Baking and cooking with Kernza

These last couple of weeks, our kitchen has been the scene for lots of baking and cooking experiments with the new perennial grain, Kernza®. I admit I’ve been unapologetically geeking out about sourcing a part of my diet — a big part, grains — from regeneratively managed soils.

We introduced Kernza in an earlier post. It’s a new grain variety developed by The Land Institute in Kansas, a perennial cousin of the familiar wheat. Because it doesn’t have to be replanted again each year but can grow back from the same root system, it develops thick, dense roots, which hold soil in place and store massive amounts of carbon into the soil.

In other words, here’s a grain that can be grown in a way to restores and builds soil. Good news for those of us for whom bread, pasta and baked goods are among the joys of life!

While you won’t (yet!) find Kernza-based products on your grocery store aisles, you can order some milled flour from Plovgh, the distribution partner of the Land Institute, and make them yourself.

A good way to start with Kernza is quick breads like pancakes, waffles, and muffins. In these kinds of more forgiving doughs, you can substitute 100% Kernza for wheat or other flours.

For bread baking success, it’s best to combine Kernza with regular wheat flour because of Kernza’s lower gluten content. The tip from the pros at The Perennial in San Francisco, who have Kernza bread on their menu, is to use 1/3 Kernza and 2/3 wheat flour. With that ratio, I’ve started to have a lot of success with these early loaves of Kernza bread.

The breads I experimented with are the simple no-knead breads that I make often. By far the simplest is the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day  — a foolproof simple bread that you can really make in five minutes a day. The Kernza version (pictured above) was SO incredibly tasty, especially straight out of the oven and with plentiful dollops of butter on top.

My second experiment was a No-Knead Bread adapted from Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery that involves a longer process of about 24 hours. With 1/3 Kernza flour and 2/3 whole wheat flour, the loaf came out rustic and satisfying.

Kernza’s flavor has been described as “grassy.” I would maybe say “hearty” or “earthy.” Apparently, the deeper root systems of Kernza can reach down to the subsoil and tap into nutrients that are not as available to the short-rooted annuals, and this affects the flavor. A bread with a unique terroir, in other words.

Then, moving on to homemade pasta! Here’s a basic Kernza pasta recipe:

Homemade Kernza pasta
  • 1 cup Kernza flour
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 3 eggs

Mix the flours and the salt on the counter and shape them into a mound. Make a little “volcano” in the mound and break the eggs into it. Start mixing with a fork and slowly integrating the egg and the flour. Don’t worry if some egg escapes onto the counter, just bring it back in. The dough will come together. When it holds together as a ball, start kneading it with your hands until it’s smooth. Wrap in plastic or beeswax wrap and set aside for 30 minutes.

When the dough is ready, make about 6 balls the size of a small lime and start rolling them through the pasta machine. (A rolling pin will do the trick, too.) At this point, you can make your desired thickness and shape of pasta.

… and there it is: our kitchen’s first perennial pasta!

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