Morning Glory Muffins: What the heck is Red Fife flour?

This was never meant to be an ordinary baking blog. I don’t have any nostalgic stories about how I spent my childhood learning the “ins and outs” of baking from my dear, departed Grandmother, or recalling the sweet smell of chocolate chip cookies wafting from the kitchen as I came through the door, tired and hungry, looking for just a little respite after a difficult and busy day at school. Real bakers have stories like that. I don’t. I come from a long line of non-bakers which doesn’t mean I didn’t have cookies. I did. They just came from the store. And I have stories too. They’re just a little different. So here goes nothing. I am not a baker and this is my story.  

I was pretty excited when Jed from “Cook Culture, one of my fav shops in downtown Victoria, sent me (well not only me) a recipe for Morning Glory Muffins with no coconut bits included. I can’t tell you why or when, but at some point I decided I really don’t like coconut bits and since many MG muffins seem to include them, I have given most a pass, opting instead for blueberry, apple, banana, rhubarb, nuts, well just about anything else. This no coconut recipe originated with “Flourist”(formerly known as Grains), a Vancouver shop that specializes in fresh milled grains. I suppose that should have been my first clue when I noticed the recipe required something called Sifted Red Fife flour. Not only that, it also listed just plain old Red Fife flour. So there I was. Desperately wanting to try my hand at these muffins all the while wondering, what the heck was Red Fife flour? Sifted or not. 

As a non-baker my familiarity with flour comes primarily from that well-known fella who lives in the forest and robs the rich to give to the poor. Varieties, as far as I was concerned, included white, whole wheat, pastry, and bread although, truth be told,  my pantry most frequently housed “all-purpose” because after all, how can you go wrong with something that works for everything? Little did I know there was a whole new world of grains out there just waiting for me to discover. My search for Red Fife started on the internet. I soon found out that Red Fife is a heritage flour, arriving in Canada in 1842, and considered to be the oldest wheat variety in this country of ours. Unbeknownst to me, and I’m guessing many of you, Red Fife has enjoyed a resurgence in Canada when, in 1988, Sharon Rempel planted half a pound of the seed and by 2007 over 500 tons a year were being harvested. Trust me. There’s nothing you can’t learn from the world wide web, or from this blog.

Ok. So now that I knew what it was I had to figure out where to get it. I started with my new friend Jed who kindly responded to my rather frantic email with some possible local suppliers and next thing I know I found myself at a tiny little sustainable grocers where the lovely store owner explained that I had to mill the little bag of grain I found on their shelves into the flour I was seeking. Really? I’m not even a baker and now I’m grinding wheat into flour? Suffice to say I left that store with a rather small but pricey bag of freshly ground, Red Fife flour which, my kind shopkeeper explained, was definitely not sifted. Which means I’m only halfway there. 

Sure seems it never rains but it pours. So I’m COVID-19 shopping online at my local bulk store and what do you think I find as I scroll down their very comprehensive list of stuff I need to order by the gram? That’s right. Red Fife flour. Now I know deep down in my heart that this is likely not the sifted variety but since I have pretty much otherwise exhausted my search I decide to add a few hundred grams to my list, sight unseen. Picking up my order I’m not too surprised, but perhaps slightly dismayed to discover my new bag of flour looks exactly the same as my old one. And since I was assured that my old bag was not sifted the only plausible conclusion was neither was this.

Now you and I both know I am not in the habit of making any recipe substitutions but I really wanted to make these muffins and without a “Plan B” finally came to the conclusion that for better or worse, I was going to have to make due with only one kind of Red Fife flour. Then, just when I’m ready to throw caution to the wind, this happens. Not at the specialty health food store. Not at the bulk store and not at the “grind my own grain” store but at my very ordinary grocery store where I quite unexpectedly stumbled upon a small, but as you can imagine, expensive bag of sifted, Red Fife flour. I could hardly contain my excitement and without even a moment’s pause added my new found treasure to what was very quickly becoming a rather ample, and costly supply of Red Fife. No matter. As Mr. Cruise would say, mission accomplished.

Morning Glory Muffins. Worth the trouble and expense? You better believe it!
My suggestion? Give yourself lots of extra time.

Here’s how it went for me. With a fancy schmancy slide show. 

