There is a certain magic that takes place when you combine a few simple high-quality elements. Great pesto comes together by whizzing up fresh basil, toasted pine nuts, garlic, fresh Parmesan cheese and olive oil. A delectable ravioli filling can be as easy as sautéing chopped mushrooms with olive oil and fresh herbs.
Birmingham baker Corey Hinkel understands the alchemy that takes place, when using the best quality ingredients. Members of the Stone Hollow Farmstead Spring CSA experienced this first-hand in the loaves, rolls, baguettes and pasta sheets he included week after week. Summer share members can expect equally amazing offerings too. And if you are like us and run out of bread before the next week’s share arrives, you can find Hinkel each Saturday morning at Pepper Place, with a fantastic array of baked goods. But did you know you can also find his wares elsewhere in town? Aside from making bread for myriad places like Busy Corner Cheese Shop and Fero (both at Pizitz Food Hall), restaurants like Feast & Forest, brick & tin, and Bottega rely on Hinkel’s bespoke flours for baking their goods in-house.
We recently caught up with Corey Hinkel to talk about what it is like to be a baker in Birmingham right now.
Tell us about the flour you use in your baked goods and what you sell to restaurants.
Right now, we are making just three flours: bread flour, winter wheat, and a 100% whole wheat high-extraction flour that is milled very fine, with nothing sifted out. A typical commercial mill will have a five-story sifter that will pull out the bran, the endosperm and the germ. Then they put all the white flour in a big bin. Then if you are baker who orders from that mill, they blend it back together, according to what you order. The customer has no control over how old parts of the flour are or how finely they are ground or blended.
With Hinkel’s Flour, I source wheat berries whole from Kansas and South Dakota. I have them milled locally at a Grain Craft mill in Ensley. I can control the quality of the entire process this way, which I think makes for a better final product.
Did you grow up here? Where did you learn to bake?
I grew up in Nebraska. I started off at fifteen years old working in a bakery that had been operating for over a hundred years – Vienna Bakery in Nebraska – it closed around 2003. Back then I really hated that job but I was a kid trying to make enough money to put gas in my car but now I look back on it differently. I even went back there last year to see if there was anything left from that place that I could buy – like the old wooden tables that were over a hundred years old. You know we talk about butcher tables, but there were bakers tables in there that were slightly lower than you would expect because they were so embedded in the floor; they had made an indentation into the floor about a half inch deep. They were so heavy, just awesome.
What do you like about working with Deborah Stone and the Stone Hollow Farmstead CSA?
Well, I like that the team asks me for my input on what I want to make for the CSA – that gives me some freedom to be creative. I can imagine that it is super hard for them to come up with a theme every week. They will ask me what Hinkel’s product they should include and I always say sourdough – it is what I think everyone should have a loaf of on their table, every day. It is addictive bread!
Deborah has done a spectacular job with the CSA and I love being a part of what she is doing.
I have seen CSAs from other folks who just include the same things every week and that gets boring. People want to get excited about what they are getting or they just drop off. They are buying it to explore new things and have fun in the kitchen. I try to add something that will complement the new things Deborah does with the CSA.
What was something new or different you’ve done for the CSA this year?
Well, the pasta, for sure. That was fun. I think I just opened my mouth to Michael Celozzi (operations manager) one day about the idea of making pasta. We have a big acrylic roller at the bakery and I was thinking I could make my own lasagna. I can roll out sheets and sheets of it. Michael is the one who convinced me to put it in the CSA. Honestly, it is a kick to see my stuff get tagged on Instagram, with people who use the pasta and really like it. The next piece of equipment I want to buy is an extruder so I can make different shapes, just because I want to try it.
We also did also did a grain bread recently that was kind of unique – we had to change the way we ferment it and the way we make it in the shop. I pulled the sourdough out of it and leavened it with a commercial yeast that took 14-hours so that when we came in (to the bakery), we could divide it and bake it off. It had some oats, some millet, some cracked wheat. It was less acidic and more sweet and creamy. It was fun for me because I don’t get the chance to do things like that very often. It pushes me. You know, in baking, you have a 24-hour protocol to produce the bread. There is a lot of science involved.