For the longest time, flour simply meant refined white flour ground from wheat and most of us were none the wiser. Then spelt, buckwheat and rye – age-old grains pushed aside by industrialised, commoditised wheat – made a comeback, and we were reminded that flour not only adds prized technical attributes to baked goods, but its own complex flavour.
These ancient, non-genetically modified strains, dubbed ‘heritage’ or ‘federation’, are just a few of the unique, characteristic flours that passionate bakers are experimenting with as dimension-adding ingredients in their own right.
At Berkelo in Brookvale, one of Sydney’s most progressive ‘traditional’ bakeries, owner Tom Eadie regularly uses flour ground from flaxseed, teff, millet, Khorasan (also known as kamut) and bok, among the more classic wholemeal flour, buckwheat, spelt and rye. “Bok was the first grain grown by settlers in Australia,” he says. “It’s a very nutritious and nutty grain.”
He also combines different flours, as well as handling methods. “We’ve been using leftover whey from yoghurt we make to soak millet, which we throw through a rye base.”
Another style on the rise is native Australian grains, such as kangaroo grass and indigenous millet.
The downside? “There’s just not that many established farmers growing historic grains,” says Eadie. “We’re looking to provide a desire for them, so that farmers can get on board.”
For breadmaking, the former Boathouse Group executive chef has a soft spot for Khorasan. “I love the flavour it brings forward. It’s also high in protein, so it’s nice to work with as it adds strength to dough.”
At Berkelo, it stars in the signature dark brown loaf forged with malt and honey.
“Bok was the first grain grown by settlers in Australia,” he says. “It’s a very nutritious and nutty grain.”
Other breads include sprouted lentils with buckwheat, flaxseeds and rye, and a lemon myrtle sourdough with blueberries, grapes and figs.
For dessert, a recent special showcased spelt in an old-fashioned custard tart spiced with chai made from Australian natives. “We don’t use refined sugars, either.”
This is not to say that wheat is out or bad, as some make out. Without it, countless baked goods would simply cease to exist. The key is quality: unbleached and stone-ground, plain white flour is nutty, complex and unrecognisable from supermarket versions. Also, when slow-fermented, as in real sourdough, it’s also more digestible for people with gluten intolerances.
At Berkelo, Eadie uses an Australian-grown organic wheat flour from Wholegrain Milling Co, while other bakeries around Australia are starting to mill flour fresh on site – the next big frontier.
My Berkelo favourite is the almost-savoury almond croissant, crafted from plain flour for strength and elasticity, whole wheat for body and added flavour, plus rapadura sugar for just a dash of sweetness and rich colour. It’s the first wholemeal croissant I’ve ever tried, and the flour’s flavour sang.
To flour - in all its beautiful, myriad forms.
In this column, Dessert Date, I scour bakeries, patisseries and dessert joints from around the world for the hottest sweet trends, up-and-coming ingredients and game-changing pastry techniques.