Grain Guru Caught Her Calling in the Rye

Jennifer Lapidus was a full-time baker for many years before opening a mill. Photo by Rimas Zailskas

Dr. Evil, the megalomaniacal mastermind of the Austin Powers movie franchise, once expressed a fervent wish to possess sharks with “frickin’ laser beams” on their heads. Jennifer Lapidus uses the same adjectival minced oath for a considerably more quotidian (though tastier) desire. “Frickin’ waffles — they’re just super interesting to me right now!” she exclaims.

That enthusiasm for baked goods serves Lapidus well in her role as the founder and general manager of Asheville’s Carolina Ground, a mill dedicated to processing grains grown throughout the South. A former full-time baker with Natural Bridge Bakery in Marshall, she now provides the culinary community with regionally sourced raw materials for their breads and pastries.

Lapidus points to her mill’s rye flour as a particularly potent case of the unique flavors Carolina Ground makes available to bakers. Produced using Wrens Abruzzi rye, a heritage grain developed from an Italian variety in 1953 by a University of Georgia agronomist, the flour is darker and spicier than that made with the Danko rye commonly grown in the North.

Photo by Paul Stebner

Like all of Carolina Ground’s products, its rye flour is processed by stone grinding instead of roller milling, the most common technique in large-scale mills. While this practice is slower than the alternative, Lapidus explains, it better preserves the natural nutrients and essence of the original grain.

“People don’t even know the taste of rye because they’ve been served this industrially produced roller-mill product that is profoundly lacking in flavor,” she says. “When you compare store-bought to freshly milled rye flour, it’s unrecognizable.”

This month at New Belgium Brewing Company, Lapidus plans to share her passion at the 14th annual Asheville Bread Festival, fittingly titled “A Celebration of Rye.” Co-chairing the event with author and former West End Bakery and Café co-owner Cathy Cleary, she hopes to build community around the grain’s potential for professional and home bakers alike.

The 48” stone-burr gristmill crushes the germ, spreading its oils and imparting both flavor and nutrients into the end product. Stone grinding better preserves the natural nutrients and essence of the original grain. Photo by Paul Stebner

“With the revival of the regional mill, bakers are doing such wonderful work with rye,” says Lapidus. She lists “old-world European breads” such as Danish rye, Swedish rye, and Vollkornbrot, and also reveals rye’s surprising applications in pastry. “Farm and Sparrow in Asheville is doing a rye hand pie filled with chocolate, hazelnut, and strawberry, and one of our bakeries in Knoxville is doing chocolate thumbprint cookies with rye,” she notes.

Although no longer baking professionally herself, Lapidus shares that she’s been experimenting at home with different pairings to complement Carolina Ground’s rye flour. She finds that a fig filling, for example, blends well with the grain’s flavor profile, while lingonberry yields a pleasant contrast.

An exchange of ideas between commercial and amateur bakers, Lapidus adds, is at the heart of the festival’s goals. “Baking can be tiring — you’re constantly at the mercy of [yeast] cultures and fire,” she says. “It inspires all of us as a baking community to continually improve ourselves in skills and knowledge.”

Carolina Ground Flour, Asheville. For more information, e-mail carolinaground@gmail.com or see carolinaground.com. The Asheville Bread Festival is Friday, May 4 through Sunday, May 6, with the main event, the Bread Fair, happening Saturday from 10am-2pm at New Belgium Brewing Company (21 Craven St.). For information on workshops and classes, see ashevillebreadfestival.com.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *