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Journal Series: Becoming a Baker

Some of you may know that GRAIN is ever so slowly creeping towards the day we can finally call ourselves professional flour millers. We’re not there yet, but victory is on the horizon. In preparation for that day, we’ve been doing our bread research and getting super inspired.

Janna, GRAIN co-founder and daughter of a wheat farmer, is so excited, she’s kicking off a new Journal series that will document her personal journey towards achieving her first, legitimate, high-quality, 100 per cent whole grain sourdough bread. She’s going to walk us through her experience from the tentative sourdough starter days right through to the glory of that first perfect crumb.


Okay, here I am. I’m Janna, the GRAIN owner/operator who isn’t a food blogger or photographer. Those are Shira’s skills. But between the two of us, I’ve got the edge in the baking department. I make a pretty darn good pie, a range of tasty wholegrain birthday cakes and a vegan version of pretty much everything in the baking section of Joy. But other than vegan/whole grain riffs, I like to follow instructions and share the bounty. Baking is the perfect outlet for that.

I have a new purpose in life – I want to make a high quality loaf of 100 per cent whole grain sourdough bread. I will do this by nurturing flour and water into a leavening agent, also called a starter. I will turn this starter into a levain, and the levain into dough, shape the dough into a boule, ferment it, proof it and finally I will bake it.

That’s why I’m here. But, I have a major baking confession to make: I tried this before—it didn’t go well. I didn’t get past week one.

I took a class with a local baker, Annabelle Choi. Her instructions were clear and I thought it was only a matter of time before I would be eating loaf after loaf of homemade sourdough. What I ended up eating however was a slice of humble pie. I was fastidious in my approach: everyday, same mixture and amount of flour, same temperature and amount of water, same encouraging words. Things looked promising for approximately six days. Bubbles appeared, a pleasant, yeasty aroma filled the kitchen. But then, without warning, it all stopped. My starter died. No more bubbles, no more yeasty aroma, nothing. Ever again. I was confused, but mostly devastated by the overwhelming feeling of failure. That failed jar of flour slop sat on my counter for longer than I care to mention, serving as a reminder that not all things are as simple as following directions.

But, now I am armed with a renewed sense of purpose. GRAIN is inching closer to becoming a legitimate flour milling company and I want to test firsthand how our flour performs. Not only that, but in these past few months I have met a number of truly inspirational bread bakers that have shown me there is poetry and magic and solace in the humble act of baking bread, and I want to be in that club. I will be in that club.

With that, I invite you to follow along on my bread baking journey and maybe, if you want, you can join the club too.