Bakers talk about something called “oven spring.” It happens not long after the dough goes into the oven, when the internal temperature of the loaves reaches around one hundred degrees. Jeffrey Hamelman in his book called Bread explains that there is a “rapid increase in yeast fermentation and an increase in enzymatic activity” at this temperature. Basically the starch is swelling and gasses are being produced and all of these things cause the bread to puff up, or “spring.” If no one has ever explained the chemistry of it all, it can appear pretty magical. This week I got to explain the process to a group of kids at our local drop in center for homeless and food insecure youth. While I was teaching them about the bread breaking process, I learned something myself. The kids and the bread dough are a lot alike. They are in a process of transformation. And during times of transformation some patience is required. The hardest part of teaching bread baking classes to kids, compared to teaching kids to make cookies or pancakes or pasta, is the waiting. We had a lot of fun measuring and mixing and kneading. No one had seen a dough whisk before. We learned the right way to measure flour. Kids lined the countertops kneading their bowls of dough. There was laughter and chatter and story sharing. One wants to be a baker. One had a grandma that made cinnamon rolls this way. One asks for an apron to keep the flour off his pants for a job interview. The bowls of dough were lined up and covered and admired by the staff, but then came the hard part. The waiting. Oven spring doesn’t just require a warm oven, it requires dough that has been able to rest and to rise. Kids are like that too. These kids don’t like it when you call them homeless. For them, homelessness is a situation but not an identity. It is something they are going through, but it is not who they are. We teach them to bake because someday they will have homes and kitchens and kids of their own to feed. It just takes a little time. A safe place to rest overnight and the right environment to help them spring. I’m glad to be baking in place where the bread isn’t the only thing rising.
Cakes are special. Every birthday, every celebration ends with something sweet, a cake, and people remember. It’s all about the memories. -Buddy Valestro
Around here our birthday cakes tend to be a little less fussy than what you can find in a “real” bakery. I’d rather tackle wild yeast than buttercream any day. The cake in the oven today is the fantastically simple strawberry summer cake from Smitten Kitchen. Loaded with fresh strawberries and barley flour, it smells like a strawberry patch in the oven, just as the recipe promises. But it smells like more than that to me. To me, a cake in the oven is the smell of birthdays. And of children’s wishes being made real. When you ask for strawberry cake, you get strawberry cake. There is no greater joy than being the one who gets to bake the cakes of childhood. My mom made one with peaches for my sister and me growing up. My son prefers chocolate cream “birthday pie” instead of cake, with a double thick graham cracker crust and homemade whipped cream. For my daughter it’s an apple cake loaded with cinnamon, although I once sent a carrot cake through airport security when that was what she craved her first year at college. At the drop in center we bake for, there is a monthly party where kids get to pick their own decorations. But it’s not really about the decorations that go on top, or even so much about what flavors the batter on the inside. The essential ingredient for a good birthday cake is love. Thats what makes the memories sweet.
July flour baskets are filled with sourdough baguettes, whole grain seeded baguettes, oatmeal raisin bread for breakfast toast and sandwich rolls made just like the bread we are making in our Kids Baking for Good classes this month. We’ve already discovered they make the best BLT sandwiches ever, so hit the farmer’s market for your bacon and tomatoes and enjoy! Happy summer everyone!!
Wow! We’ve been overwhelmed by the support we’ve received since the Little Flour concept took root earlier this spring, and by how many of you have asked to buy our bread and support our work with hungry kids in St. Louis. All that support has led to a couple logistical questions that we need to answer. For those of you asking to buy our bread online, or asking if you can buy it in any local stores, the answer is regrettably no. At least not in this chapter of life. Little Flour is a “cottage food production operation” in Missouri which means we only bake cookies, cakes, bread (especially bread!), pastries, pies, and other “non potentially hazardous” (who’d want those anyway?!?) food items that we sell ourselves. We bake them right here in our own home kitchen, which is thoroughly inspected for cleanliness by our lead baker’s mother and mother-in-law before placing their breakfast toast orders each month, but is not inspected by the actual health department. As a result, according to Missouri law, we can’t ship to you or open our own storefront no matter how much we appreciate your requests! And that’s actually ok with us. Tempting and flattering as the offers to sell more bread have been, our primary goal was never to sell more bread. We’re all about feeding kids around here. And our capacity is limited. The bread we sell locally is very small batch and sold entirely like an old school bake sale. Our supporters pick up their bread face-to-face on Friday afternoons, maybe share a beverage and a bit of conversation in the process, and write their checks directly to the local non-profits we support. We do an occassional pop-up bake sale around town to raise money for these organizations working to end hunger, especially hunger among youth and kids, and you can follow us on Instagram (@littleflourmicrobakery) if you’d like to know where to find us. Funds raised are earmarked by the agencies to buy ingredients for our baking classes and to make healthy baked goods on site for kids that are hungry in our city. If we spent too much time and oven capacity making bread to sell, we’d have no capacity left to feed the kids we set out to serve. The good news is that anyone who loves to bake can do the same thing in their own neighborhood, and we certainly hope that you’ll give it a try. We’ll keep sharing our stories and recipes and would love to hear from you about the people you’re baking for in your community too!
