Category Archives: Flour & grain

Crumbs Brewing and the bread-beer relationship

Crumbs Brewing Amber Lager

This blog was founded because of my dual love of bread and beer, two foodstuffs that are linked through their fundamental ingredients of grain and yeast. At some point after humanity settled and began growing crops, we discovered that grain, either whole or ground as flour, underwent a decisive process when mixed with liquid and left – fermentation. The first written record of all this is from ancient Sumeria (modern southern Iraq), the circa 1800BC Hymn to Ninkasi1 – the goddess of beer, or more broadly, the goddess of fermentation. Her followers may well have been responsible for beer and bread.

For centuries, fermentation remained a sort of quotidian mystery. Such was the significance of bread and ale as staples for the masses in Medieval Europe that the unknown ingredient had an almost spiritual nature and was called “Godisgoode”, “God is good” (possibly2). Early scientists thought the process was chemical not biological. The single cell fungi yeast and lactobacilli that fed on sugars and produced carbon dioxide – leavening bread and lending vigour to beer – wouldn’t be understood until the mid-19th century and the work of microbiologist Louis Pasteur.

Anyway. In Lewes, on the second Sunday of every month, there’s a street food market called Food Rocks. Not many people seem to be aware of it, so it needs a bit more promotion – as there’s some good stuff there. I was helping my friend Alex Marcovitch on his stall Kabak, selling delicious Eastern Meditteranean, North African and Middle Eastern foods. This time round, diagonally opposite us were Chalk Hills Bakery of Reigate, in the Surrey Hills, where I got myself ready for my shift with a delicious cinnamon bun, and Crumbs Brewing, where I met founder Morgan Arnell and “crumb spreader” Adria Tarrida.

Restoring an ancient connection
These two establishments have a noteworthy relationship. It’s one that reconfirms the ancient connection between baker and brewer. Historically, notably in Gaelic cultures, bakeries and breweries would have operated side-by-side, the barm – the frothy surplus yeast – from the brew being utilised by the baker to make a leaven for bread3.

Apparently, in some parts of Europe, the barm method existed alongside the sourdough method. Baker and food writer John Downes gives one Medieval example here: “In England noblemen’s bread, manchet, was always made with the barm method, whereas the commoners’ bread, maslin, was a sourdough.” He continues “Barm bread survived until World War Two and even later in the North of England largely as barm cakes.”

Anyway, as usual I’m getting distracted4. Crumbs Brewing aren’t doing this (yet). Instead,they’re using leftover bread from Chalk Hills Bakery as an ingredient. A few breweries are using the technique, such as Toast Ale, whose website gives the statistic that “44% of bread is wasted”. It’s pretty shocking. Any food waste is a crime. The amount of energy put into growing and transporting food, only for it to be thrown away is bad enough, but in landfills it contributes to the problem of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

Morgan Arnell and Adria Tarrida of Crumbs Brewing

Hills to Isle
So the work of breweries like Crumbs is very important. Morgan, who founded Crumbs with his wife Elaine, says they collect any leftover bread, crumb it, and freeze it. When they have 150kg they take it to Goddards Brewery on the Isle of Wight. Morgan says Goddards were “one of the few brewers that was willing to test out our recipe and method, helped by the fact that I grew up on the Island so could twist their arm to help us!”

The longer term plan is to set up in the Surrey Hills too. Morgan writes more about the process of making the beer – their first batch was brewed in April – here on the Crumbs blog. The 150kg makes a 30 hectolitre5 brew, “c 6000 500ml bottles in our case” explains Morgan.

Breadbeerisgood
Suffice to say, the beer is delicious. I wouldn’t really be writing about it here if I didn’t actually like the stuff. It’s called an Amber Lager, and I can kind of see the logic of this naming to help it appeal to lager drinkers. It’s certainly light and refreshing. It’s bottled at Goddards and isn’t bottle conditioned, but its carbonation level is pleasant. To my mind it is more an ale than a lager, and it is indeed made with top-fermenting (ale) yeasts, not bottom-fermenting (lager) yeast.

There are so many craft ales around at the moment, notably dubbed APA and American IPA, which overuse the Chinook, Cascade, Citra, Mosaic hops etc to the point where they’re reminiscent of cleaning products, pine-scented detergent or whathaveyou. Thankfully the Crumbs Amber is more subtle proposition. Morgan says they use Progress hops, which the British Hops Association says, are “an excellent bittering and late aroma hop.” The overall flavour is more about the malt and bread. It doesn’t taste bready per se, but it has a warm sweetness and decent body, without heaviness. Morgan says “The slightly sweet, malty aftertaste is a result of the bread.” He adds that they plan to try brewing with different types of bread and it “Will be interesting to see how brewing with different loaves changes that character.”

It’s a great addition to the SE of England craft brewing scene so I’m very glad to have come across Crumbs at Food Rocks. Good luck to them, and I’m intrigued to try their next beers made with different breads: “dark rye stout or sourdough IPA anyone?”

Notes
1 The full text of the Hymn of Ninkasi can be found here. In English, not ancient Sumerian.
2 There’s some debate. This thread gives a few sources for the term, but it’s not entirely conclusive.
3 I’ve done a few barm bread experiments: here and here.
4 When one is actually paid to write journalistically, one mustn’t get distracted. There’s usually a tight editorial brief and even tighter wordcount. Not so on one’s own blog! Hah!
5 A hectolitre is 100 litres. 1hl is about 0.61 UK beer barrels, or So 30hl is around 18 UK beer barrels or 660 imperial gallons. For Americans, 30hl is 25.5 US beer barrels or 795 US liquid gallons. Good heavens I wish people would standardise things globally. Some might see it as heritage. I love a bit of history, but all these different weights and measures just make life even more flipping complicated. I sincerely hope “Brexit” doesn’t have us going back to shillings and scruples and chains.

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Filed under Breweries, British beer, Discussion, Flour & grain

Local grain, local bread

Bread with Sussex landrace flour

Once upon on a time in Britain, we grew our own grain, milled it locally, and used the flour to make bread in bakeries and village ovens across the land. These days, most of the flour we use for real bread* comes from North America and Central Asia. I’ve made bread with more locally grown flour before but never with locally grown flour made from landrace heritage wheat. So I was interested to hear from Michael Hanson of The Hearth pizzeria and bakehouse in Lewes, East Sussex (which recently featured in Dan Saladino’s Food Programme show about pizza) that he was using locally grown grain to make flour for their products.

