A Guide to Grains from Grist & Toll

By Lisa Elbert | Leah Hammerman


Lisa Elbert
Leah Hammerman
Nan Kohler of Grist & Toll | Pasadena, CA
Nan Kohler of Grist & Toll | Pasadena, CA

Grist & Toll is the first flour mill in the greater Los Angeles area in more than 100 years. At this year’s Women Chefs and Restaurateurs (WCR) conference, it’s proprietor, Nan Kohler, engaged attendees with the language of grains, emphasizing the importance of wheat variety in baking. “I started to question where the wheat came from, who made it, where it was grown,” says Kohler, who began milling grains for flour out of curiosity. “That should matter to me. My interest in high quality ingredients and diversity of flavor, that’s what led me here.” Kohler and her flour-obsessed team of fellow bakers-turned-millers focus on single varietal flours and evaluate the various uses for them based on several factors including hardness, color, growing season, protein percentage, extraction rate, ash content (mineral content), and falling number (enzyme activity). Kohler currently sells nine single varietal Grist & Toll flours from the mill as well as online. They range in price from $7 for 24 ounces of cornmeal to $20 for five pounds of spelt flour. 

“There’s a negative connotation of what ‘whole wheat’ is: dense, dark, sandy. But I’m seeing the exact opposite. I can get incredibly delicate breads from any grain,” says Kohler. “I don’t label things as ‘bread flour’ or ‘pastry flour.’ You can make anything you want with flour that I mill, as long as you understand the individual characteristics of that flour. That’s what this is all about for me: local milling and grain selection giving us more creative freedom.” Here’s Kohler’s guide for how to use some of Grist & Toll’s single varietal flours. 

Wheat variety: Einkorn
Grain category: soft white 
Flavor profile: sweet roasted corn, toast, butter
Use: “This is the most ancient wheat variety, and it’s not easy to find, but people are reading about it because they’re searching for heritage varieties that are lower in gluten strength but higher in nutritional value. It’s very silky, very velvety off the mill. I’m just getting to know Einkorn, but people are making bread with it. It makes delicious bread and expresses and captures those roasted corn and butter flavors and aromas. It also did really well in short dough, short crusts, things with extra fat or butter or egg yolk. I did a couple poundcake type things, and the texture was a little spongy. So sometimes it’s good, sometimes not so good.”

Wheat variety: Gazelle
Grain category: rye
Flavor profile: malt, tang, grass
Use: “Rye is amazing on all different levels of baking. We think of rye in a very limited way. We associate it with those awful breads with way too many caraway seeds. Those mask what the rye flavor profile really is. I love rye in pastry, how great it is in pancake batter, chocolate chip cookie dough, puff pastry for turnovers, etc. I almost always put a small amount of rye in any bread recipe that I’m doing because it adds that extra depth or hint of complexity that most people can’t quite identify as rye. It’s awesome in brownies and beautiful with chocolate.”

Wheat variety: Red fife
Grain category: hard red 
Flavor profile: rich, nutty, well-rounded, no bitterness
Use: “The seed originally came to us from Canada. Historically, in Canada, it was the premier bread baker’s wheat. It’s great for flatbreads, crackers, etc. But if it’s stone-milled, you can use it for muffins and quick breads, and I love a 100 percent red fife pie dough.”

Wheat variety: Sonora 
Grain category: soft white 
Flavor profile: sweet corn, hay, straw, creamy
Use: “Sonora mills to a beautiful fine texture, and I use it interchangeably, between pastry and breads, in a lot of home recipes. It doesn’t look, taste, or behave like a whole wheat flour; it’s very delicate.”
(Kohler uses Sonora flour to make Sonora Scones.)

Wheat variety: Spelt 
Grain category: spelt
Flavor profile: nutty, sweet, rich, 
Use: “Spelt has a delicate, melt-in-your-mouth texture in baked goods, and it laminates beautifully. We don’t grow a tremendous amount of it in the United States. It hasn’t been hybridized as much because it hasn’t been a big focus, but it’s been used consistently in other parts of the world (mostly in Europe for bread baking). There’s a lot of spelt being used in pastry and bread in Nordic cuisine.”

Wheat variety: Star
Grain category: hard white 
Flavor profile: toast, butter, yeast
Use: “Originally developed in Spain, Star is beautifully strong for artisan bread baking. As a flour, it has a golden hue. Even as a whole wheat, it’s not dark brown. White wheats are richer, and clearly not refined white flour, but they don’t look like 100 percent whole wheat, either. Star has a more interesting flavor for those who aren’t really into brown bread.” 

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