We are so thrilled to have the support of King Arthur Flour for a series of summer baking classes at our drop-in center for food insecure youth. The Learn Bake Share program was designed to teach kids to bake and also to share. Normally kids learn to bake bread at school and then take home a bag of great ingredients and a recipe book courtesy of King Arthur Flour. At home they bake two loaves of bread, one to share with their family and another to share with a local agency working to meet the needs of food insecure families in the community. In our case, we will be teaching the baking class at the center and baking the bread there as well. The kids will eat the fresh bread right out of the oven the afternoon of the class, but will also bake enough to provide the bread for the community meal on Friday afternoon. Kids baking for kids! The Bake for Good Kids Bread Recipe is healthy and fool proof! We’re making a batch in our kitchen today to make sure we have all our supplies in order, and it smells warm and delicious already. Stay tuned for details on the classes and recipes, but we wanted to say thanks to our friends at King Arthur for the donation of flour, yeast, books and equipment and also to our Little Flour supporters for donating additional kitchen supplies (and all the meat and cheese to turn that bread into sandwiches on Friday!) to get the program launched this summer!
Update: If you would like to make the bread at home or for kids in your neighborhood, here is the recipe…
Little Flour is a quirky midwestern microbakery. That means we aren’t trying to bake a lot of bread for a lot of people. We’re just doing our own small thing with a lot of love. Breakfast toast. Cookies that don’t come from a box. Sourdough baguettes fresh from the oven on Friday night. Breads and sweets that make people healthy and happy. We offer “Flour Baskets” filled with a week’s worth of toasting bread and baguettes and treats to our subscribers on Friday afternoons. We bake for drop in centers and shelters where people are hungry not just for good homemade bread, but also for the hope and joy that bread can bring when shared around a table. We bake occassionally as a “pop-up” fundraiser for those organizations working to end hunger in our little corner of the world. We teach bread baking and basic cooking skills to a lot of the folks we meet along the way, and wherever possible adovocate on behalf of the hungry and those who seek to feed them well. This site is a place for our supporters to find out what we are baking for our pop-up bake sales and Flour Baskets. And it is a response to requests that we share some of our recipes so they can be recreated at home and shared by others. Along the way we might talk about what inspires us. It’s a love of cooking to be sure. And eating. But it’s mostly about feeding. Feeding the people gathered around our own tables and around tables throughout our community. If you stumbled upon us from another neighborhoood, welcome. We hope something you find here might inspire you to bake a little extra this week and share it with someone near you.
Update 9/8/15: The subscription list for the 2015-2016 season is now full, but please stay in touch for information on pop-up bake sales! Thanks to our loyal subscribers for funding a full school year of baking classes for hungry kids!
We are so pleased to be baking cookies with our local Cooking Matters class this week. Hurray for all the kids graduating from cooking class! Cooking Matters is a great way for kids to learn how to cook and eat healthy meals at home. Their cookies looked awfully good too, and were so yummy it was hard to get a picture before they were all gone. It was easy to get distracted from photography while watching the kids. It turns out that kids who may not always get enough to eat can teach some real lessons on sharing. Cookie distribution was taken very seriously during this class. There were two cookies per kid, and they were gobbled up as soon as they were declared cool enough for little hands to touch. But there were three extra cookies. Three cookies for a dozen kids. This was a serious dilemma and the options presented were fascinating. The cookies could be quartered and divided evenly (good math skills at work!) but crumbling was going to be an issue and this option was not popular. The kid who discovered the extras on the baking tray briefly suggested a finders keepers approach but was pretty easily persuaded by the others that it would not be a fair solution. After a pause, one little girl perked up and declared that there were three volunteer helpers there and that we could each have a cookie. We helpers were all flattered but did not want to take their last three cookies. We declined, but the idea of gifting the cookies had taken hold and the spirits of the group of second graders soared as they debated the best recipients for their efforts. A younger sibling, a hard working mom, and an obviously adored after school caregiver were the lucky winners of those cookies, but those of us working with the kids may have gotten the best gift of all-a reminder of why we do what we do. It’s fun to cook, but it’s even more fun to feed someone. And as always, that is the best lesson of all.
This week the Flour Boxes were custom ordered for a very special birthday celebration and included half size baguettes which were adorable. When we looked around the kitchen this morning we found one that had been left behind on accident. What to do? We sliced it, toasted it, and topped it with treasures from our local farmer’s market that is now open for the summer: fresh tomato, eggs, zephyr squash and basil mixed with fresh dill, chives and lemon thyme from our own kitchen garden. The perfect way to relax after a busy weekend in the bakery. We are so inspired that subscribers may find baby tomato and herb plants in their deliveries next week!
We are so excited to be baking the weekend baguettes for a bake sale at our favorite wine and cheese shop this weekend! Proceeds fund our baking classes for food insecure youth, so happy hour is even happier this week! Thanks to all our great supporters for making it possible.
When we were updating the kitchen at Little Flour a few years ago, the contractor told us we had three choices. We could have it done right. We could have it done fast. Or we could have it done cheap. Two of the three were possible, but not all three. How true it is. There is a similar truth when it comes to decorating sugar cookies with kids. They can look good. They can taste good. Or they can be fun to decorate. Two of the three are possible, but not all three. UNLESS you have a little help. This week we are making sugar cookie decorating kits for some of our young friends. We make the cookies ahead of time, and trust us they taste great! Then we provide some adorable no fail decorations that are fun for kids. Think your duck should be pink? No problem. Want to eat the eyeballs before they make it to the cookie? Don’t worry, we sent extra. Is most of your icing on your shirt? Who cares? With buttermilk and baking spice in the batter these cookies are great on their own as well. Happy baking! And remember, when it comes to decorating cookies with kids (and most other things with kids too) their imperfections are what make them beautiful….