Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Why I Bake With Spelt Instead of Wheat

Firstly, if you're thinking this post is going to contain scientific proof of the wonders of this ancient grain....I'm actually more here today to simply write about the reasons why I prefer spelt, along with a few tips on how you can use it in your baking.

Now, you may know that I grind all of the flour for my baking fresh. The reason for this is probably worthy of a post in itself, but basically when you're eating whole grain flour it tastes better fresh, has better nutritional value and when you're mad enough to grow your own meat and milk, and attempt to grow your own veggies - why not grind your own flour too?

Before you conjure up a romantic picture of an old European mill, or me lovingly grinding every drop of flour by hand, you should probably know that our grain grinder is a small domestic model, which my Dad being clever at those things modified and made sure it went to the right place to have a little motor put on it. And it lives in the laundry, squished next to the dryer and food dehydrator and usually with a mound of washing I have to step over to get to it. And recently it's started to squeak horribly half way through grinding....

Ok, so now we've got that cleared up, let's move on to the subject this post is actually supposed to be about.

The reason I choose spelt for my baking is solely down to taste and performance. When the home-ground flour journey began, we purchased bags of organic wheat and organic spelt in bulk and generally used a 50/50 blend of both. For a while there I thought that I preferred baking with whole wheat as opposed to whole spelt. The freshly ground, whole spelt was a boring brown colour compared to the slightly more golden wheat, and to top it off spelt seemed to specialise in producing crumbly pastries and breads. That's before I figured out that spelt doesn't like to be kneaded as much as whole wheat, and that if you use the right recipes spelt actually makes the most delicious pastries and breads. And it makes the tastiest pancakes and butterfly cakes, and they come out beautifully light and fluffy.

We slowly switched over to ordering more bags of spelt than wheat in our co-op orders, and it was only recently that I discovered an unused bag of wheat grain still waiting to be turned into flour. There was a whole 12.5kg of it (which given my love of baking bread I use faster than you probably would imagine). I decided to use it up before opening another bag of spelt.

I've just finished that bag off, and today baked a loaf of 100% whole spelt sourdough. And when I took my first bite today I realised that I have become a spelt convert. I don't think I'll be ordering wheat again. It's spelt all the way from here.

- whole spelt sourdough has a far more complex and satisfying flavour than whole wheat sourdough

- the loaf's crumb is moister, and chewier, which is odd as I was finding my whole wheat sourdough loaves needed more water added

- I prefer the colour. I never thought I'd say it, but I do prefer that peasantish, rustic looking brown to the slightly golden-but-not-really-golden yellow look of whole wheat

If you'd like to become a spelt convert too, and are wondering what exactly are the correct recipes to use to get that pastry and those breads right, I've got a few tips for you.

For breads:
If you're baking yeasted bread, I suggest you either mix it by hand or choose a short knead cycle on your bread machine. And make sure the dough is slightly sticky - it's the key.

If it's sourdough you're creating (which is much more delicious, fun and beneficial) than you need to find a recipe and technique written specifically for whole spelt. My eBook, Spelt Sourdough Made Simple is filled with no-fuss recipes and techniques for, as the title says, spelt sourdough.
I know it's my eBook, but if you are interested in baking spelt sourdough (whole or otherwise) then I really do suggest you buy it....because I've been there with the crumbly, dense, ugly loaves and I don't want you to have to go there too....or if you're already there then this eBook will pull you from your troubles (providing you follow the instructions of course).

For pastry:
I've never ventured into the world of fancy pastries. A basic sweet or savoury shortcrust is all I've ever been called on to create, and made on spelt it is delicious and usually beautifully "short". I either use the pie crust recipe from My Petite Kitchen book, or I choose a regular white flour recipe titled rich shortcrust - these usually have a higher butter content in them.

For Pancakes:
Use your normal recipe, providing it includes at least two eggs (for a two-cup batter) and you whisk them well - the results will be delicious, I promise. Four eggs well whisked is even better.

Do you have any advice on baking with spelt flours?
Do you have a preference, I wonder?
Leave a comment and let me know!

Sarah x

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  1. Hi Sarah, does your book have a baking with spelt recipe for the bread maker, (being a bread maker user)? Or are you rolling your eyes because I have just completely missed the point on ensuring the dough remains slightly sticky? ;)

    1. Hi Margareta,
      No I'm not rolling my eyes haha :-)
      The bread can stay sticky in the bread maker, as that's to do with how much water you put in it. The reason I recommended by hand is because bread makers generally knead for longer than spelt requires, which makes the finished loaf crumbly.

      I haven't got a bread maker recipe in the book, because the settings on a bread machine's rising/proving times are usually far too short for sourdough, as opposed to yeasted breads. Sourdough takes longer to rise than yeasted breads, so a machine would probably start baking it when it had barely risen.

      I do have 3 different proving schedules in the eBook, to help you fit sourdough into whatever your routine might be. But all of the loaves are made by hand.

      I hope this helps x

  2. Hi Sarah, I've just started baking bread occasionally using the Paul Hollywood easy white loaf recipe. I would prefer to use a sourdough recipe but believe you need to keep the, is it called the "mother"?, regularly fed and looked after - not ideal for occasional baking? Is this right? Thanks for a delightful blog - so enjoy reading it.

    1. Hi Meredithe,
      Thank-you so much!

      Yes the starter is often referred to as the mother, and you do have to feed her to keep her active / alive. You can safely store her in the fridge, without having to feed her for about 2 weeks, although I've pushed mine to a month with no food before but I wouldn't recommend doing that very often, or with a young starter/mother.

      You can dry your starter out, again though you can't do that with a very young one. (About 3 or 4 months old you should be able to dry it out.) Drying it out means that you can store it for about 12 months, and then reactive when you're ready to bake...reactivating a dried starter takes several days.

      I really depends just how "occasionally" you are baking bread as to whether having a sourdough starter suit you :-)

      I hope this helps and makes sense x

  3. Great tips! I would like to bake more bread as well.

  4. Beautiful, wholesome bread Sarah and very useful, detailed baking tips. I have baked spelt sourdough in the past but had a hard time convincing my family to eat it. I might have to revisit it when the younger members of the family are a little older x

    1. Thank-you so much Jane! Spelt (or any whole grain flour really) sourdough is certainly very different to white flour sourdough in taste and texture x


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