Morning Glory Muffins
The Recipe: Prep time 15 minutes; Cook time 23 minutes; Total 38 minutes
Me: Prep time 60 minutes; Cook time 25 minutes; Total 1 hour 25 minutes
Favourite thing about this recipe: When you set the quantity you are making, the recipe automatically adjusts the ingredients. No math required!
Least Favourite thing: Zesting
Lesson Learned: Never store coconut oil in the fridge!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Let’s Get this Bun in the Oven

Here’s how I see it. There are real bakers who love to bake. If you are lucky, one of them is your friend. These people know everything there is to know about baking. It’s like they were born in a kitchen, however unlikely that might be. Recipes? Who needs one! Measure? Not in these kitchens. They simply know what to do. For real bakers, baking is an art and a science. The most beautiful and delectable creations emerge from their ovens. They are masters of their craft. And just so you don’t underestimate them, you should also know they understand the chemistry of baking. Their vocabulary includes terms like “protein bonding” and “maillard reactions”. The “magic of leavening agents” is no mystery to them. They are aware of the difference between baking soda and baking powder and have a firm grasp on how yeast, when added to dough, “feeds on starches producing sugars, alcohol and carbon dioxide as byproducts”*. Ask them, on the spur of the moment, to whip up a Mille-Feuille and they’ll reach into that fridge of theirs and pull out the citrusy yuzu cream they keep on hand in anticipation of this very request. Most of us are not these people but if you are, this new blog of mine probably won’t cut into your baking time. 

Then there are those who are not bakers and don’t have even the teeniest desire to be one. I freely acknowledge that used to be me so on this one, I know from where I speak. Non-bakers, as I have chosen to call them, have the local patisserie on speed dial for that dreaded moment when the neighbor, in her most neighbourly way says, “Let’s all get together on Monday for a chit chat. And hey! Bring a little something for us to nosh on”. They know that on “muffin day” they will make a valiant, but alas failed attempt to provide homemade goodies, ultimately requiring a late night trip to the grocers in the vain hope of finding a couple dozen muffins, with no trace of peanuts, that can be pawned off on a bunch of 6 year olds as something that has recently emerged from the oven. They are the first to sign up for crackers and cheese at the office potluck. Non-bakers have mastered the art of disguise with their stockpile of fancy cake plates and heritage (looking) cookie tins all at the ready to replace those nasty aluminum pans in which oh so many store bought goodies are packaged. Not wanting to outright lie, they simply smile and politely nod when complimented on their treats, deflecting any requests for recipes with some long winded story about promises to a great great grandmother, and all subsequent women in the family, to safeguard these most treasured of family secrets. I can’t tell you what non-bakers do with all the spare time they must have, but I’m guessing they won’t be interrupting whatever it is to read this blog. 

Finally there are people like me, and hopefully at least a few of you. I can’t pinpoint the exact moment I transitioned from not baking to baking but I can tell you that when I bought my first KitchenAid stand mixer in a lovely cerulean blue primarily to add a pop of colour to my kitchen, I had no idea it was the quintessential baker’s tool. I mean I had a lovely new kitchen with tons of counter space so, why not? Little did I know how soon my life would change. Was it the first batch of rugelach? The banana nut bread with dates? Can’t say but somewhere along the line my life turned upside down, (although not like COVID-19 upside down). Except for one thing. Even though I bake, I am not a baker. And if that confuses you, let me explain. I know nothing about baking. Shall I repeat? Nothing. I don’t know why I add baking soda rather than baking powder or what will happen if my eggs are not at room temperature when I add them to the mix. I can never figure out why dry and wet ingredients have to be mixed in separate bowls even though, in the end, they end up together. And yeast, quite frankly, scares the heck out of me. As a result, I just do what I am told. Recipes are my bible. Measuring spoons and cups my trusty companions. If there’s a baking pan or cookie sheet that self-proclaims “best in its class” and promises I will never again be faced with an unevenly baked loaf, you’ll find it in my baking drawer. Yes, I have a baking drawer. 

You might be asking yourself at this stage of the game, why would someone like me decide to write a baking blog?  Well there are a couple of good reasons the least of which is that even I, the self-professed “shallow gal”, have to admit it’s a tad difficult to come up with ideas for “Shallow Be My Name” these days. Don’t worry. For my small but loyal following I’ll keep writing that blog too, just not quite as frequently. Although I can’t really blame that on the new normal as my old normal was pretty sporadic too. More importantly however, I thought it might be useful for me to share what I like to call the “truth about baking”. You see, for real bakers everything goes pretty much the way it should. For me, and maybe for you, not so much. Let’s face it. We both know that a recipe suggesting a prep time of 15 minutes means setting aside a good hour, perhaps and a half, to get oven-ready. And speaking of ovens, if I were to preheat when told I’d likely be able to roast a chicken as I work on mixing and stirring my little loaf. And you have to know when my recipe calls for Red Fife flour I will scour the city to find it because in my kitchen, there are no substitutes allowed. And that’s the difference between me and a real baker. They know what I don’t. 

This blog is about that. What really happens when we bake. The good, the bad and the ugly. Edible and inedible. With pics. So, without further ado and, as they say in the biz, let’s get this bun in the oven!

Almost forgot. If you are so inclined, feel free to follow/subscribe to the blog. I’d love to have you along for the ride. 

*https://sciencing.com/chemical-reactions-that-occur-during-baking-12731635.html