Michael has been using heritage grains in Hearth products for a while now. He’s friends with John Letts, a Canadian archaeobotanist and key figure in a movement to try and restore a diverse bank of British landrace grain varieties. Letts looked at the grains found in thatched roofs to learn what varieties were farmed around Britain, as the straw used in places dated back to Norman times. Michael now has a small crop of about 20 acres (8 hectares) of wheat, rye and barley at South Farm at Rodmell, just outside Lewes, utilising seed from Letts and the farming expertise of the owners, the Wetterns.

Hearth Lewes

Ancient locals and micro-malting
Michael refers to the crop as a Sussex landrace mix including “maybe 40 or so varieties [of wheat], ditto the barley and rye, ancient varieties.” Michael’s also hoping to start a “micro-malting” operation from his base in the old Lewes bus depot. It’s certainly exciting – at least for people like me who are bakers, and into food provenance and history. Michael says they’re now using flour ground from the grain for the bread they sell in the Hearth bakehouse, as well as combining it with strong white flour to make the dough for the pizzeria. There can’t be many bakeries or pizzerias in Britain that can say that.

It’s not exactly milled locally, being transported to Offley Watermill in Staffordshire. There are several working wind and watermills more local to Lewes, such as Ashcombe Mill near Kingston, or the watermill at Michelham Priory, or even the mill at Jimmy Page’s old house, Plumpton Place, but Offley offers expertise from the Howells, who have been milling in Stafford since 1840 and at this location since 1943. Michael said they’re “seventh generation millers”. He’s yet to find anyone with such qualifications locally. Incredible really, considering, again, about 150 years ago, every town and village had numerous mills.

End of first prove on 100% Sussex landrace wheat flour bread

Low protein challenge

But what is the flour – stoneground, about 80% extraction – like to work with? Well, I must admit, I found it challenging. Some of today’s most respected bakers, like Chad Robertson of Tartine in San Francisco say, work wonders with ancient grains. But this whole question of making light, open-crust breads with low protein flours is tricky. As we’ve been getting much of our bread wheat in Britain from North American and Central Asia the past 150 years or so, our baking tradition has markedly changed. Due to climactic factors, wheats grown in Britain generally produced lower protein flours, “soft”. These foreign flours we’ve been using are from higher protein, “hard” wheat, and our baking has become dependent on it, has been shaped by it.

When we learn to bake in Britain these days we’re told you need the high protein flours, so you can develop the gluten (gliadin and glutenin proteins) to give it structure. High protein flours can contain as much 15%, whereas lower protein flours (plain or all-purpose) generally contain around 10%. Tom, the baker at the Hearth bakehouse, reckons the Rodmell flour could be as low as 8% protein.

Sussex landrace flour

Other countries, such as Italy, haven’t become so dependent on high protein flours. During my years in Rome I’d buy various farro flours from the farmers markets and made some very tasty breads with them, but they were mostly dense affairs. These days I do mostly use a mix of strong white, likely grown in Central Asia but stoneground in Dorset by Stoates, and spelt flours. Using Michael’s flour reminded me of my experiments in Italy with farro flours grown by umpteenth generation contadini (loosely, “peasants”) in the hills of Lazio. The 100% Rodmell flour bread I made (65% hydration, basic bulk fermentation) was very tasty, with a sweet, nutty flavour, but it was a dense proposition. The kids didn’t turn their noses up, but it was a hearty meal in itself (a valuable quality for peasants of old).

My second attempt used 40% Michael’s flour, 60% Stoates strong white, and it’s great. Relatively open but even grain. This is perfect for the kids’ toast. Much as I love the wildly uneven, massively open grain you find in hip “artisan” breads and ciabatta say (ie high hydration dough breads), it’s not ideal for toast! Anyway, I reckon I could increase the mix to 50/50 with Michael’s flour. That’ll be my next test.

In the meantime, it’s been wonderful to be part of this experiment to restore some Sussex landrace grain. Anyone else who fancies trying it, visit The Hearth in Lewes! Or if you’re a landowner, get in touch about growing your own grain!

40% Sussex landrace flour loaves

 

* That used in industrial pap is different matter. It’s an interesting story I’ve touched on before, but as pap – indigestible pseudo-bread made with the Chorleywood process – is such an execrable product I’m not talking about it again here.

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Cornish saffron cake

Overhead

Last week, I spent several days down in north Devon, helping my father shift part of a 14 ton pile of gravel. It wasn’t our only activity though. I also counted 80 marsh orchids in their meadow; saw my first Leworthy lizard (was it lost? Surely it’s far too soggy there for a sun-loving reptile?), visited Holsworthy Ales and tried their new honeyed golden ale, Bizzy Buzzy (very pleasant on a sunny day, despite the infantile name and label); and I even saw my first ever British kingfisher, which shot underneath me when I was standing on a small footbridge over the river Deer. Plus, this being the Etherington family, I also did a lot of eating, include a requisite cream tea.

Scones and clotted cream

Normally, when visiting my folks in that part of the world we go for a meal at The Castle Restaurant, Bude, over the Devon border, on the Cornish coast. But sadly it closed down in October 2013 after a six-year run. It’s a real shame, as it was one of the only places serving real food in that area of north Devon/Cornwall. It’s also a wider shame there aren’t more real food places in that area, as it’s got an interesting food heritage. For example, Stratton, just inland from Bude on the way back to Holsworthy, used to be one of England’s key saffron-growing centres.

The saffron grown there would have been used in, among other things, Cornish saffron cake. This is an enriched bread, something like a yeasted cousin to English tea loaf (aka tea bread), though dyed (slightly) with the distinctive orange-yellow of saffron. In ‘English Food’, Jane Grigson says, “Saffron has always been expensive, even during the Middle Ages when it was at the height of European popularity for flavouring dishes, and even more for the colour it gave them. People liked their food to look gay, so that saffron… was found in every prosperous household.”

While in ‘English Bread and Yeast Cookery’, Elizabeth David says, “Among the most costly of spices used in early English cooking, and one which has survived – that is in our true native cooking – almost solely in yeast cakes and buns, is saffron. Originally treated as a colouring rather than a flavouring agent, it was used lavishly in sauces and for almost any category of dish, whether fruit, flesh, fowl or fish, sweet cream or savoury stew, whenever it was felt that a fine yellow colour would be appropriate.” She said its use died out through the 19th century – except in the West Country for buns and saffron cake. She suggests that when WWII deprivation forced people to replace saffron with annatto, they came to realise the former “was a very great deal more than just a colouring agent.”

Price spice
Saffron is the stigmas of Crocus sativus – Saffron crocus – which have to be harvested by hand. I imagine it’s backbreaking, slow work. The little pot I’ve got simply gives that frustratingly vague “Produce of more than one country”, which may mean India, Iran, Spain, Turkey, Morocco, Egypt, Spain, probably even China and perhaps even Greece, where the plant’s presumed wild ancestor (Crocus cartwrightianus) may have originated.

