When the Twin Cities started seeing a spate of distilleries and cocktail rooms I couldn't figure out why I should care. I mean, vodka is vodka, right? I drink it for a delicious Greyhound, and to catch a buzz.
But then I realized, of course I should care about provenance. I care about the provenance of my cheese and my cucumbers and my chicken wings, so why not vodka?
The same holds true for bread. Most of us laypeople, we non-bakers, will look at a loaf of bread and think: "Bread." Or, we'll look at a loaf of fancy, artisanal bread, and think: "Fancy, artisanal bread."
Rarely will we think about the ingredients beyond flour, yeast, and water. But bakers are thinking about these things all the time, just as the best mixologists are thinking they'd like to have a better vodka.
And so it is with Baker's Field founder Steve Horton, also known as the founder of Rustica Bakery, the first true-blue and longest-standing artisan bakery we have around here.
Why should someone who bakes with wild yeast, long fermentation times, and all the other painstaking methods necessary for the world's finest breads leave his raw materials to someone else?
But that's what most bakers have had to do up until fairly recently. Most American mills are built with big ag and commodity food in mind, not small farms and small bakeries and slow food where hand technique is key. So, if the likes of Horton want truly superior raw ingredients, they pretty much gotta build it themselves, from the ground up, including the tools.
And that's Baker's Field. Horton thinks there are probably fewer than 50 small mills like his in the entire country, most on the coasts where the bread scene has been a little more progressive. (Hello, Portland.)
The brand new Baker’s Field looks a little like a mini-factory, outfitted with lots of hoses and pulleys and switches I can never hope to understand. What I understand is the flavor.
Take, say, a Rustica loaf, a beautiful thing indeed. Bubbling and burnished as if it's been toasted on the surface of the sun. Bust into one of these, and you’ll have to sweep the floor of all the lovely shards and crumbs it will leave behind. Inside, it's filled with glorious structure and more bubbles. As you bring it to your nose, the aroma is beery and winey and astonishingly complex. Why would anyone want anything else?
Because, says Horton, different baked goods call for different flours.
Most flour tastes the same. It’s white, the germ has been removed, and it works really well for certain things, but not for a lot of other things. It’s kind of like if those mixologists had nothing but vodka to work with. Sometimes you want a Manhattan, right?
Horton's breads prove this point fabulously. They’re all totally different. Sweet, sour, rye-y, cereal-y, toasty, buttery. That's because Horton and team are working long and hard to figure out which grains and which flours work best where.
So for rye: bagel or baguette? Or for spring wheat: brioche or bun?
Thanks to that industrial white flour, most of our palates aren’t accustomed to differentiating between, say, emer and spring wheat, or buckwheat and spelt. Don’t worry. Horton and his team will do the heavy lifting, and you don’t have to think about it any further than the flavor.
Here's how it works: A handful of whole grains (all of which are “conscientiously” sourced from smaller farms in the upper Midwest) goes in the top of the mill, and when the switch gets flipped, the mill makes an almighty ruckus.
A few seconds later, beige flour runs out of the bottom. That kind of flour is produced here daily. Fresh flour means less oxidation, the lipids remain intact, as does the germ. All of that, to the consumer, means flavor, flavor, flavor.
It’s taken over a year and a half of thinking and planning and strategizing (including lobbying to change Northeast’s zoning laws to allow for a mill in the city) to produce that handful of beautiful flour.
Of course, the finest way to have these very fine breads is to pile them with Red Table Meats, and Lone Grazer Cheeses, Baker’s Field’s neighbors in the Food Building. Under one roof, Kieran Folliard has gathered the makings of the most painstakingly produced, most delicious sandwich in America.
Get Baker’s Field bread at a growing number of locations, including Seward Co-op, Eastside Co-op, Surdyk’s, Mill City Farmer’s Market, and Northeast Farmer’s Market.
And bakers, you want to get your hands on some of that beautiful flour? It’s available retail as well, at Mill City Farmers Market, Northeast Farmers Market, Rustica, Grassroots Gourmet, and starting soon at Seward Co-op.
Baker's Field at Food Building
1401 Marshall St. NE, Minneapolis