A new word to describe the breads and pastries being developed by leading bakers in America was used by industry leaders time and again at WheatStalk, the headline conference of the Bread Bakers Guild of America.

That word is “elevated.” As in, elevated vienoisserie, elevated flavors and elevated techniques.

WheatStalk 2018, held Feb. 27-March 1 at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island, featured leading bakers from around the globe and delivered an outstanding program that included groundbreaking trends such as “elevated viennoiserie,” as demonstrated by WheatStalk instructor Tadashi Naruse, who coached Japan’s victory in the 2012 Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie (Bakery World Cup).

“He is a true master with products that are breathtaking,” said Jeffrey Hamelman of Naruse, who is dedicated to crafting a “consciously delicious combination of flavors.”

Naruse demonstrated a number of innovative products, including Pâte Levée Feuilletée, a croissant dough imbued with rich butter flavor that provides a platform for various crispy crust, moist crumb Danish pastries. Another unique pastry demonstrated by Naruse was Gateau Brioche Noix, a brioche dough mixed for an unusually short time to limit gluten development, which gives the final product a texture and mouthfeel similar to pound cake.

Acclaimed bread bakers Solveig Tofte and Pierre Zimmermann, organizers of the Assembly of Extraordinary Bakers, shared the stage to demonstrate a wide variety of breads and pastries, including flavorful hazelnut macarons and brioche with champagne. Zimmermann shared that his La Fournette Bakery and Café in Chicago now offers “tchin-tchin” macarons inspired by famous cocktails (like a Moscow Mule). Tchin-tchin means cheers in French.

“At our bakery, we created this new line of macarons that are for customers in their 20s who are not buying macarons every day,” he says. “They are fun and go with the party. You want to create an explosion of flavor in one bite. If a customer is going to pay $2 for a macaron, it has to have that wow factor, if you want to see them again. Don’t be shy. Go for real flavor. It has to be good. You have to use the best ingredients.”

Solveig Tofte, founder and head baker at Sun Street Breads in Minneapolis, impressed the audience with her “party bread” made with whole wheat flour, sesame seeds and white cheese curds.

“We’re always creating flavor memories,” Tofte says of the role of the artisan baker.

WheatStalk is a members-only event for members of the Bread Bakers Guild of America, which assembled the best and brightest minds of artisan baking in one place for three days of lectures, demos, hands-on classes, and baking conversation. Mentors, masters, and members shared their knowledge, creating the opportunity for Bread Bakers Guild members to strengthen their community of artisans who value education and the pursuit of quality.

Bread Bakers Guild of America board chair Jeff Yankellow said the purpose of the successful WheatStalk event is to continue to build strong ties and a sense of community within the baking community through education and sharing.

“The most important reason is to get together with like-minded people and to share the passion and share the education,” Yankellow says. “The connections and relationships we build are the most valuable.”

WheatStalk participants learned many techniques from instructors including Rachel Crampsey, who led a class on donuts, crullers and churros.

Harry Peemoeller led a class on rustic German bread, rolls and snack ideas, and Charles Niedermyer II, chef instructor at the Pennsylvania College of Technology, demonstrated a modern approach to classic viennoiserie.

WheatStalk instructor Jane Cho, pastry chef at Macrina Bakery, demonstrated creative pies with coconut pie crust and other flavorful combinations.

Jan Schat provided tips and techniques for making breads with a variety of local wheats and whole grains, offering comparisons on final results. One challenge addressed in the class was that local wheat flours can be more expensive, causing the final product to run higher in price than some customers may be willing to pay. Schat offered a suggestion: “I can use 10% of the expensive wheat and I still get incredible flavor.”

WheatStalk instructor Andrew Heyn, who owns Elmore Mountain Bread and New American Stone Mills in Elmore, Vermont, instructed participants on the art of stone milling flour, including a demonstration of how to dress the stones.

Three years ago, Heyn took the unusual path from baker to miller when he built his first granite stone mill, constructed with granite (the oldest rock on Earth) straight out of the stone quarries in nearby Barre, Vermont. His bakery is in Elmore, and now he has two jobs. He and his wife, Blair Marvin, bake 600 loaves of bread every day for wholesale accounts (mostly markets and co-ops) within a 50-mile radius. On the side, Heyn constructs 26-, 40- and 48-inch stone mills and installs these in retail and wholesale bakeries across the country. This new venture is called New American Stone Mills.  

With Heyn’s new job come new tools: a diamond-blade angle grinder for cutting grooves to each client’s specifications and a pneumatic air hammer “to break through the smooth surface of the stone to make it like sandpaper. The roughness is what does the grinding.”

In addition to the innovations involved in stone milling, Andrew and Blair are innovating by using local grains. Heyn says examples include Vermont Redeemer wheat grown by Rogers Farmstead in neighboring Berlin, Vermont. Elmore Mountain Bread features a bread called Vermont Redeemer, for which they include the name of the local farm on the label.

Promoting local and heritage grains continues to be a popular movement today, and WheatStalk instructor Mac McConnell demonstrated techniques to make breads with alternative and whole grains such as khorasan wheat, known commercially as kamut.

“The beauty of kamut, or khorasan, is it drinks up a lot of water. It makes for an easy baguette to shape because the dough is extremely extensible. It also colors really well in the oven,” he says.

Another instructor, Don Guerra, the owner and head baker for Barrio Bread in Tucson, Arizona, spoke about the importance of quality when starting a community-supported bakery. Guerra is committed to working with local farmers, chefs, and other food producers to strengthen the local grain economy and grow the local food network. In 2015 he was awarded a USDA Local Food Promotion Grant that significantly helped him to increase collaboration with others and expand production with a new bakery. He has taught a variety of baking classes and presented at conferences and workshops, highlighting his business model and work with heritage grains. Guerra has consulted in Mexico, Taiwan and throughout the United States.

“There is a huge market for something that is well made in terms of local breads with few ingredients,” he says. “I’m a bread specialist. Look at the certain products you do very well and scale down your menu. Make sure you have a laser focus on quality.”

With quality in mind, acclaimed French bakers Hubert Chiron and Patrice Tireau addressed the fascinating question of whether “wild crumb” is automatically a guarantee of bread quality, speaking in one educational session at WheatStalk.

Chiron talked about the history of bread, noting that the baguette first arrived in France in the 1920s. US mass-produced pan bread and craft European breads from mechanized short processes have a fine, soft, white crumb in common, he said, while traditional French bread was highly recognizable for its open wild crumb.

Today, Chiron said there are four types of crumb structure: brake firm bread, traditional French baguette, overhydrated straight bread and sandwich bread. Pan bread, popular in the United States and the United Kingdom, provided an assurance of final shape and gave a more regular crumb. With pan bread technology, open grain and holes were a nightmare, he said.

On the other hand, the golden rules to get an irregular crumb include the following processes: moderate gluten development, low energy mixing and folds, long first proof, scaling with minimum pressure, no pan, short final proof, deck oven with strong bottom heat, and high temperatue to maximize steam pressure and coalescence. There are some disadvantages with very soft doughs, Chiron said, including stickiness, touchy during transfer and less crustiness.

Their conclusion is that wild crumb is not an automatic guarantee of quality and that pan bread or sandwich bread could be premium quality and fit many uses. “There is no automatic link between wild crumb and taste,” Chiron said. “Wild crumb could mean oversimplified processing.”