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Some things about the holidays feel a little different this year. One thing that’s not different? The reliable sense of joy that comes from popping a tray of cookies in the oven and basking in the irresistible aroma of flour, sugar and butter slowly transforming into little discs of good cheer.
Oregon’s natural abundance makes baking here a particular pleasure. Just ask Dillon DeBauche, head baker at Camas Country Mill in Junction City. DeBauche’s baking career includes stints at some of Portland’s best bakeries, including St. Honore Boulangerie and Little T Baker, as well as formative experiences in Paris. But these days, he’s finding inspiration a lot closer to home. “I try as much as possible to only use things grown in Oregon,” says DeBauche.
Kernels, Big and Small
With all of the agricultural riches of the southern Willamette Valley just steps outside his bakery door, that’s not much of a limitation. Camas Country Mill isn’t just a bakery. It’s also a grain mill that specializes in fresh, flavorful, stone-milled flours made primarily from local grains grown on the owners’ third-generation family farm south of Junction City.
Those super-flavorful flours make a perfect backdrop for highlighting Oregon’s other iconic flavors. One of DeBauche’s favorite local ingredients is hazelnuts, which he often uses as a heartier alternative to almonds. “There’s so much that’s based around almonds in classic French baking, whether that’s almond meal or extract. But hazelnuts have such a better flavor on their own,” says DeBauche. “They have more richness, and they just hold up a lot better, especially since a lot of what I’m doing now is whole grain.”
DeBauche uses hazelnuts in several Camas Country Mill pastries, including a hazelnut sticky bun that pairs crunchy filberts (another name for hazelnuts) with a creamy honey caramel. “There aren’t many other nuts that you can use that really stand up to those flavors,” says DeBauche. “Pecans are a forceful flavor, and they’re delicious, but they don’t grow here.”
Summer’s Berry Bounty, Year-Round
Oregon berries are another highlight. “I try to have enough fruit put aside from summer to do turnovers all year long,” says DeBauche. (You can freeze or can fresh fruits for fall and winter using a few simple techniques.) That includes blackberries, tayberries, chesterberries, blueberries and marionberries, a local favorite developed just up the road at Oregon State University in Corvallis.
“Marionberries just hold up so well to freezing and baking,” says DeBauche. “The sweetness is great, but there’s enough tartness to give them flavor.” In addition to turnovers, Oregon’s berry bounty also shines in fruit pies, scones, muffins and tarts.
Finding Your Ingredients
Ready to enliven your own winter baked goods with the flavors of the Willamette Valley? Camas Country Mill ships stone-milled flour made from local grains to discerning bakers around the country. Order online, or if you’re in the neighborhood, swing by their store and bakery in Junction City to pick up your flour and take home a few pillowy cinnamon rolls or a crackly loaf of artisan bread.
Family-run Freddy Guys Hazelnuts offers a huge range of farm-direct raw, roasted and candied hazelnuts online and at local farmers markets. Based in Eugene, Hazelnut Hill sells raw, roasted and spiced hazelnuts as well as a tempting array of hazelnut brittles, candies and chocolates.
Fresh Oregon berries are only available in midsummer, but you can track down frozen fruit from local farms like Organic Redneck at specialty markets in Eugene such as Kiva Grocery, Capella Market and Sundance Natural Foods. Or plan ahead next summer and freeze your own. DeBauche says the berries from Groundwork Organics in Junction City are some of his favorites.
Hazelnut Spelt Shortbread Cookies, Courtesy of Camas Country Mill
If you’re new to working with whole or ancient grains, spelt flour is an ideal gateway. Related to wheat, it has a nutty, round flavor but lacks the sometimes bitter character of whole-wheat flour. Plus, the low-gluten nature of whole ancient grains is actually an advantage in a cookie, which should be tender, not structured.
“I really like the ancient grains in shortbread because it’s a good way of exhibiting their flavor without scaring people. The lack of traditional gluten really works with shortbreads, and pastry in general,” says DeBauche. That sandy texture and buttery flavor also make a great foil for rich hazelnuts, which take on an appealing brown butter-like quality when baked.
5 oz whole Oregon hazelnuts
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup white sugar
2 cups Camas Country Mills spelt flour
¼ tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
Toast hazelnuts in a 350-degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Finely chop hazelnuts by hand, or using a food processor.
Cream butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Add the chopped hazelnuts, flour, salt and vanilla. Mix until just combined.
Divide the dough in half, and shape each half into a neat log approximately 1.5 inches in diameter. Wrap in plastic and chill for at least one hour.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Slice each log into discs approximately ¼-inch thick. Place discs on a parchment-lined baking pan and bake for 18 to 20 minutes, or until the edges of the cookies are just starting to brown. Cool on a wire rack.