The Whole Grain Journey of a University Bakeshop

University of Massachusetts Amherst

In 2005 and 2006, the UMass Bakeshop transitioned to new leadership under the direction of trained pastry chefs. This transition in management brought with it a fresh look at menus, nutrition, and trends.

In 2008, after attending a conference hosted by ConAgra, we learned of ConAgra’s new innovative whole-grain products – Sustagrain and Ultragrain. These products offered us the opportunity to expand our creative explorations by adding whole grains to many of our products, from bars, cookies, quick breads, and sweet doughs to yeasted breads.

During our continued evolution, we also turned to the use of ancient grain varieties and explored sources for local grains and flour. We discovered that Massachusetts’ Pioneer Valley is home to some of the best farming soil and some of the best farmers. Our partnerships with local farms are a huge part of UMass Dining’s mission and commitment to our community. Thus, with the backing of our leadership, we found a local family of farmers (about 20 miles north of the school) who not only grew wheat and corn but also milled the grains. After testing their product and adjusting our formulas, we found their flour to work very well for our needs. Sadly, after a few years of a great partnership, the family transitioned from wheat and milling to hops and brewing.

In keeping with our mission to support local farmers, we once again found another source for flour just 5 miles away. A local couple founded a malthouse business in 2011 and in 2018 expanded their company to incorporate stone-ground milling. This new company, Ground Up Mill, uses grains collected from various farmers in the Northeast region. Therefore, the characteristics of the flour differed significantly from what we were using; this meant that we were unable to use the local flour in the same manner to which we had grown accustomed. After a great deal of trial and error, we arrived at the necessary adjustments in our formulas to accommodate the new flour. We also found that some of their products, such as pastry flour, did not work with our formulations. Currently, our usage of commercial to local flour is about 80:20.

Because the summer session is a quieter season of business, we can use this time for testing new products and menu items. Our local partners have often been generous in providing us with various samples, which has been helpful.

At this juncture, we use these local flours: spelt, whole-grain wheat, bolted whole grain, white whole wheat, and rye. We use a good deal of spelt and white whole wheat in our desserts and whole-grain wheat and rye we use in our bread making. For pastry items, we have discovered that depending on the item, we can incorporate anywhere from 10-30% of whole-grain flour. We also use an assortment of whole grains, which we toast, soak, and cook, and use as inclusions for items such as multigrain or ancient grain bread. In addition to yeasted bread, we have incorporated grains, such as amaranth and quinoa, into some of our desserts.

Pamela G. Adams is the Director of Bakery Operations and the Executive Pastry Chef
U Mass Dining, University of Massachusetts