Good grain: Quebec bakers grind their own flour to make better bread
Bread made from real whole grains provides more nutrients, helps bodies run more efficiently
When it comes to baking bread, it's all about the flour: where it comes from, how it's milled, how fresh it is.
That's why at least two Montreal bakeries are grinding their own grain, to make sure it's at its peak and their products are the most healthful they can be.
When Seth Gabrielse was a chef in a restaurant, the focus was always on having the best ingredients. So when he and his partner, Julien Roy, decided to open their bakery, L'Automne, in 2016, they decided that same focus should apply when it comes to baking bread.
They grind their own grain in order to get more flavour and more nutritional value. The products at L'Automne, in Montreal's Rosemont–La Petite-Patrie district, make use of organic grains brought in from farms in the province.
"When you work with flour that's already been milled, in most cases, you don't know when it's been milled. We really felt like we were losing something in the process," he said.
Their first task was getting a grist mill, a mill that uses a grinding stone. Instead of buying a ready-made one, Gabrielse and his partner decided to make their own.
With the help of a local engineer, they built it from scratch, using components from hardware stores. The red-granite stone that actually does the grinding came from a Quebec tombstone company.
Once he has the grains, Gabrielse tries to use them efficiently. He grinds them and plans to use them within about 24 hours, to make sure the nutrients are at their peak.
"The chef side of me really wanted to work with products that are as fresh as possible," he said. "You're always sourcing ingredients and you're always working to develop the best characteristics of any product."
White flour vs. whole wheat
That isn't the case with the processed flour we buy in grocery stores or from restaurant suppliers. A lot of it has been stripped of its nutrients and has extra ingredients and preservatives added to prolong shelf life.
A package of flour could be many months old by the time a home baker opens it in their kitchen.
When white flour is refined, companies remove the bran and the germ, leaving only the starchy endosperm. This makes it very white and more shelf-stable, but results in a big nutrient loss.
Gabrielse argues that taking out the germ is taking out the natural oils and a lot of important nutrients.
"That's a big part of the flour. And so for us it was important that when we say whole-grain flour, it's a real whole-grain flour, of single origin."
As for processed whole-wheat flour, Gabrielse says it's not much better. He says the wheat goes through the same process as white flour. The bran and the germ are removed, and the remaining endosperm is ground into white flour.
Then, to make it whole-wheat flour, the bran and the germ are ground separately and then added back to the white flour.
"It's really difficult to find a true whole-grain flour," he says. "In most cases flour is milled, it's separated and then it's reconstituted. And the bran that's put back into the flour may not necessarily be the bran that was initially with that kernel."
Our daily bread
Over in Montreal's west end, Martin Falardeau has a similar philosophy. He founded his bakery, la Meunerie Urbaine on Monkland Avenue, in 2017.
"When we decided to open a bakery, we decided that what people want today is a nutritious loaf," he said. "And nutritious means using the whole grain, with the germ inside. And that means milling the flour ourselves."
Milling flour is a daily ritual for Falardeau's bakery. The grains, obtained from farms in the Montreal area, are ground in the morning, in preparation for the next day's baking. His grist mill is a sleek, wooden version from an Austrian manufacturer.
He uses different grains: wheat, spelt, rye. His loaves are big and artisanal. Customers can order half a loaf, which is cut precisely and then wrapped in brown paper.
Because the grains are stone ground, he said, it conserves more of the plant's nutrition. But the timing is important — they try to use the flour within about three days of milling.
Like Gabrielse, Falardeau believes the freshly ground grain makes the bread, croissants and other baked goods he makes especially healthful. The flour he creates uses the entire grain. Nothing is lost in the process.
Botanist and environmentalist Diana Beresford-Kroeger says bread made from real whole grains provides more nutrients and helps our bodies run more efficiently.
"The germ part of the grain itself is packed with proteins. They're all folded up and all ready to drive the growth process in the plant," she says.
"That too is really, really good for you. Those proteins unfold, and they're highly nutritious going into the body."
In the end, Beresford-Kroeger says the better the bread, the less you want to eat.
"The whole grain made into a loaf of bread means you only need to eat one slice of bread or even half a slice."
It's a win-win situation, she says. "You're slim, you're trim, you're full of energy, and you're ready to go. There's nothing better than that kind of bread."