Spelt is ancient heirloom variety wheat first cultivated in 5000 BC and can be traced back to Mesopotamia. Spelt is high in protein and contains sufficient gluten to make bread with reasonable volume. But the character of the gluten is more delicate than the common wheat. Nutrition wise, it is similar if not superior to wheat. Some people with gluten sensitivity may tolerate spelt because protein in spelt is easier to digest.
Using 100% whole-grain spelt flour while maintaining a tender and open crumb in breads or pastries can be challenging. Whole-grain baked items tend to be dense and heavy because the flour contains flakes of bran and germ of the wheat kernel which impedes dough development. Baking with whole-grain flour requires measured adjustments to the conventional recipe. The key in mitigating the undesirable texture of whole wheat, as this recipe from Tartine No. 3 has shown, is in the blending method. What a revelation?
Most quick breads involve mixing butter or oil with the wet ingredients before combining them with the dry ingredients. In creamed batters, fat and sugar are blended together before the dry ingredients and liquid are added alternately. Following Tartine’s technique, olive oil is mixed with the dry ingredients first before combining with the wet ingredients. That makes sense since cutting fat into flour creates tiny air cells in the batter and facilitates the leavening process while it bakes, resulting in a lighter and loftier texture. To develop a more complex flavor, this recipe calls for cultured dairy, such as kefir cream or Crème Fraiche, and natural leaven.
I used Crème Fraiche and 100% hydration sourdough starter built with equal weight in whole-wheat and all-purpose flour as a natural leaven. The resulting teacake comes close to its true promise. It has the nutty, complex, delectable flavor, a light and tender crumb and, above all, the full health benefits of whole grain. Refined white flour and butter are nowhere to be found in this recipe. I can’t be more pleased. It helps in fulfilling the goal in my everyday baking of substituting whole-grain for refined white flour, which is nothing but endosperm almost entirely devoid of nutrition, as much as possible. This recipe exceeds my expectation and this is how I’d make my cakes going forward, whole grain all the way!
My journey in exploring ancient grains led me to Cooper Gristmill, a restored water-powered mill along the Black River in New Jersey. Built in 1826 during the Industrial Revolution, it is listed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places. The knowledgeable and friendly staff there took me on a guided tour and actually operated the mill’s machinery, which encompasses a massive steel water wheel, huge grinding stones, and an elaborate elevator transport system. The millstone machinery hummed in a low, heavy and powerful baritone while the spelt and wheat grains I ordered was being milled into flour. I find comfort in it, in the idea of a restored mill, of a narrative of my culinary journey unfolding, like a photograph in a dark room, a story that slowly emerges, and affirms the joy in developing time-honored techniques in baking/cooking, in putting healthful food on the table and in preserving cultural and historic treasures for all to enjoy.
Note: I submitted this posting to yeastspotting.