Last week I had the pleasure of joining other baking bloggers on a trip to Kansas during its wheat harvest. The trip was in partnership with Kansas Wheat and Red Star Yeast. On the trip, farmers shared their stories, we rode in a wheat combine (the massive machine that harvests wheat), toured a flour mill, discussed yeast, visited the Kansas Wheat Innovation Center, and baked bread with Zoe from Zoe Bakes. It was a lot packed into only 2 and 1/2 days! And Kansas was very toasty.
Also on the trip: Stefani from Cupcake Project, Lori from The Kitchen Whisperer, Kristin from Baker Bettie, Abby from Heart of a Baker, Annalise from Completely Delicious, Adriana from Adriana’s Best Recipes, Jamie from Love Bakes Good Cakes, and Jessica from A Kitchen Addiction.
Many of us had never been to Kansas or a wheat farm before, so this was a first for many. Our first stop was Scott Van Allen’s farm where we stood in the (very windy!!!) amber waves of grain learning about Scott and his story. The setting was beautiful. Scott, farmer and wheat commissioner, owns 2,500 acres of cropland. He raises drylands wheat and grain sorghum. Out of everything Scott owns and has done for the wheat industry, he’s most proud of his newly arrived granddaughter. I chatted his ear off about babies when riding in his wheat combine. ♥
Some facts we learned. (You can see these and more on the Kansas Wheat website.)
- One 60-pound bushel of wheat provides about 42 pounds of white flour. 42 pounds!!!!
- 20% of all calories consumed on earth are calories from wheat.
- Nearly one-fifth of all wheat grown in the United States is grown in Kansas.
- Kansas has about 60,000 farmers.
- 6 classes of wheat are grown in the US and Kansas produces 3 of them:
- Hard red winter: grown in all Kansas counties. Strong gluten, high in protein. Used for yeast breads and rolls.
- Soft red winter: grown in the eastern part of Kansas. Used for flat breads, cakes, pastries and crackers.
- Hard white: grown in the western and central parts of Kansas. Used for yeast breads, hard rolls, tortillas and noodles.
- Winter wheat is planted and sprouts in the fall, becomes dormant in the winter, then grows again in the spring and is harvested in early summer. We harvested hard red winter wheat.
Later in the day we visited Farmer Direct Foods, a cooperative where wheat kernels are stone-ground into flour. There wasn’t great lighting inside the mill, so I didn’t snap many pics. We spoke with CEO Bob Morando, who is wildly passionate about milling quality wheat. The wheat milled by Farmer Direct Foods is grown and harvested by a selection of experienced producers. One of its largest customers is King Arthur Flour, the flour you know I love and use! Each year, they mill 10 millions pounds of flour for KAF.
The next day we enjoyed breakfast at Radina’s Bakehouse before visiting the Kansas Wheat Innovation Center. At the center, we toured greenhouses and learned about the history of wheat. Built by the Kansas Wheat Commission, the facility is dedicated to wheat research so farmers can produce the best wheat possible. It’s home to the Wheat Genetics Resource Center where wheat genetic studies are conducted. All of this was pretty advanced, so in an effort to not totally butcher any of the information– read more about the Wheat Genetics Resource Center (and also here). What I found most interesting was their greenhouse devoted to ancient grains, some dating back 10,000 years.
Let the baking begin! The second part of the day was devoted to learning about the National Festival of Breads (LITERALLY A FESTIVAL OF BREAD. WE ALL MUST GO.) and baking with Zoe Bakes! Zoe taught us her totally casual approach to bread baking, a method she writes in depth about in her series of cookbooks and corresponding website, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. I first met Zoe back in 2014 and was even more excited this time as I have more baking practice under my belt. She is an absolute pleasure and one of my biggest inspirations. The afternoon spent with her and other talented bloggers was a dream come true.
The secret behind Zoe’s bread baking? A lean freezer-friendly homemade dough stored for up to 2 weeks. Mix, refrigerate, then shape and bake an array of different breads. You 100% need the original cookbook. She signed my copy!!
This was all made from one dough:
We also prepared a sweeter dough with eggs + butter to make a variety of sweets like raspberry cream cheese braid, doughnuts, star bread, and babka. The raspberry cream cheese braid was my favorite, but the star bread was most fun to prepare. Mostly because I had no idea how EASY it was! I’ll share some recipes inspired from the trip soon.