Grigson says, “It has been estimated it takes a quarter of a million flowers to produce one pound,” that is 454g. So if my little pot contained just 0.5g of stigmas, that’s still around 275 flowers (I think; maths isn’t my strong point). Sheesh. Or to look at it another way, if Waitrose Spanish saffron costs £3.99 for 0.4g, that’s £9.96 for 1g, for £9,975 for a kilo. The classic comparison is with gold, which at the time of writing costs about £24,000 per kilo (depending on carat).

Grigson also says the crocus was introduced to England in the 16th century and was still cultivated here until the practise died out at start of the 20th century. One enterprising grower did, however, start cultivating it in Essex again in 2001. His works out at £15 for 0.2g, or £75,000 a kilo. This is clearly a lot more than gold, but such high prices are a reflection the labour-intensiveness of a small scale operation in a first-world economy. I wonder if anyone grows it in Devon or Cornwall still? Or at least has Crocus sativus in their garden without realising the worth of its tiny red stigmas, despite how excruciatingly hard they are to extract.

For this recipe, I referred to the one in ‘English Food’ and another recipe from one of those little old-school ‘Favourite recipe’ books published by J Salmon Ltd (“Britain’s oldest post card and calendar publisher”). Despite the (somewhat haphazard) recipes, given with pounds and ounces only, and the cute watercolour wash illustrations, the books are a great repository of traditional British recipes. David also has a recipe, but I didn’t look at that till afterwards. In it she says one “valuable detail” she learned in her research was that “the little bits of saffron in the infusion which colours the cake are not strained out”. I hadn’t. They really help maintain the flavour, and just go to prove you didn’t use any old yellow colouring.

1 good pinch of saffron
A few tablespoons of boiling water
250g strong white bread flour
200g plain white flour
200g milk
7g instant yeast, or 20g fresh
100g butter
100g lard (or just use 200g butter)
1/2 t fine salt
60g caster sugar
1/2 t cinnamon
A few grates of fresh nutmeg
150g currants
50g candied peel

Saffron strands

1. In a small bowl, cover the saffron filaments with the boiling water and leave to infuse – for at least 5 hours, or overnight.

Saffron, infusing
2. Make a sponge or pre-ferment by mixing 150g strong white flour, the yeast and the milk, warmed to about body temperature. Don’t agonise about this. If it’s cooler, it’ll simply ferment slower. Just don’t get it too hot.
3. Let the sponge ferment until it’s nice and frothy.
4. In another, large mixing bowl combine the other 100g strong white bread flour and the 200g plain flour.
5. Cut the fats into cubes, then rub into the flour until it resembles breadcrumbs, more or less.
6. Add the salt, the sugar and the spices to the fatty floury mixture.

Ferment, flour mix and saffron infusion
7. Add the sponge along with the saffron and water to the floury mix.

Combine
8. Combine all the ingredients to form a dough. You want it moist; if it’s too dry, add a little more water or milk.
9. Give the dough a good knead, for 5 minutes or so, until it’s nice and smooth.
10. Stretch out the dough, add the dried fruit, then give it until gentle knead to distribute the fruit.
11. Form the dough into a ball and put back in the bowl, cleaned and oiled slightly.
12. Cover the bowl with a cloth or shower cap and leave to prove in a draught-free place until doubled in size. Time will vary depending on the temperature and the mood of your yeast.
13. Remove the dough and form it into a ball again, then rest this for another ten minutes or so.
14. Preheat your oven to 220C (200C fan oven).

Final prove
15. Form the dough into a baton and place this in a greased loaf tin. Cover it and leave to prove again, until it’s risen again and the dough re-inflates slightly when you push a finger into it.
16. Bake for about 20 minutes, then turn the oven down 20 degrees and keep baking for another 30 minutes. Watch it doesn’t colour too much – if it looks like it’s going to burn, cover it with foil.
17. Once baked, take it out of the tin and leave it to cool completely on a wire rack. (Or if you don’t mind a bit of indigestion, eat it while it’s still warm. Bakers don’t recommend this as a loaf that’s still warm is effectively still baking.)
18. Serve at tea time, generously buttered. It’s nice for breakfast or elevenses too.

Cut

Anyway, having done all that, I also subsequently noticed that David gives recipes for Cornish saffron cake and a Devonshire cake, a “variation” that can be made with one of my favourite foodstuffs – clotted cream. So I really ought to do that next time, considering my folks’ place is actually in Devon, and Fran, the missus, is a Devonshire girl. Although my mother’s mother was from a Cornish family (the Olivers of St Minver), and I developed a strong love of Cornwall after several childhood holidays, so I suppose I’m allowed to feel torn.

A note on the flour
I’ve just bought some supplies from Stoates in Dorset. Or “Stoate & Son / Established since 1832” as it says on their site, though I’ll overlook the grammatical strangeness as they’re producing quality stone-ground products using a proportion of locally grown grain. The site also says, “We take great care in selecting our wheat much of which is sourced locally but is always blended with a proportion of Canadian wheat to achieve an end product with consistent baking and eating qualities.”I contacted Stoates about the specific blend and Michael Stoate got back to me saying “The mix at present is about 65% local UK grain (Paragon spring wheat) and 35% Kazakhstan high protein wheat. This is giving a protein content of about 12.50% – 13.00%.”

Stoates flours

The Stoates white flours, being stone-ground and less heavily sieved retains more the bran than more industrially produced flours. It’s also not bleached. So it’s not so bright white, meaning my “white” loaves will never quite achieve that gleam like a Hollywood film star’s teeth. But they will be healthier and more wholesome.

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Filed under Baking, Breads, Cakes (yeasted), Flour & grain, Recipes

Real Bread Maker Week, 10-16 May 2014

Sliced overhead
Earlier this week I had a fantastic bike ride up from Lewes to Wapsbourne Manor (44km there and back along verdant Sussex country lanes; route here), home of the renowned campsite also known as Wowo. There, I met owner Paul Cragg along with Andy Forbes of the Brockwell Bake, who is working to restore British heritage wheats and has a crop at Wapsbourne.

Our conversations were informative and wide-ranging and I’m still trying to work out how to write a blog about it all. This is partly because the Brockwell Bake is involved in a fascinating range of activities, all interconnected around questions of grain and bread, cultivating and baking, but each with its own detail and complexities. Among the activities are educational projects, encouraging a wider understanding of what goes into bread and how it’s made. And when I say bread, I mean real bread, not that wheat-based garbage wrapped in plastic you find on supermarket shelves.

