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Baking Bread with Spelt Flour

 Is there a secret to using whole spelt flour in bread baking? I've tried substituting it for whole wheat in several bread recipes. I also tried adding gluten flour in a ratio of 1/2 cup gluten to 7 to 8 cups spelt. The bread never rises into a nicely shaped loaf and is very crumbly. Is it possible to make a decent loaf of bread with whole spelt flour?

 Decency is in the eye of the beholder. Spelt, a grain from the grass family, is popular with people who have an aversion to wheat. The one spelt book we looked at, The Spelt Cookbook (Canada, UK), uses a variety of euphemisms to describe the situation. Spelt has an "extremely fragile" gluten content, the book says. (While that may be a negative from the perspective of getting your bread to rise, it is also what makes spelt bread easier to digest.) "Spelt does not rise quite as high as wheat flour," the book says. But, it adds, spelt tastes so good, you probably won't even notice that your bread is underinflated.

Then it goes on to provide a recipe for Easy Yeast Bread, which includes nonfat yogurt, club soda, and canola margarine, in addition to spelt flour, yeast, salt, honey, and egg. Clearly the word easy means different things to different people.

If you look in a mainstream bread book, such as Beth Hensperger's The Bread Bible (Canada, UK), you'll find references that allow you to substitute spelt for the whole-wheat flour portion of a bread recipe (meaning that you can use a cup of spelt instead of a cup of whole-wheat flour in a recipe that also includes 5 cups of all-purpose or bread flour). But there are no all-spelt bread recipes.

We don't have a lot of spelt baking experience, so we turned to Purity Foods, the makers of Vita-Spelt, for tips. The company says you can make a nice loaf of spelt bread, but that problems can occur at any step in the process.

You must use the correct amount of water. Too much, and the dough is sticky and weak and will not be able to hold the gasses that are produced during the fermentation process. Too little, and the dough will be dry and dense. It will not rise properly because the water never fully gets into the protein and there is nothing to hold the loaf up. Also, the dense loaf is too tight to allow the yeast gases to expand the loaf.

You must also mix it just right. Too little mixing causes the dough to be crumbly (one of the problems you mention) and it will not develop the necessary protein to cause it to expand properly. A dough mixed too long will break down the fragile protein strands that hold in the gases. The first few minutes of mixing are critical, the company says. From the moment you add the water to the flour, you should take no more than 4 minutes to mix the dough completely.

It also says the best way to get a better risen loaf is to make a starter. It says spelt flour is high in complex carbohydrates, which should be reduced to simple sugars so that they feed the yeast. By creating the starter in advance, you boost this process, and your bread should have better cell structure, greater loaf volume, and a lighter crust.

To make spelt bread with a starter, use half of each ingredient to make a dough. Cover and let stand. Within 5 to 12 hours add the remainder of the ingredients to the bowl, mix and proceed as normal.

Purity Foods also sells bread mixes, which include spelt flour, dehydrated cane juice, canola oil, salt, vegetable fiber (from sugar beets), and naturally occurring fungal amylase enzyme to assist in breaking down the carbohydrates. If you can't get your own bread to rise adequately, trying one of these mixes will at least give you a sense for the rising potential of spelt bread.

Of the spelt bread recipes here at Ochef, most specify white spelt flour, but a couple let you make the choice. Give them a try and see if you don't come up with something satisfying.



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