of a big part of the human diet. While steel mills did make wheat flour affordable for human consumption, the heat from this time saving process directly resulted in loss of nutrients. By federal law in most countries these lost nutrients must be artificially added back in to the flour in the form of “enrichments”. Ironically, these artificially added “nutrients” don’t get absorbed, and in some people, wheat is actually having a villainizing affect on the body. Thus with widespread panic over the staff of life, guilt and fear are bringing the grain industry to a standstill, and we may need to take a step back in order to move forward. Regional grains milled cool and fresh is a very simple step towards that goal. With careful artistry the miller can extract the maximum nutrition from the grain, minimizing the overall chemical impact on the human body.
The mill itself at Carolina Ground is a beautifully crafted artifact that resembles like a relic of the past. In fact, Stone grinding is one of the earliest technologies, and, aside from sprouting, is one of the best ways to retain texture, flavor, and nutrition from the grain. However, the shelf life is very short, so trucking newly milled flours across state lines to sit on supermarket shelves indefinitely is not practical. But if the goal is to keep the grains grown, milled and consumed locally, stone grinding makes perfect sense. It’s the ultimate expression of living in the moment.
Carolina Ground’s stone mill flours start from wheat and end with wheat. None of their flours are bleached or bromated, both processes involving the addition of chemicals to either increase dough strength (i.e., rise better) or to extend shelf life. Instead, their flours are differentiated by how much sifting goes on, the sifting essentially being the removal of the larger bran particles.
Their Crema Pastry Flour, with about 45% of the bran removed, remains a lovely cream color marked by the lingering wheat germ poised and ready to make a solid contribution to both flavor and nutrition. Most conventional pastry and cake flours on the marketplace have zero germ, and they are usually bleached white yielding a shelf stable product with little nutritional value, their only purpose to deliver a starchy tenderness like cheap meaningless sex, still good but nonetheless brief.
Their whole grain flours are just grain, ground with nothing sifted out. Most conventional whole wheat flour is made by separating the endosperm, bran, and wheat germ, then treating these parts separately so they don’t go rancid and on paper they have everything (nutrients) they started with. Unfortunately, many flours labeled stone ground have also been manipulated with artificial enrichments. If there is no acrid smell to your wheat flour after a few months, chances are it has been treated to extend it’s shelf life.
Here, in North Carolina on the top edge of biscuit country, I learned that the softness of a biscuit can be likened to a woman who sits behind in the kitchen while the men folk talk about important issues on the porch. Often made with bleached white cake flour, the biscuit needs to be simple and supportive, with barely a place on the plate to sit. But that has nothing to do with the strong women I met in the South.
I thought with it’s bold luxuriousness and strong voice, the Crema pastry flour would make a biscuit proud.
Carolina in Carolina Biscuits
24 oz Carolina Ground Crema Pastry Flour
2 oz granulated sugar
1.5 oz baking powder
1.5 tsp kosher salt
4.5 T buttermilk powder (if using fresh buttermilk, omit)
8 oz butter, well chilled
12-16 oz ice cold water (or buttermilk if omitting buttermilk powder)
In large bowl, measure all dry ingredients, including buttermilk powder (if using). Cut butter into 1/4” chunks and add to bowl. With your fingers, and working quickly especially if in a hot environment, begin the process of smearing the butter chunks into thin sheets, until no large chunks remain. You will notice that if you grab some of the mixture and make a fist, it will stick together.
Slowly add about half of the iced water and gently toss it around with your fingers, being careful to lift upward and not press downward into the dough. Think of your motions as fluffing up the dough and letting the water drizzle down into the flour. Make an estimation about how much additional water is needed to make the dough come together: not too dry that there are bits of flour, and not too wet so it is soupy.
Gently form the dough into two large squares, about 2” tall, then put on plates and into the refrigerator to rest, about 30 minutes.
(This resting allows the gluten to relax before “forming” the dough yielding a more tender biscuit.)
After the rest period, cut into 16 squares, place on baking sheet lined with parchment, and bake at 450 for approximately 10 minutes, reduce heat to about 350 and then cook for 10-15 minutes longer until biscuits spring back when touched.
Buttermilk powder versus actual buttermilk:
I live in a 190 sf trailer, so I don’t often have buttermilk in my kitchen. I find buttermilk powder to be a great product with a lot of flavor, despite the fact that it’s sort of a heavily processed food. Buttermilk itself, is not buttermilk, which is the liquid remaining after churning butter out of heavy cream. Today, buttermilk is made by culturing milk with lactic acid bacteria. Buttermilk can also be made on the sly by adding 1 Tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice per 1 cup of milk.
Do ahead tips:
The temptation is to make this dough the night before, but the biscuits will not rise as well once the moisture (water or buttermilk) is added thereby activating the baking powder.
One trick I use is to mix all the dry ingredients with the butter, then place that biscuit “mix” in my freezer. In the morning when I want to make biscuits, I scale out a portion of the dry and mix in the liquid, roll out, portion and then bake. The proportion is approximately 3 parts dry to 1 part liquid.
Where to buy:
Crema Pastry Flour, as well as many other varieties, are available directly through the mill.