Real Bread Campaign
In this respect, the Brockwell Bake’s work overlaps with that of the Real Bread Campaign. The campaign is part of the charity Sustain – the alliance for better food and farming. Their primary remit involves education about what constitutes real bread – a healthy item that’s been a part of the human diet for millennia but has been tarnished by the grotesque compromises of the mid-20th century industrialisation of food production. And how you can make it. Or where you can buy it. Or indeed, how you can set up your own business making and selling it. You can find out more about what the campaign here.

Anyway, tomorrow, 10 May, marks the start of the campaign’s Real Bread Maker Week: “The annual celebration of Real Bread and its makers: on your high street, in the back of your kitchen cupboard and at the ends of your sleeves.” Furthermore, according to the site, “The main aim of the week is to encourage people to get baking Real Bread or buying it from local, independent bakeries.” Various events are taking place around the country. Find out more here.

RealBread_MakerWeek_small

Red casserole bread
In the meantime, here’s the latest real bread I’ve made. I’m really loving using an old red casserole dish I acquired from my mother, who inherited it from her mother. It’s a heavy Danish cast-iron piece of kit that lends itself really well to the technique of pre-heating it as hot as your oven will go, then adding the bread, putting the lid on and baking.

Rye and wheat casserole bread

This is sourdough made with the sponge-and-dough technique. This involves making a pre-ferment – the sponge – with some of the flour and the liquid, letting that ferment, then adding the rest of the flour and salt and forming your dough.

Sponge:
100g rye leaven/sourdough starter (at 100% hydration)
320g water (filtered)
270g flour (I used 170g local wholegrain wheat, 100g slightly less local strong white)

1. Whisk together the water and leaven.
2. Add the flour and mix well.
3. Cover with a cloth and leave to ferment for 9-16 hours. Say while you’re at work.

Dough:
11g salt
270g flour (again, I used a mixture of wholegrain wheat and strong white).

Sliced, angle

4. Combine the salt and flour.
5. Add to the sponge and bring together with a spatula or wooden spoon or you can even get your hands in there if you want.
6. Bring to a dough with a quick knead, to make sure everything is well combined.
7. Form a ball and return to the bowl (cleaned and oiled slightly). Cover again and leave for few hours.
8. Take out the ball of dough, stretch it and give it a fold – that is, folding up one then, then the other down to form a kind of enveloped. Return to the bowl, then repeat this process again a few more times every 15 minutes.
9. Cover the bowl with cling film or put it in a plastic bag, then put it in the fridge for about 8-10 hours – I did it overnight.
10. Take out the dough, and allow it to come back to room temperature.
11. Gently form the dough into a ball, then rest it for 15 minutes.
12. Form the ball into a baton – but gently as you don’t want to de-gas it too much. (I really must do a series of photos or some videos of shaping dough.)
13. Give the dough one final prove (or proof) in a basket lined with floured cloth, with the seam of the baton upwards. I did this for about an hour in the airing cupboard, which is 24C.
14. Preheat the oven – I did mine as hot as it’ll get, 250C.
15. Put the casserole in the oven to get to the same temperature – I left mine for 30 minutes.
16. Take the casserole out and quickly and carefully invert the dough into it, so the seam goes to the bottom.
17. Put the lid back on, and bake for 30 minutes.
18. Take the lid off and bake for another 15 minutes, or until the top is nicely coloured – I like nice “high bake”, a dark colour.
19. Take out the loaf and allow to cool completely on a wire rack.

Oh, and while you’re baking, what better item to wear than a snazzy Real Bread Campaign apron? You can get a limited edition “I [loaf] Real Bread’ apron from Balcony Shirts here, with £3 from every sale going to the campaign.

Real Bread Campaign apron

 

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Holey-er than thou

Holey bread 1

A lot of my recent bread has been fairly dense, with a close crumb. I like bread like this, especially with wholegrain breads like the 100% wholegrain wheat and spelt I’ve been making recently. They’ve tasted great and when fresh aren’t bad for open sandwiches and when a bit old they’re perfect for toast. But the favoured style of “artisan” bread these days is all about the open crumb. A nice crisp crust and an open, irregular crumb with a variety of big holes.

I know I’ve made holey bread like that in the past, but, I dunno, through all my experiments the past few years with seriously rustic flours, bought from farmers’ markets in Rome and here in Sussex, I seem to have lost the knack slightly. Learning to bake is one of those life-long challenges, especially if you’re a home baker and aren’t churning out massive batches. But it’s funny to feel you’ve learned something then forgotten it again.

High extraction challenge
It does seem that holey breads are a particular challenge if you’re using flour with a high extraction rate. The extraction rate is the amount of the grain that remains in the milled flour. So a genuinely wholegrain flour in principle should be 100% extraction. Modern, industrial, nominally brown flours, however, may only be about 80-85% extraction, whereas white flours, which have been sieved or bolted1 may be closer to 70% extraction – with the bran and germ (ie, the healthiest bits) removed and just the starches and proteins remaining. 

I’m sure the masters of the contemporary bread scene, especially those who work with ancient and heritage grains (like Chad Robertson of Tartine and the bakers producing the great looking results of the Brockwell Bake) could get a nice open, irregular holey crumb from 100% extraction flours, but not me. The wholegrain flours I’ve been buying lately have been very branny, stoneground, and I suspect probably close to 100% extraction. They taste great, but I need to get at it to open that crumb out.

I did go back to a classic Dan Lepard 100% white sourdough recipe the other day, and did get a holey crumb. Bit it’s wholly too holey. Holey-er than though. With giant crazy giant holes. So I’ve gone from one extreme to the other.

I reckon the next few weeks, I’m going to try and make breads that are 50/50 white and wholegrain and try the so-called “no knead” method. This seems to be very popular among US bakers and does seem to give holey crumb loaves. It involves mixing up the dough, resting it, and giving it a few stretch-and-folds over time. This does seem very similar to Dan L’s method of mixing, doing a short knead, resting it, and doing another short knead, then repeating, as those kneads basically just involve folding over the dough. I generally use Dan L’s method, with a few stretch-and-folds anyway. And there’s arguably a fine line between “kneading” and “folding”.

In the meantime, here are some pics of my comically holey bread. The flour was nothing fancy2, but the loaves still tasted pretty good. Even if they weren’t idea for making sarnies.

Holey bread 2

 

1 Etymology geek chums, bolting generally means sieving – or indeed sifting – through cloth. The word comes from 12th century Middle English bulten, from the old French bulter, which is probably from the Old High German būtil, meaning bag.)

