One of the things I enjoyed in my bread-making experiments in Italy was trying different flours, many of them traditional or what’s called “heritage grains”. This is a slightly vague term, muddled up with food fads, but basically it just means grains that are older strains. In the case of wheat*, they can either be alternative varieties to common/bread wheat (Triticum aestivum), or local variables, cultivated over generations to suit a particular terroir.
When I was trying to get my head around the Italian names for grains and flours – particularly the vexed question of what’s meant by “farro” – I wrote a few posts (here and here), where I started learning about some of the different strains and varieties of wheat.
Key heritage wheats that have survived the 20th century’s industrialisation and intensification of agriculture are einkorn, emmer and spelt, or to use their scientific names: Triticum monococcum, Triticum dicoccum and Triticum spelta. As with a lot of taxonomy, things are constantly being revised or bickered about; spelt is interesting, as it’s either Triticum spelta, or classified as Triticum aestivum var spelta, ie a variety of common wheat.
Since coming home to England at Christmas, after our two years in Italy and two months travelling in the US and NZ, it’s taken me a while to get back into the bread-making.
This is partly as we have a rubbish oven, partly as I forgot to pick up my leaven from my mother, who had been looking after it, and partly because Lewes now has a couple of great places to buy real bread these days: Flint Owl and The Hearth, which also has the town’s only proper pizza, made by master baker Michael Hanson and pizzaiolo and in his wood-fired oven.
Yesterday, however, I dived back in to the bread-making. I’ve been buying flours, and some of it needed using – particularly the Dove’s Farm wholegrain einkorn I bought that had a “Best before” date of July 2013. Ooops. Best before dates are, as sane people know, just a guideline, but flour does get a bit stale and loses its verve.
Still, at least it’s flour with form. The packet says Dove’s, one of Britain’s bigger organic flour brands, has been growing it on their farm on the Wiltshire/Berkshire border since 2008, and that the einkorn itself “was the original wheat, developed over 20,000 years ago”, and that it’s “the earliest type of wheat grown & eaten by mankind.” As such it can be seen as the crop that symbolises the human transition from wandering hunter-gatherers to settled farmers. You could say it’s the foodstuff that represents the founding of human civilisation, in Eurasia at least.
So that had to go in. As did some lovely Sussex Bread Flour from Inbhams Farm Granary. These guys are a small operation, based in Surrey, the county to the north of Sussex. They sell a range of British grains and flours, as well as home milling equipment. Their emphasise the importance of freshness in grain products. Ironic considering the potentially state of the einkorn flour I had.
Still, the Sussex Bread Flour is not only relatively fresh, and thoroughly local, it was also a nice variety – Magister wheat, which Imbhams describe as “an older two row** variety” that “is a strong (high protein) grain”. It’s a winter wheat, and a variety of Triticum aestivum. I asked about the flour, and James Halfhide of Inbham’s explained that “Magister is a modern 21st century grain introduced from Germany and a ‘2 row’ variety – so an ‘older style’ of grain not unlike spelt or naked barley. So you could say it will carry some older characteristics – one we liked was the flavour. More modern breeding has lead to the ‘4 row’ varieties so they look ‘square’ and usually shorter straw stems.”
Between the two flours, both wholemeal, it made for a seriously wholesome dough, with only minimal elasticity. The einkorn has a protein level of 10.6% and while the Magister might be higher protein (around 12.5%), it’s stoneground and very branny. The resulting loaf has a close, slightly crumbly crumb. Very tasty though. And great with my favourite peanut butter brand.
Being back home in southern England, with its ongoing wind-wracked soggy apocalypse, might be miserable in some senses compared to poncing around the NZ summer or living in Roma, but at least I can get my Whole Earth Crunchy Original – a delicious type of peanut butter made with the peanut skin left on and one of the few foodstuffs I was transporting back to Italy after trips to England.
Sorry, it’s just better than any of those US Peanut Butter & Co varieties I’ve tried, despite that brand’s success (and hip excursions into film and TV; I first spotted it on screen a year or so ago in Girls) and even better than Pic’s Really Good, which I enjoyed a lot in NZ, as it’s from Nelson, a town I’ve got a lot of affection for. Those skins in tandem with butter – yes, butter, I like animal fat with my peanut fat – and this wholesome bread made for a cracking elevenses snack on this filthy morning.
Not really a recipe
For one medium loaf I used:
500g wholegrain einkorn flour
250g Sussex Bread Flour
12g fine salt
10g fresh yeast
I’m using these same flours to feed up my leaven, but that’s not really ready for baking yet, so fresh yeast it was.
I also used water from our Brita filter. The tap water here in Lewes is pretty hard, and full of god knows what chemicals. I’m not sure the Brita existing makes it as pleasing as water bubbling from the ground in a mountain meadow in spring time, but hey, it’s got to be slightly better.
I just crumbed the yeast into half flour, then added the water and made a sponge. Then I added the salt and the rest of the flour.
I gave the dough a few short kneads over about an hour, then formed a ball.
Then I left in a cold place (about 10C; cold crappy 1950s construction house, basically) for about eight hours.
I gave it a quick shape into a ball, then a final prove in a warm place (about 20C; old-school airing cupboard) for a couple of hours, until it had doubled in size.
Baked at 230C for 20 minutes, then another half an hour at 200C.
Wholesome, historic and local.
* “Wheat” isn’t just one member of the grass family (Poaceae or Gramineae), it’s several, including many strains that have had ooh, ten-plus millennia of crossing and selective breeding.
** As I understand it, when talking about grains as 2-row, 4-row, 6-row, it’s a reference to the number of rows of kernels on the ear.