Spelt is not, as I first thought, gluten free and therefore not suitable for coeliacs but can be eaten by those with a more mild sensitivity to wheat. It is a subspecies of the closely related common wheat and has become popular and widely available in the past few years. Sharpham Park in Somerset have been working to recover the popularity of the age old grain. Spelt is their main crop where is is organically farmed and stone ground on-site.
This was the first time anyone had sent me flours so I was understandably delighted. Adhering to the organic and wholesome nature of the harvest I selected the 'Artisan Flour' with which to bake the first loaf. Since the days of Robin's I've become a bit of dough-nut, especially having been versed in the bakery bible that is 'The Bread Bakers Apprentice'. This rather nerdy tome is a must for anyone who fancies getting to grips with flour based products and their production. Peter Reinhart's fetishistic approach to bread making is infectious and the writing style is patient and easy to follow.
I half took into consideration the recipe on the side of the packed and half tried to remember what Pete said. For one smallish loaf I used:
250g Sharpham Park Artisan Flour
1 Heaped teaspoon of fast action yeast
1 Teaspoon of salt
1 Table spoon of some crazy-ass honey I stole from my Mum's cupboard
200ml of lukewarm water
Empty all the ingredients into a mixing bowl at once, mix to combine and let sit for five minutes. This gets the yeast going and helps to warm through the flour that will help to ease in the fermentation phase. The dough was very sticky so I made sure to balance this out with a little extra flour and a healthily dusted surface. Kneading by hand takes about 10 minutes of hard graft keeping the dough moving to free up the tightly coiled mass of protein and gluten molecules. You'll know when its ready because the dough will pass what is know as the 'Windowpane Test.
The dough is pliable enough to stretch out until you can see through it. On a molecular level this means that the previously tangled gluten molecules have been straightened out into a smooth and stretchy (H.McGee 'On Food and Cooking', Harper Collins, 1991). The dough temperature should also be between 25C and 27.2C, Whoops.
At this stage I must mention timings, bread can be made from scratch and baked after an hours proofing, shaping and re-rising, but the point of proofing or fermentation is to get the culture working within the dough. The natural sugars in the flour act as food for the yeast and the aim is to extract as much flavor from the rather special flour that we are using. The length of fermentation time is therefore important as is temperature. Bakeries have special proving cabinets which are set to automatically change temperature at certain times to get the perfect time-temperature equilibrium in order to get the best results from the dough. What Mr. Reinhart suggests is, in a domestic setting, to use the fridge and rest the dough overnight, while it is a long ferment the cool temperature 'retards' the bacterial action allowing for a full flavor at the same time fitting into a normal lifestyle.
So into a lightly oiled bowl covered and into the fridge over night. I actually left mine until I came home from work the following evening then shaped it onto a baking tray lined with parchment and left for another 3 hours to get to room temperature and start the second ferment.
Having scored it, which aids any extra expansion that happens once it hits the heat, it goes into an oven at 200C for about 40 minutes.
Having spent fifteen minutes with floury hands on Thursday night I was able to enjoy this loaf all weekend. While it was slightly flatter than I had hoped the loaf had a fragrant nutty aroma and dense and chewy crumb.
Thanks to Sharpham Park for the flour.