2 Strong white from Waitrose supermarket. Although Waitrose/John Lewis does has its own farm,  the Leckford Estate in Hampshire, my home county, and to the west of Sussex in the south of England, they don’t seem to grow wheat that produces a strong white bread flour. The Waitrose own brand strong white is “produce of more than one country” – they, and even the likes of Dove’s Farm and Shipton Mill, Britain’s two big organic flour brands, don’t seem to be forthcoming about which countries. Presumably Canada, Kazakhstan, India, etc. I’ve now ordered some strong white flour from Stoate & Sons now instead. I believe they do manage to locally source and mill  a strong, high protein variety of wheat  in Dorset, the next country along from Hampshire.)

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Le Creuset-baked sourdough

Sourdough baked in Le Creset, straight out of the oven

This is a technique I’ve been wanting to try for ages. Since last year, in fact, when still living in Rome. There, I encountered the blog of another ex-pat baking enthusiast, Krumkaker. She made several of her loaves in a casserole dish. It’s also a technique demonstrated by the ever-enthusiastic Vincent Talleu here.

I didn’t have my Le Creuset, or similar, with me while living in Rome, but now I’m home, I’ve found it. (Though we’ve lost a load of other baking kit in our double move. Particularly sad is the loss of an Eiffel Tower-shaped cake mould Fran bought in Paris with our dearly missed late friend Sara.)

Anyway. I’m not sure baking in a cast iron casserole, or Dutch oven, or Le Creuset, is a Scandinavian technique. It’s likely something that just evolved before Europeans had ovens, and would bake in pots, initially earthenware.

Cracks

On the road
The only other time I baked in a Dutch oven was in New Zealand, 1989, when I was on the road with my old friend Stephen McGrath, his Clydesdale horses and an elaborate caravan of wagons and carts. I made an enormous, heavy-duty loaf in a massive Dutch oven, baking it in the embers of our campfire.

Me driving wagon through Westport, New Zealand, 1989

The logic of baking in a casserole dish is that the cast iron is not only nice and hot – you preheat it – it also traps the moisture of the dough, effectively steaming the bread as it bakes.

Steam is how you get a crisp crust on bread, and can be difficult to create in a domestic oven. Professional baking ovens have steam injectors, but domestic techniques using misting sprays or trays of water are never quite as good. I can’t remember the qualities of my campfire loaf all those years ago (25!!!), but certainly this loaf has a lovely crust – though it wasn’t the crispest I’ve managed over the years in a domestic oven.

It also has a very satisfying shape, and the dish constrains any dough flow if I hadn’t moulded the ball well enough. (I hate it when I make a round free-form loaf, forming the dough into a ball, then it flows out into a discuss shape when it take it out of the proving basket; shaping nice tight balls can be surprisingly tricky.)

My leaven / sourdough starter, healthy again

Rude health
This loaf is also my first sourdough for a while. Although I’ve been making most of my own bread since we got back to England at Christmas, I’ve been neglecting my leaven somewhat.

Now about five years old, my leaven is well-travelled and much changed. It was born in London, then moved to Sussex, then it moved to Italy with us. There, it was fed on many and varied Italian flours – wheat, rye and various things referred to by the much misunderstood term farro.

Then it moved back to Britain. And I abandoned it for a few months. While we visited friends and family in the US and NZ, the sourdough lodged with my mother. Who’s a great cook, but not a bread-maker – she’s doesn’t make bread with easy yeast, let alone have any experience with sourdough.

So the past few months I’ve been nursing it back to health. I fed it rye, and local stoneground wheat flour, and filtered water. Finally I introduced some other leaven, from third generation baker Michael Hanson of The Hearth in Lewes. This could be seen as cheating, but I see it more like a kind of marriage. The yeasts and bacteria in my (puny) leaven mixing with those in Michael’s leaven. And after weeks of TLC, it’s finally back in rude health.

Mad science
As with much of my bread-making, this is kinda experimental, not a recipe as such.

I made a sponge with:
300g water
80g wholewheat leaven (at 100% hydration)
200g strong white bread flour
All mixed together, and left, covered with a shower cap – another technique I learned from Krumkaker.

I left it all day, for about seven hours, while I went off and worked in The Hearth.

In the evening, I made up a dough, with a further:
100g white bread flour
150g wholemeal wheat flour
10g salt.

I gave it a short knead, formed a ball, then let it rest for about 10 minutes. I then gave it another short knead, another 10 minute rest, and repeated this a few more times. I then left it an hour, at room temp (about 18C). I then gave it a fold then put it back in the bowl, covered it, and left it in the fridge overnight (4C).

Dough

In the morning, I gave it another fold, resting it at room temp for another hour, then formed a ball, rested it 10 minutes, tightened up the ball, then put it in a basked and gave it a final prove in the airing cupboard (about 24C).

Final prove

I then preheated the oven to 250C, with the Le Creuset inside. After about 20 minutes, with the oven at heat, I turned the well-floured dough out of the proving basket and dropped it into the hot dish – taking care not to roast my knuckles. I didn’t slash the top –  because I wanted to see how it cracked. Or because I forgot.

Before baking

The lid went back on and I baked it for about 25 minutes at 220C. I then took off the lid, dropped the temperature again to 200C, and baked for another 20 minutes or so.

Cut

The results were good. The crust is more chewy than crisp, the crumb soft and moist. We had some for dinner, when I did wood pigeon breasts with a pancetta, thyme and juniper berry red wine sauce. We didn’t eat all the meat, so Fran used the leftovers for a sandwich for work, with a smear of wild garlic sauce. I bet no one else had that posh flavour combo sarnie* for their work lunch today.

Sandwich

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

* Any US readers, “sarnie” is British English – possibly even English English – slang for sandwich.

 

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Converting plain to self-raising flour

SR flour

Catchy title eh?

A lot of UK recipes call for self-raising flour. Self-raising flour is nothing fancy – it’s just plain (all-purpose) flour with a chemical raising agent, baking powder, already in the mix.

Self-raising flour was invented by Bristol baker Henry Jones, who patented it in 1845. It played a role in phasing out the notoriously solid ship’s biscuits and replacing them with an alternative: chemically leavened “bread” baked fresh at sea or even on the battlefront. Apparently his work was championed by Florence Nightingale and I believe self-raising flour was used to bake “bread” in the Crimean War.

I’m not sure about “bread” made with SR flour – it’d be much more like soda bread or scone that real bread – but it’s useful stuff for cakes and the like. A lot of bakers, however, prefer to just use plain flour then add the raising agent separately. This makes sense, as the chemicals in raising agents can lose their potency making resulting cakes inconsistent. Or home bakers might just have run out.

