For Josey Baker, who runs the acclaimed Josey Baker Bread in San Francisco, blending flours is now standard practice to achieve the desired results of making breads with complex, delicious flavors that appeal to an ever-growing fan base of Bay Area bread lovers.
With the careful attention to detail of a veteran wine maker, Baker and his small team of bread bakers and pizza makers specialize in freshly milled whole grain sourdough as the backbone of their operation at The Mill, a bakery cafe they helped open in 2013 with Four Barrel Coffee. They stone mill all flours in the bakery daily and bake bread and pizza seven days a week.
One of the shining stars is a bread called Red, White + Rye, which is made with red wheat and white wheat flours and a small percentage of whole rye flour. The 1½ pound loaves sell for $6.99 apiece.
“Basically, all of our breads are made from blends of flours,” says Baker, who arrived on the San Francisco scene in 2005 after growing up in Vermont. “I blend for function, using as few flours as possible. What I want to make is delicious bread in as affordable a way as possible.”
As of three years ago, all whole grain wheats coming into Josey Baker Bread are grown in California; they work with prominent local farmers like Fritz Durst, a sixth-generation grain farmer in the Sacramento Valley.
Baker acknowledges the “inherent tension” in finding balance in baking breads with freshly milled flours from local whole grains that customers want to and can afford to buy. A $7 loaf of bread is not exactly accessible to the masses, he recognizes. And yet Baker understands the importance of both pushing the craft and paying the bills at the same time. “It can take tricky calculations to pull it off. I try to be scientific and pragmatic.”
Jan Schat, a professional bread consultant who is a Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie champion, agrees that flavor is playing a more prominent role in the craft bread world of today. There are more specialty ingredients (local grains) for bakers to work with, and although some can get expensive, bakers should be excited by the possibilities.
Schat has crafted breads that include a low percentage (10%) of a single varietal whole grain flour with wonderful results. He’s done so in classics like French baguettes, resulting in “phenomenal” flavors.
“Small additions of single varietals into liquid levains, or poolish, bring out interesting flavors. I find that to be exciting,” Schat says. “To me, it’s nice if you can transition people into better flavor and nutrition. It’s an exciting world of flavor that is definitely worth pursuing.”
Bread shoppers care about transparency, variety, growing practices and other factors, similar to the progressions that have occurred in the craft beer, wine and coffee industries.
“People care about that stuff more than ever,” Baker says. “I’ll be curious to see what happens over the next 5 to 10 years. We care about what has value to the customer. You have to be making something that people want to eat — for all of these values to factor in. What’s happening now in bread is really remarkable.”