All of our delicious creations were prepared with Red Star Yeast. Red Star Yeast (RSY) has been one of my clients for almost 6 years. I’m very selective about the brands my business promotes, so you know that when I work with a company– I’m a major fan.
I thought I knew everything about yeast, but the time spent with them was as fun as it was eye-opening. I asked members in my Facebook group if they had any questions I could relay to RSY and here are the answers. (I couldn’t get to all of the questions, sorry!) Thank you for submitting your questions, bakers!
- Can I store yeast in the freezer? Yes! Dry yeast can be stored in the freezer; both gals from RSY actually recommended it! Place it towards the back of the freezer so it’s not exposed to temperature changes when you open the door. Measure the amount you need and set it on the counter for 45-60 minutes before using. The colder it is, the longer it will take to “get going.” 🙂
- Refrigerate or freeze after opening? Dry yeast is perishable. Once your package is opened, the yeast must be refrigerated or frozen in an airtight container. Use within 4 months if refrigerated and 6 months if frozen.
- Explain the different types of yeast! There are 3 main types: fresh yeast, active dry yeast, and instant (quick rise) dry yeast. Fresh yeast is sold as cream, crumbled, compressed, or as cake yeast. It has a short shelf life and is only sold in limited markets. The 2 types of dry yeast (active and instant) are much more common and what I personally use in all my recipes. Active dry yeast has a moderate rate of rising and instant dry yeast has a faster rate of rising. Active dry and instant yeast can be used interchangeably in recipes (1:1); just expect a faster rise with instant. More info here.
- What is “proofing” yeast? Proofing yeast is sometimes a step in a recipe. This step is basically just “proving” that the yeast is alive and active. You dissolve the contents of the packet in warm water/milk with 1 teaspoon sugar. After 5-10 minutes, the mixture should be bubbly. If used before the expiration date, this step isn’t necessary with modern active dry or instant yeast.
- What is a typical yeast to flour ratio? One packet of yeast (2 and 1/4 teaspoons) will raise up to 4 cups of flour.
Lots more are answered on the Red Star Yeast FAQ page. 🙂 My Baking with Yeast Guide is a helpful resource, too.
My time in Kansas not only with these brands, but in the company of fellow passionate bakers, is an experience I’ll always cherish. I’m so grateful for the opportunities my career has provided and even though it wasn’t easy being away from Noelle, it was well worth the trip. Many thanks to Kansas Wheat, Red Star Yeast, Scott Van Allen, Jill Ladd, Jenny Goering, Zoë François, and everyone else on the trip!
Reader Comments & Reviews
Dan Farber’s book, The Third Plate, has a really interesting chapter on wheat farming in the US and where it’s headed in the future! A great read that would probably relate to a lot of what you learned!
Thank you for the thoughtful recommendation, Michelle!
This trip sounds so exciting and even more educative! Thank you so much for sharing it with us! <3
Really enjoyed this trip and getting to know you Sally! ❤️
This was very interesting and informative to read. The star bread looks really neat!
What a great opportunity for you Sally! Thanks for sharing this experience through words and pictures!
I live in Kansas and the last few weeks have been unusually hot – thanks to global warming. I hope you have some positive thoughts on our fine state other than “toasty” and “windy”. Come back & spend some time in Kansas City. There’s lots to see besides wheat.
Thanks Sally for sharing your Kansas experience. Very informative and enjoyable to read! (As always)
Thanks for coming to Kansas! We are wheat farmers in central Kansas and are glad you got a glimpse into how we help feed the world. Thanks for sharing our message with readers. I’m looking forward to seeing the recipes.
Your photos are so gorgeous, Sally. Not only of the baked goods you ladies made but of the wheat and the farm itself, amazing! So interesting to hear your experience there and some of these cool yeast/ wheat facts 🙂
Hot and windy! That is exactly what is needed to cut our wheat for best product. Our wheat did well in south central Kansas.
Ahhh Sally!! I’m from Kansas (Wichita to be exact)! Crazy to think you were in my neck of the woods learning about the wheat farming I grew up with. Hope you enjoyed your stay! 🙂