Sep 28, 2012 • By

Bread bonanza in the Mill City

As a life-long lover of bread, I jumped at the opportunity to check out the second annual Mill City Bread Festival in Minneapolis last Saturday.

Gold Medal Flour, the Mill City Farmers Market and the Mill City Museum teamed up to offer a celebration of baking bread through delicious baking demonstrations, a bread baking contest and a “science of wheat and flour” demonstration led by General Mills experts.

Gold Medal Flour, General Mills’ oldest brand, traces its roots to the mill ruins occupying the area on the Minneapolis riverfront today. In fact, the structure housing the Mill City Museum is the site of the Washburn A mill, built by General Mills’ founder Cadwallader C. Washburn and once declared the largest flour mill in the world.

For me, the highlight of the day was a hands-on session with experts from General Mills’ Wheat and Flour Quality Lab, I learned basic facts about the different varieties of wheat, where they are grown, how wheat is milled, and how different types of wheat and different blends of flour have different “performance” traits that impact the texture and taste of baked goods.

Here are a few facts I picked up during the presentation:

-General Mills has five flour mills in the U.S. and handles more than 100 million bushels of wheat a year.

-Hard or soft, winter or spring, red or white, bleached or unbleached are just a few differentiators to describe different wheat or flours. Each type of wheat and blend of flour has different properties which make it better for certain types of baking. Making biscuits? A self-rising flour will work best. A cake? Opt for cake flour. Pie crust? Pastry flour is your best bet.

-Winter wheat is actually planted and grows in the fall, goes dormant in the winter and then is harvested in the spring. It’s primarily planted in areas of the Midwest with more mild winters, such as Kansas, but is also grown as far north as North Dakota. Winter wheat is often milled to make bread flours.

-Spring wheat crops are very concentrated in the Dakotas and Montana and are harvested in the early fall. Due to this wheat’s high protein content, it mills to make excellent pizza flour. A high protein content is important in pizza flours so that the pizza crust doesn’t get soggy or weighted down by heavy toppings.

-Trained General Mills employees constantly analyze the quality of the wheat we are using and the flour we are milling to make sure it meets our specifications and is as consistent as possible. In the world of baking, consistency in flour is critical to a good outcome.

-All-purpose flour, which most people buy, is right in the middle in terms of its performance traits, which is why it works well for most recipes.

General Mills employees Dave Katzke, Thorne Seese, Jim Wigand and Steve Cheruvathoor answered questions from eager audience members and gave everyone a chance to check out samples of dough, cookies and breads made with different types of flour.

The event took place in “The Pillsbury Doughboy and Gold Medal Flour Baking Lab” in the Mill City Museum. The baking lab was inspired by an early Washburn Crosby Company test kitchen where professional bakers developed and tested new products and recipes.

Earlier in the day, bakers Zoe Francois and Jeff Hertzberg, authors of Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day, and Minneapolis pastry chef Michelle Gayer, presented tips and recipes for making bread and pizza dough to a packed crowd of people visiting the Mill City Market.

Mary Goetz and Marcia Brinkley from the Betty Crocker Kitchens participated on the judging panel for the morning’s bread-baking contest. Check out the winning recipes.

“For over 125 years, Gold Medal has remained dedicated to milling the highest quality wheat,” said Briana Falk, associate marketing manager for Gold Medal Flour. “We are committed to delivering the best quality flour for your home-baked breads, cookies, pie crusts, cakes, and brownies, and were thrilled to be a part of the Bread Festival at the historic Mill City museum.”

Learn more about Gold Medal’s history, products and recipes on GoldMedalFlour.com.

Editor’s Note: Photos taken by Minneapolis photographer Robert Ball.