If you don’t have an SR flour, it’s easy to convert plain and use that in its place. Though as with so many of these things, online information isn’t always in agreement. So I’m going to work it out for myself.

Varying sources say: add 1 teaspoon to 110g, or 2 teaspoons for 150g (1t to 75g), or 2 1/2 to 500g flour (that is, 1t to 200g), and, in that strange world without sane metric measures, another says 2 teaspoons to a cup.

Converting one US cup of flour into grams is open to disagreement too. Online sources give the flour weight as between 120g and 150g. I’ve got a cup measure – marked as 236.64ml, the customary US cup size* – and in a very scientific experiment involving filling it with flour, tapping it to settle it then smoothing off the top, I got 144g. Then I did it again and got 133g. This variable is due to how compacted the powder is, and is one of the reasons using weighing your ingredients is, frankly, more accurate. So anyway, let’s say 140g. So 2t to one cup is 2t to 140g (or 1t to 70g).

Cup measures

Then there’s the whole question of how many grams are in a teaspoon of a powder like baking powder. Again, sources differ online. But a teaspoon is 5cc/5ml (even in the US it’s basically the same, 4.92892159375ml**). Doing another quick, very scientific experiment, I filled my 5ml teaspoon measure with baking powder, smoothed it off, and weighed it. I did the same with baking soda. Both came in at just shy of 5g, so 5g is good enough for me.

Now, I work in decimal and percentage terms, having grown up with silly old ounces and whatnot but left them behind when I discovered the comparitive simplicity of metric measures. It’s so much easier when you’re converting and scaling recipes too.

The percentages you want of the above suggestions of teaspoons per grams would be based on the combined weight of the two ingredients, ie how many percent is 5g (1t) baking powder of the 115g of flour plus baking powder?

Here are all the abovementioned amounts in percentage calculations:
5g of 75g = 5 ÷ 75 x 100 = 6.7%
5g of 80g = 5 ÷ 80 x100 = 6.3g
5g of 115g = 5 ÷ 115 x 100 = 4.3%
5g of 205g = 5 ÷ 205 x 100 = 2.4%
(figures rounded)

Personally, I’m inclined to split the difference, and indeed some older notes of mine say 4%, and another person online breaking it down comes out with 4.5%. So averaging out the above figures, you get 4.9%. For the sake of ease, let’s say 5%.

So if a recipe calls for 250g of self-raising flour, and you only have plain, you need 5% of that 250g to be baking powder. That’s 12.5g of baking powder. So 12.5g BP added to 237.5g plain flour makes 250g stand-in self-raising flour. Even a digital scale, however, doesn’t usually do half grams, so let’s say 12g to 238g. And if you really want to short-cut it, just use 2 well-filled teaspoons to the 238g.

Thrilling!

Cup plain flour

* A US legal cup is 240ml, an Australian/NZ etc cup is 250ml.
** Technically a US teaspoon relates to another strange archaic measure – it’s 1/3 US fluid dram.

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Bread malfunction!

In my last post about bread-making, I mentioned that the previous two loaves I’d made had started out seeming fine but after a few days they went bad. The crumb, which had previously been firm and at that sweet-spot between dry and moist, started to collapse, becoming dense and damp in the centre. It wasn’t a problem I’d had before so I started wondering what was causing it: under-proving,  over-baking, some dodgy flour?

Or the heat.

Surely it was something to do with the heat? Although I baked with decent results last summer, when July and August similiarly peaked at around 40C  (100-plus in ye olde Fahrenheit), this year my bread seems to be suffering.

Even the nice durum wheat-strong bread flour loaf I baked last Thursday. Although it was great on Thursday and Friday, by Saturday morning, when we headed out of town for a night, it was suffering from the same problems. We got back last night, and the crust that was left was in a very sorry state.

So this is how it looked after it had cooled on the day of bake:

CU

And this is how it looked after three and a half days.

bread gone wrong

Sure it was a few days old, and getting stale (particularly around the edges, near the crust), but the core has gone all damp and dank, fizzy and yeasty. Not pleasant.

This yeastiness got me thinking: has it started fermenting again? The yeasts used in the dough were killed by the oven of course – the bread was baked at around 230C, and yeasts die at around 60C.  So are there wild yeasts in my bread bin for example? I mooted this question with my friend Michele. He’s not a baker, though he is a master brewer (at Mastri Birrai Umbri, whose wares we were enjoying Saturday night), so he knows his yeasts.

2013-07-27 20.29.52

He asked if I had fruit near where I stored the bread. Yes, I said, there’s a fruit bowl near the bread bin. It’s a great time of the year for seasonal fruit here in Roma – the region is cranking out apricots, plums, peaches, Coscia pears, figs, etc etc etc. Even someone like me who doesn’t much like fruit is enjoying this bounty.

But maybe it’s messing up my bread. Fruit, even when rinsed, has abundant wild yeast cultures on its skin.  Just think of advice you might have read about starting a natural leaven/sourdough: use some grapes, or raisins, or a some rhubarb (not strictly fruit, but close enough). These wild yeasts will be thriving at the moment, as the weather is humid and hot, as Rome heads for high summer. Even now, without the oven cranking at 240C, the kitchen is 30C. A pretty nice temperature for yeasts, moulds and bacteria.

So maybe the wild yeasts are finding my bread and starting to feed on it.  Which might indicate that I’ve not proved long enough, not leaving the yeast I’ve used in the bake long enough to cosume all the natural sugars in the flour. I’m not sure.

Fellow bakers – any thoughts?

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Italian flour: types and terminology

A selection of flours

Today’s bread is being made with farina di farro biologica from the Coop supermarket’s own brand, farina integrale di segale di agricoltura biologica from the Il Frantoio brand, and “Setaccio” farina semi-integrale di grano tenero from Mulino Marino. There really is no shortage of types of flour (farina) to experiment with here in Italy, if you’re into baking and bread-making. In fact, there so many flour varieties and variables it can be boggling.

Over the 20 months or so I’ve lived in Italy I’ve used many of them, but I still get confused. Previously, for example, I wrote about the various types of grain (and flour) known as farro to try and clarify what they were – as they’re often, erroneously, just translated into English as “spelt”. Here I hope to clarify a little more the other types of grain and flour you might encounter in Italy, or be able to buy as imports in other parts of the world.

Anyway.

Italian words for grains and more

A caveat – these are standard Italian words. There are doubtless a gazillion local dialect words as well, but let’s stay on target.

