Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Spelt Flours

Spelt Flours Explained

There are four common grades of spelt flour, which can be found at your local health food store:
  • Wholemeal - this means that only the husk has been removed, so there is a lot of bran left in the flour. This is suitable for wholemeal breads, which will be heavier and tastier than their white counterparts.
  • 80/20 - which is essentially wholemeal less about 20% of the bran. So it's a bit lighter, and very workable in terms of the home baker. This flour will yield quite light dough, with lots of flavour, but with all the heavy duty bran removed. You would still call this flour a wholemeal flour though.
  • Light Unbleached - now we're getting towards white spelt flour. Essentially, this flour is 20/80, or 80% of the bran removed. A very nice general purpose breadmaking flour, still with a good amount of flavour, but with the ability to be used for producing fairly light breads and even pastries.
  • White - all the bran removed, this is still a very flavoursome spelt flour. Suitable for fairly light breads, though is not in the same league as white wheat flour in terms of lightness.
These grades represent the amount of bran that has been removed from the whole grain in the milling process. Different millers use different terminology, but the gist of it is the same - firstly, the flour gets more expensive as it gets lighter. There's a good reason for this. As bran is removed, so too is weight. Unless the miller can sell the bran which has been removed, whiter flours return less per kilo. Also, the more a product is processed, the more it costs. So if it has to be sifted a number of times to get the desired grade of flour, there are extra labour costs involved.

Secondly, the bread you make from each of the different grades of flour will be quite different. This applies to the look, feel and taste of the breads, as well as to the amount of water that you need to use in the dough
. Wholemeal flours contain more bran, which absorb more water. Thus, recipes will vary considerably, according to what grade of spelt flour is used. If I have said that the recipe requires a certain amount of water, and your spelt flour is more bran than mine, you'll need to adjust the water content in the recipe.

My rule of thumb is to practice until you become familiar with the type and consistency of dough you are comfortable with. A true baker works mainly from proportions, rather than measurements. You become increasingly aware of what feels 'right', and so you'll add or subtract accordingly.

My next post will go into a spelt sourdough bread recipe in detail, based on the grade of flour available here in my locality. You may find you can only get certain grades where you are. This is quite likely when it comes to something like spelt flour, here in Australia, where there are only small producers. That's why I have gone into the different grades of spelt flour here first. You will be able to adjust your recipes to suit availability - but bear in mind that over time I will cover recipes for different grades of flour anyway.

Until then, Happy Baking!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Making a Sourdough Starter from Spelt

As a Starter, Spelt Rocks!

In this blog, I've gone into quite a bit of detail about how to get a starter established (go back to 'sourdough starter' - there are a bunch of posts on the subject, and you'll need to scan them all to make sense of this one).

If you would like more general information about sourdough starters, you'll find it on my website, SourdoughBaker.com.au. There you will also find more recipes and lots of good info about sourdough breadmaking, as well as courses I run regularly.
Lately I've been experimenting
with spelt flour in starter, and it's actually a very viable grain to use. Quite often I'll use different grains in starters and methods of handling them - mainly because I'm endlessly curious, but also because there are different strokes for different folks...

Meaning that if you're looking for a particular 'zone' in your breadmaking, it pays to try different approaches in getting there. For example, right now I'm going for a soft, sweet, wholemeal but light kind of zone. I've also been trying to work out a relatively wheat free diet for myself and my family.

I'm not sold on the idea that wheat is the devil at all, but having said that, for some people, wheat is better avoided. For others, wheat is just too dominant in their diet - it turns out that they are basing all three meals around it. Thus, if this can be reduced, it's got to be a good thing to use spelt. So here we are.

Spelt flour ferments well - it has a lot of natural enzymes and yeasts in there, and it holds for a while without turning acid. This is good for our purposes.

If you have a starter established already using regular wheat flour, it can be fed with Spelt quite successfully. Because of the way spelt is milled, you will find that it absorbs quite a bit of water, so you may have to up the water ratio slightly - see 'sourdough starter method' in this blog. Generally, I use one part water to one part flour as a default ratio in all my liquid starters, but the more wholemeal the flour, the more water in the ratio.

You could try one part flour to about 1.2 parts water to get a quicker result. If you have been using my method, and you have managed to get a starter established, then just start feeding it with spelt, and maybe adding a bit of extra water.

Bear in mind, though, that different grades of spelt flour exist. Essentially, millers remove more or less of the bran, to create different grades of flour. Spelt has more bran than wheat,
and this is one of the reasons why it costs more, too. Millers simply lose more of the value of the grain in bran, and so they have to make this value back on the flour. So the whiter the flour, the more you'll pay. You can get about four grades of spelt flour - 'white spelt' (virtually no bran), 'unbleached spelt' (about 95% of the bran removed), 80/20 spelt (which has about 80% of the bran removed ) and wholemeal spelt, which has no bran removed, just a bit of husk.

Because of the fact that only small to medium scale millers are all that are geared up to handle spelt in Australia, the price for spelt flour is still quite high. There are other reasons for the high price, which I'll post more on later. Having said that, if you're making bread at home, it's till possible to make a loaf for less than the cost of regular bread at the supermarket. It's important to keep these things in pespective!

But for using in starter, there is good news. Wholemeal spelt, which is by far the cheapest grade, is probably the best for use as starter. It will get things really active, really fast. As I mentioned earlier, for wholemeal, use a bit more water. I won't repeat the method here, just look in this blog for details. It's exactly the same method, even from scratch.

Tomorrow I'll post a bit more about using Spelt in actual recipes. There are a few tricks, and you'll be making great bread in no time if you use them. But more on that tomorrow!

Meanwhile, have a a look at my full website at www.sourdoughbaker.com.au.

Happy baking!