Many of us are shifting away from wheat and on to spelt flour. We're using spelt because we've been advised to use no wheat at all. It doesn't seem to be used as a 'blending' flour - we are using spelt flour because we have to. That's a bit of a shame, because spelt flour makes a lovely additive to regular breads. It's quite expensive, though. Certainly, making spelt bread at home will be economical compared to buying store bought spelt bread.
Once you get used to working with it, lovely breads will result.
There are four common grades of spelt flour, which can usually 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. Still imparts a very 'wholemeal' feel to the bread. It definitely isn't 'light'.
- White - nearly all the bran removed, this is still a very flavoursome spelt flour. Suitable for fairly light breads, and depending on the country of origin and the quality of the spelt, is capable of making excellent bread. I have found that so far, USA grown and milled spelt is a far supeior product to the locally sourced varieties.
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 dollars 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 processing costs involved.
Of course, 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. For example, wholemeal flours contain more bran, which absorb more water.
Thus, recipes will vary considerably, according to which 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.
Practice a recipe 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.
Working with Spelt Flour
One feature of spelt flour is its ability to absorb water. It is quite deceptive, especially if you have worked mainly with wheat. This is further emphasised in 'time' doughs like sourdough, because spelt changes over time in terms of consistency.
Rule of thumb no. 1 - when you make a dough with spelt, make it a fair bit stiffer than with wheat. In layman's terms, use less water! It will soften dramatically after a short time, and this is especially so for the lighter grades of spelt flour.
Rule of thumb no. 2 - spelt is not as elastic as wheat, and is inclined to 'go to pieces' when it has been worked to hard, or left too long. This means shorter leavening times, and less kneading.
Rule of thumb no. 3 - if you are making full sourdough bread with spelt, make sure the sourdough ferment (starter) is not overripe - spelt doesn't like acidity at all. Make sure it has been recently fed. Alternately, I get better results with spelt using a semi leaven recipe, such as the white spelt vienna recipe, because it has a very short leavening time.
I will go into a spelt sourdough bread recipes in detail, based on the grades of flour available here in my locality. You may find you can only get certain grades of spelt flour where you are. This is quite likely when it comes to something like spelt.
In Australia, where there are mostly small producers, and demand is still quite small, your local health food store may only stock one kind. As a rule of thumb, that'll be wholemeal spelt, or similar. But if you can get the lighter grades, it will make more 'kid friendly' breads.
Ask your existing supplier about choices - and suggest they might sell more of the lighter grades repeatedly, as the end product has more universal appeal using these flours. 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.
Happy Sourdough Baking!