The wheat family:

The word grano (plural grani) means grain, though it’s frequently used as a synonym for wheat.
Frumento is the more specific word for wheat. In the modern world, wheat generally means bread wheat (Triticum aestivum), which accounts for 95% of global production.
Farro is name given to three, older members of the wheat family, “heritage grains”. Briefly it can refer to:
Farro piccolo (“small”) or farro monococco (Triticum monococcum) – that is, domesticated einkorn wheat, also known as enkir.
Farro medio (“medium”) or farro dicocco (Triticum dicoccum, aka Triticum turgidum var. dicoccon) – that is, emmer.
Farro grande (“large”) or farro spelta (Triticum spelta, aka Triticum aestivum var. spelta ) – that is, spelt. (Also known as dinkel.)

Grano turanicum – a name for Khorosan wheat (Triticum turanicum), another ancient grain type.
Kamut – the trade name for Khorasan wheat (Triticum turanicum).
Manitoba – the Italian name for bread flours with a higher percentage of protein, like what we’d call strong bread flour in the UK. It may or may not be from Manitoba province in Canada. Indeed, according to a blurb on a pack of Ecor brand flour, Manitoba flour is also known as farina americana.
Saragolla – another one I’ve encountered, which is proving tricky to identify with any real certainty. One Italian source says it’s similar Khorasan wheat (Triticum turanicum, but refers to it as Triticum polonicum, Polish wheat.

I’ve also seen things labelled with grano antico, which isn’t very helpful, as it could refer to any one of these ancient wheat species.

two old grains

Non-wheat cereals:
Avena is oats. Fiocchi di avena are oatflakes, or porridge oats.
Orzo is barley.
Miglio is millet.
Riso is rice.
Segale is rye.

Wholegrain rye flour

And not forgetting the that poster boy of industrialised, ecosystem-destroying, logical-economics-manipulating monocrop agriculture: maize (Zea mays), or corn: mais in Italian, also granone (“big grain”), granturco, granoturco and various other dialect names.

Polenta is, of course, made from maize, which arrived in Europe from the Americas in the 15th century, replacing earlier gruels made of orzo or emmer. Polenta (cornmeal) comes in various degrees of coarseness, some quite gritty, some more floury. You can also buy amido di mais, which what we’d call cornflour in the UK, or (more descriptively) corn starch in the US.

Other non-cereal flours you may encounter could be made from:
Amaranto – amaranth (Amaranthus caudatus).
Castagna – chestnut (used for Pane di San Martino).
Saraceno – buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum). Buckwheat isn’t a member of the grass family like the above grains. Instead, it’s a member of the Polygonaceae family and related to things like rhubarb.

There are see flours made from legumes such as:
Ceci – chickpea (Cicer arietinum).
Lenticchia – lentil (Lens culinaris).
Soia – soya, soybean (Glycine max).

Marino closer

Other useful terms:
amido – starch.
biga – type of low hydration, firm preferment, which can made with a sourdough starter or commercial yeast.
biologico – organic, organically farmed or produced.
chicco – grain (also bean, pellet, bead), eg chicco di grano, grain of wheat
crusca – bran.
germe – germ, eg germe di grano.
glutine – gluten.
integrale – wholegrain, eg farina di segale integrale.
lievito – yeast, raising agent.
lievito madre – “mother yeast”, meaning a natural leaven or sourdough culture.
lievitare – to rise, to raise, to grow (with a raising agent).
lievito naturale – natural leaven or sourdough.
macinata a pietra – stoneground. Always good, as it doesn’t damage the grain as much as modern milling with massive steel rollers, as such maintaining more nutrients and more flavour.
macinare – to mill (flour).
mulino – mill, eg uno mulino a vento is a windmill.
pagnotta – loaf.
pane – bread.
semi-integrale – semi-wholegrain. I’m not entirely sure what the preparation of such a flour involves – more sieving? Or blending?

Hard and soft

You’ll often see farina di grano duro and farina di grano tenero on packets of Italian flours. These translate as “hard wheat flour” and “soft wheat flour” (or, more literally, as “hard grain flour” and “tender grain flour”), but shouldn’t be confused with what we consider “hard” wheat in English, which is generally a higher protein bread flour.

Farina di grano duro is flour milled from the wheat species Triticum durum (aka Triticum turgidum var. durum), with durum and duro meaning “hard” in Latin and standard Italian respectively. Triticum durum is most commonly used for making pasta. It is the second most significant type of wheat grown globally, accounting for about 5% of production. It is ground into products of varying coarseness:
Farina di grano duro – the finest, most floury
Farina di semola – a slightly coarser flour
Semolina – the coarser middlings and yes, the stuff used for old-fashioned British puddings, (though the term is also used generically to refer to other wheat middlings).

Farina di grano tenero is flour milled from a subspecies of the wheat species Triticum aestivum, the most commonly cultivated strain of this useful grass. Also known as bread wheat. In Italy, it generally has a medium protein percentage, around 12%, though it can vary greatly. As with farina di grano duro, it is milled into products of varying degrees of coarseness, which is where the whole “00” thing comes into play. Read on…

Mulino Marino 00

Licensed to bake: the “00” system

When you see a flour graded as 00, it’s not a reference to a particular type of grain or species of wheat, it’s simply a reference to how finely the flour has been milled, and how much bran and germ has sieved out, and what sort of colour the flour is as a result.

The various types are: 00 (doppio zero, the finest grade), 0, 1, 2 (the coarsest grade, more akin to a meal). The coarsest grain is effectively integrale, that is, wholegrain.

Although 0 and 00 are commonly used for bread-baking, both are loosely interchangeable with British plain flour or US all-purpose flour. Indeed, if you look at the dark blue packet in the photo at the top of this page, the Barilla brand flour is labelled per tutte le preparazioni, which could be translated as “all-purpose”, and it’s a grano tenero 00.

The blurb on the side of a pack of ‘Ecor’ flour I mentioned above, also explains that il grado di raffinazione indica la quantità di farina ottenuta macinando 100kg di chicchi. Tanto più alto è questo indice tanto più grezza è la farina: the grade of refining indicates the quantity of flour obtained from grinding 100kg of grain. The higher the grade, the coarser the flour.”

Also, as the first table on this rather technical page indicates, the higher the grade, the higher the ash content and protein of the flour. Though these Italian flours are all still fairly low protein, between 9% and 12%, and different grains would give different results – that is, this table’s data has to be taken with a pinch of salt.

And the rest

I’ve probably missed all sorts of pertinent things, but can add them as and when I encounter them. For specific types of Italian bread and baked goods, I may mention them elsewhere on the site. In the meantime, if, like me, you’re into baking and an English-speaking learning Italian (there must be a few of us in that demographic out there), I hope this has been useful.

