Posted: 12/28/11 02:50 PM ET
As I continued my road trip across America, I felt protective of a precious Kernza cargo I had on board. In case you're wondering, Kernza is no ordinary wheat; it's an experimental perennial selectively bred by The Land Institute for the past thirty years. This wheat has higher levels of folate, betaine, calcium, lutein, Onega-3 fatty acids, fiber, selenium and vitamin B-6 than annual whole wheat. And it contains lower amounts of gluten. Fifteen hundred miles back in Kansas, Wes Jackson gave me their last bag of this flour during my visit. I was eager to deliver this special flour into the hands of Bread Baker Bob of Well Bread in LA. I was curious to see if indeed it stood up to its promise.
I handed over the flour, Bob's kitchen transformed into a chemistry lab. "Baking is science, cooking is an art." I love that quote. Bob raised his coveted bread starter and put it in my face declaring, "This is my baby." The starter seemed like a secret code to making great bread. This dough mother is the creation of another chef, from which Bob's baby sprang. A 10-year-old culture of fermented Pinot Noir grape skins, it was a handed-me-down gift to Bob from Chef Clark Staub of Full of Life Flat Bread in Los Alamos,CA.
With starter and kernza flour in hand, Bob began to work his magic with just those two ingredients, plus a dash of salt and 75 percent water (mirrors the earth's mass/water ratios, never a coincidence). Ironically, Bob's wife and daughter are gluten intolerant. But the good news, according to Bob, is that making bread the old fashion way, by using starter instead of using commercial yeast, results in a lower gluten content. And with this lower gluten flour available in about 10 years, there's definitely hope for Bob's family...
Hours later, the dough was shaped and left to have a slow rise overnight. So I eagerly returned in the morning to watch Bob score the loaf's top before placing it into a cast iron combo cooker, searing hot from the 500-degree oven. 45 minutes later, the kernza drum roll began.
The crust? Chestnut in color, and crisp and light in density. The interior? The crumb structure and moisture scored high. An important feature to bread aficionados, the crumb structure is the landscape of the holes in the body of the bread.
And the taste? Sighs of deliciousness prevailed. It was SO good. This was just before Thanksgiving and Bob and I agreed to send a loaf off to Wes and his family to enjoy for the holiday.
And now with the holiness factor revealed, happy holidays and happy trails...