A Visit to The Bread Lab

One of the most exciting innovations at Macrina in recent years is our focus on the flour we use in our naturally leavened breads. The central resource in our search for the most flavorful and nutritious wheat is the nationally renowned Bread Lab, an extension of Washington State University. Located an hour north of Seattle in Skagit Valley, Bread Lab is run by Dr. Steven Jones. He is devoted to bringing grain agriculture back to our region. A hundred years ago, fields of grains filled the Skagit Valley, but as industrial wheat brought the commodity price down, farmers shifted to more valuable crops. Commodity flour—the inert, shelf-stable white flour were all familiar with—became commonplace throughout America early in the 20th century. The shift away from regional wheat and local stone-ground milling resulted from the roller mill, an industrial method that produced a more uniform shelf-stable flour at less cost. Growers bred wheat for the new mills. Yield, not flavor, was the key metric. As a result, our nations wheat crops were rapidly homogenized. Community flour mills that once processed locally-grown wheat—there had once been more than 2,000 throughout the country—mostly vanished. Wheat, once cultivated into various strains that thrived in the particular microclimate, was reduced to a handful of hard red winter wheat strains. In the name of efficiency, most farmers abandoned the flavorful and nutritious strains of wheat and grew what fetched the highest price. America got cheap flour and Wonder Bread. The rise of artisan bread in America that started in the 1980s challenged the dominance of the ubiquitous pre-packaged supermarket loaf. More recently, the popularity of home bread baking and sourdough starters is a turn back to the days when many homemade loaves were common. This pre-industrialized turn is reflected in a new generation of farmers and artisan millers interested in a tastier, healthier, and more sustainable approach to growing and milling wheat locally. Many of them, like us, turn to Dr. Jones. Macrina has partnered with the Bread Lab for years, uses locally-grown and milled wheat developed by the Bread Lab, and Leslie Mackie, Macrinas founder, has been a member of their advisory board. Earlier this year, our leadership team visited to talk with Dr. Jones and his team of researchers. Dr. Jones is working on developing organic grain to plant in the fertile Skagit Valley,” Leslie said. The farmers produce huge amounts of potatoes, cabbage, and more and need a good rotation crop to break disease cycles and to restore vital elements to the soil. The Bread Lab breeds grain for flavor, ease of growing in our region without chemicals, great performance for bakers like us, and great yield so farmers get a fair value for their work. Dr. Jones also intends to make the grain accessible to everyone, not just high-end bakeries. Thats supporting our local economy on all levels.” Macrina pledged our continued support for Bread Lab through their Bread Collective program. Participating bakeries make a sliced loaf that uses at least sixty percent whole wheat flour, is made with only seven ingredients (no chemicals, only real food) and is sold for six dollars or less. Our Organic Whole Wheat Loaf, sold in our cafes and grocery stores, is our Bread Collective contribution. A portion of the sales of this loaf helps the Bread Lab in its mission to bring together a community of people across the wheat ecosystem, from bakers to brewers, to experiment with the flavor, nutrition, and functionality of wheat. After a delicious lunch prepared by the Bread Lab team of whole-grain pizza and a salad of local greens and pickled Skagit vegetables, we returned more inspired than ever to continue to innovate with the locally-grown hybrid heirloom strains of wheat developed by Dr. Jones. Its an exciting time to be baking bread! 

All photos courtesy of @WSU_Bread_Lab Instagram. 

Meet Katarina Ducharme: Retail Pastry General Manager

As a kid growing up in Spokane, Katarina always wanted to bake but didn’t know that was a viable job option. Then she enrolled in a ProStart program, a nationwide, two-year high school program focusing on culinary skills and hospitality. “I got really involved,” says Katarina. “I catered for other clubs at school and competed through the program in state-wide competitions. I had a teacher and mentor who said you could do this as a job. This could be a very fulfilling career for you.”
That experience earned her scholarships to the Culinary Institute of America, located in Napa Valley, and one of the country’s premier baking and pastry programs. Katarina interned at Macrina for four months as part of completing her degree. We were so impressed with her skills and passion that we offered her a job right out of school.
“I really liked my experience at Macrina and was excited to come work here,” says Katarina.
Katarina worked for two years directly with Erica Olsen, our former Retail Pastry General Manager, who has now been promoted to Wholesale Sales Manager. Under Erica’s close tutelage, Katarina mastered our products.
“The people and the environment at Macrina are really friendly,” Katarina says. “I love the product and the energy. Everyone wants to be at work, and they care about each other.”
Her favorite challenge: developing new recipes with Leslie and Blake Gehringer, Macrina’s production manager. “I love working with Leslie and Blake to perfect the new recipes,” says Katarina.
When not at work, Katarina loves to dine out at Seattle’s great restaurants, go thrifting, and spend time at local parks. She also loves to cook savory food at home. “You get results so much more quickly. And you can taste as you go.”

Reine De Saba- Creamy Chocolate Almond Cake

Last summer, I had the good fortune to spend a week in Julia Child’s former summer house in Grasse, France. The experience has inspired me to recreate some of her favorite recipes. I learned to make this Reine De Saba cake in cooking school in San Francisco many years ago. This recipe adapts exceptionally well to gluten-free by substituting out the cake flour for a gluten-free mix—you won’t even taste the difference. The cake is intentionally baked to leave the middle slightly soft. You and your guests will delight in the creamy center, which is the best part!

One 9-inch cake; serves 6–8 

4 oz semisweet chocolate chips
¼ cup brewed espresso (or very strong coffee)
4 oz unsalted butter, room temperature
¾ cups sugar, divided
3 eggs, separated into yolks and egg whites
¼ tsp salt
½ cup roasted almonds, finely chopped
¼ tsp almond extract
½ cup cake flour (or gluten-free flour mixture)

2 oz semisweet chocolate
2 Tbsp rum or brandy
6 Tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature
20 whole almonds, roasted
2 Tbsp powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350°F. Brush a 9-inch cake pan with oil and line with parchment paper along the base and sides. Set aside.

Combine chocolate chips and espresso in a medium bowl and place over a pan with 2 inches of simmering water, creating a double boiler. Melt chocolate and combine well with the coffee. Remove from heat and let cool.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar (reserving 1 Tbsp for the egg whites) with a paddle attachment. The mixture will be light in texture and pale in color.

With the mixer running, add the egg yolks one at a time until thoroughly combined.

In a separate bowl, with a hand mixer or whisk attachment, whip the egg whites until they’re frothy. Add the remaining Tbsp of sugar and continue whipping until you have medium-stiff peaks.

Remove the bowl of creamed butter from the stand mixer and add the cooled chocolate, salt, chopped almonds and almond extract. Mix to combine.

In 3 additions, alternately add the whipped egg whites and sift the flour over the surface. Between each addition, gently fold to combine well. Scoop the batter into the cake pan and use a spatula to smooth the surface for even baking.

Bake for 25 minutes. The cake will be slightly soft in the center but firm toward the perimeter.

Let cool for 15 minutes. Invert the cake onto a presentation plate and remove the parchment paper.

Melt the chocolate and rum in a medium bowl set over a pan filled with 2 inches of simmering water. Remove the chocolate-rum mix from the heat and add the softened butter. Using a hand-held mixer or whisk, incorporate the butter into the warm chocolate. When the frosting is slightly cool and spreadable, frost the top of the cake. Decorate with whole almonds and a dusting of powdered sugar.