Pandi Sempre

Love this spiel “This flour recounts the (his)story of cereal crops. It’s composed of the most ancient grain, Enkir, of farro, and of a careful selection of soft wheats, all naturally stone-ground without the addition of additives or ‘improvers’. Thanks to its varied composition, it’s ideal for every use.”

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Spelt experiments, or When bread goes wrong, and the dilemma of blogging the failures

So I was feeling experimental this week. I’d been both looking at old photos of breads I’ve made the past few years and browsing my favourite baking book, looking for inspiration. One of the breads I liked but haven’t tried too often is a 100 percent sourdough with some potato in the mix. I’d had great results once – a bread with a great, irregular crumb, which is something of a holy grail for bakers like me. It requires a high hydration dough and, generally, a natural leaven. It’s not something I’ve had much luck with lately, but I had done back in Blighty with a better kitchen and more familiar ingredients. I can’t find a photo of the bread in question, but here’s one with the kind of crumb I mean.

Okay, thought I, I’ll try that again – but with farro flour. Indeed, I’m going through a bit of a phase trying to use farro bianco all over the place, where, if I was still living in the UK, I’d use strong white or even plain flour.

I revived my leaven over a few days, then got stuck in. Feeling optimistic, taking photos to record the process, thinking I could proudly blog the results, imagining cutting open a loaf with a crunchy crust and finding that wonderful irregular crumb structure again.

Except it didn’t go well. The bread is borderline terrible. Dense, heavy, and clearly lacking in life, with no oven spring. It tastes strangely like a teabread.

This left me with a dilemma. It’s one that’s probably faced by anyone who likes to make food and blog about it. If you make something, and it’s crap, should you blog about it? You of course want you food to look marvellous when you shove it out here on the interweb. But then I thought, Hang-on, this isn’t a glossy magazine or a recipe book, it’s a blog. It’s record of my endeavours, and not just the successes. So why shouldn’t I blog the failures? Or at least talk about the agonies of deciding whether to go public with the failures. And if by some miracle this is read by experts, perhaps that can give advice. (Yeah, right. Ed.)

So anyway, this is the recipe I used, a variation on Dan Lepard’s Crusty potato bread
250g leaven (mine was fed with farro, 80% hydration)
280g water
25g honey
75g unpeeled potato, scrubbed and grated
500g farro bianco flour
10g fine sea salt

1 Combine the leaven, water, honey and potato.
2 Add the flour and salt and blend to create a wet, sticky dough.
3 Rest for 10-15 minutes.
4 Turn out onto a lightly oiled work surface and give it a brief knead.
5 Return to a lightly oiled bowl and rest for around 10-15 minutes.
6 Repeat this process (it’s Dan L’s process, developed while he worked in a busy kitchen. In some ways it’s irritating – kneading, cleaning up, waiting, kneading, cleaning up, waiting – but in others it’s great. It seems particularly good for handling wetter doughs).
7 Repeat again 2-3 more times, then leave the dough covered for half an hour. Give the dough a fold if you like.
8 Divide the dough into two equal pieces and shape each into a ball.
9 Rest the balls, again covered, for about 10-15 minutes.
10 Shape batons, then place then in proving baskets lined with floured clothes, or if you ain’t gone none, place side my side on floured clothes, covered.
11 Leave again until doubled in size. This will vary according to the temperature of your room, but if it’s warm (around 20C) it’ll be around 4-5 hours.
12 Heat oven to 220C.
13 Turn out the loaves onto a baking sheet lined with parchment and dusted with semolina.
14 Bake for 20 minutes, then turn down the oven to 200C and bake for another 20 minutes.

So anyway, after all that, mine didn’t work. But if you use strong white flour instead, there’s a chance yours could. And if they do, it’s a lovely lovely bread.

Now for some diagnosis, some thoughts about why my bread didn’t work
1 The recipe really doesn’t like spelt flour. Although spelt has a not dissimilar proportion of protein to a strong white bread flour (around 14-15%), it has different proteins, which some sources refer to as “extremely fragile”. Compared to modern wheat varieties, it has less gluten, particularly gliadin, the protein that is integral to making easy stretchy white doughs (but appears to be at the heart of the increasing prevalence of coeliac/celiac disease). I’ve made plenty of decent loaves with spelt in the mix recently (like this one), but I think this is my first 100 percent spelt, 100 percent naturally leavened.
Which leads me to…
2 The leaven wasn’t sufficiently active. I perhaps should have fed and refreshed it over a few more days. Or maybe its current residents just aren’t happy with their conditions. It is Rome after all – so maybe it’s some kind of yeasty sciopero.
3 Or if I didn’t refresh it enough, I should have at least left the dough fermenting longer. It’s the winter, and our kitchen isn’t that warm, probably only around 15C (until I put the oven on). So yes, if it’s cold, it’ll take longer to ferment.
4 Except I also worry that if I left it fermenting too long, the yeasts would finish gorging themselves and any rise achieved would collapse back in on itself.
5 Some sources also talk about how you have to adjust the water. Well, I reduced it slightly from Dan L’s original recipe, and the dough did feel pretty good while I was working it. I dunno though , this place says “Too much [water], and the dough is sticky and weak and will not be able to hold the gasses that are produced during the fermentation process.”
6 Some other random factor. Like some unprecedented chemical reaction between the spud and the spelt. I know not.

Anyway, if you are a baker, and have any thoughts about what might have gone wrong here, please share!

In the meantime, I have to decide whether to continue my spelt experiments (I also used them in some brownies yesterday) or retreat to the comfort of strong white bread flour, or Manitoba as it’s known here in Italy, with its reliable if dietarily dubious gliadin and glutenin content.

Addendum

Here’s the recipe as baker’s percentages. I’m doing this partly because I’m getting out of practice and partly in response to talking to Jeremy.

250/500 = 0.5 x 100 = 50% leaven
280/500 = 0.56 x 100 = 56% water
25/500 = 0.05 x 100= 5% honey
75/500 = 0.15 x 100= 15% potato
500/500 = 1 x 100 = 100% flour
10/500 = 0.02 x 100 = 2% salt

Or if we’re getting serious (and it looks like we are), and factoring in the leaven… 250g leaven at 80% hydration = 112g water + 138g flour (rounded), so the total water is actually
392g, and the total flour is 638g.

392/638 = 0.61 x 100 = 61% water
25/638 = 0.039 x 100 = 3.9% honey
75/638 = 0.118 x 100 = 11.8% potato
638/638 = 1 x 100 = 100% flour
10/638 = 0.015 x 100 = 1.6% salt

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