Most cooks understand the importance of fresh, local and homegrown ingredients, such as sweet heirloom tomatoes from the farmers’ market and herbs picked right in your backyard. Grains are no different. Once you taste the delicious, nuanced flavor of specialty heirloom grains, you can begin to think about wheat and flour in a new way.
Modern farmers are experimenting with growing heirloom grains and grinding them in small batches. The resulting flours are entirely distinct from the shelf-stable flours at supermarkets. Specialty grains have character and variety, and may be tricky to work with at first due to different gluten contents and textures, but their uniqueness is exactly what makes them worth the trouble.
Q: How are milled specialty grains different from the grains you buy at the store?
A: Like other ingredients, flour is at its most flavorful when it is freshest. Milling grains at home ensures the best, most intense and aromatic istinctive sweetness to baked goods. Additionally, milling your own flour allows you to experiment with grains beyond the wheat flour you find in grocery stores, contributing new layers and dimensions of flavor to old recipes.
Q: How long will the grains remain fresh after they have been ground into flour?
A: The flours can be left at room temperature for two to three days before they will start to spoil. They will keep in the refrigerator for up to 10 days and in the freezer for up to 30 days.
Q: How should the grains and flours be stored?
A: Store fresh whole-grain flours in tightly sealed containers in a cool, dark place, such as a pantry, refrigerator or freezer (see above). They will become rancid more quickly than regular all-purpose flours, so always smell or taste them before using. If they smell musty or taste bitter, do not use them.
Q: How do different grains affect the taste and texture of baked goods?
A: Whole-grain flours lend a pleasantly chewy quality to baked goods such as cookies, cakes and breads—not too dry or dense. The flavor will vary depending on which grains you work with, as they all have different characteristics. However, with most grains, you can count on a sweeter, slightly nutty, earthy and toasty profile—a flavor that is much more intense and aromatic than that of shelf-stable flours.
Q: What are the best ways to cook heirloom grains, and how should you start?
A: Most grains are simple to cook: simply bring them to a boil in water, cover and simmer until tender with a slight bite. Cooking times vary for each grain, so plan accordingly. Prepared this way, the grains may be added to salads, soups and stews or enjoyed as a side dish. Individual recipes will provide instructions for cooking grains into a risotto or pilaf, or even into a sweet, creamy breakfast or dessert dish. Whole-grain flours can be substituted for all-purpose flour in recipes for baked goods for enhanced flavor and texture.