This week I will bake baguettes made with whole spelt, fresh ground whole grain and organic white flour. I've been experimenting with this mix for a while and have it dialed in enough that I am ready to share it with you.
I am not sure that a baguette is supposed to be made of anything other than white flour - this was a thing in France in the 1800s - but hey we're American and we pretty much do what we want.
Spelt is known as one of the ancient grains - grains that have generally been unchanged through breeding or other genetic modification for several hundred years and which have become popular in the last . All of the wheat-related ancient grains (Spelt, Kamut, Emmer, Einkorn) have their roots in the near east (Portions of modern day Turkey, Iran, Iraq.)
A Few Notes on Nomencalature
Whole: - as in "Whole wheat" - refers to a flour that has had some bran added back into it, usually ground more coarsely than the underlying white flour. So when you buy whole wheat flour at the supermarket, you will see brown flecks in it (The bran.). In this case, the miller holds back some of the bran and the germ.
Fresh ground whole grain: refers to flour made by taking the berry (In this case organic red winter wheat from Grass Valley, from near Nevada City.) and using all its compontents (i.e. all the endosperm, the bran, the germ). When I fresh grind wheat, I refrigerate the resulting flour until baking time so as to prevent the germ (oils) from spoiling.
Organic: wherever possible, I use organic ingredients (As certified to USDA standards). A few organic ingredients (e.g. chocolate, cheese) are just too expensive to buy as organic.
Some Notes on Spelt (Cribbed from Wikipedia)
Spelt, also known as dinkel wheat, or hulled wheat, is a species of wheat cultivated since approximately 5000 BC.
Spelt was an important staple in parts of Europe from the Bronze Age to medieval times; it now survives as a relict crop in Central Europe and northern Spain and has found a new market as a health food. Spelt is sometimes considered a subspecies of the closely related species common wheat. Over the years 2004 to 2014, spelt gained widespread popularity as a wheat substitute for making artisan breads, pasta and cereals.
Spelt has a complex history. It is a wheat species known from genetic evidence to have originated as a naturally occurring hybrid of a domesticated tetraploid wheat such as emmer wheat and the wild goat-grass. This hybridisation must have taken place in the Near East because this is where goat grass grows, and it must have taken place before the appearance of common or bread wheat (a hexaploid free-threshing derivative of spelt) in the archaeological record about 8,000 years ago.
Spelt in Literature
Spelt is currently a specialty crop, but its popularity in the past as a peasants' staple food has been attested in literature. Although today's Russian-speaking children perhaps do not know exactly what polba (spelt) looks or tastes like, they may recognize the word as something that can be made into porridge, having heard Pushkin's well-rhymed story in which the poor workman Balda asks his employer the priest "to feed me boiled spelt" ("есть же мне давай варёную полбу"). In Horace's Satire 2.6 (late 31–30 BC), which ends with the story of the Country Mouse and the City Mouse, the country mouse eats spelt at dinner while serving his city guest finer foods.
In The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri, Pietro della Vigna appears as a suicide in Circle VII, ring ii, Canto XIII of the Inferno. Pietro describes the fate awaiting souls guilty of suicide to Dante the Pilgrim and Virgil. According to Pietro, the soul of the suicide grows into a wild tree and is tormented by harpies that feast upon its leaves. Pietro likens the initial growth and transformation of the soul of the suicide to the germination of a grain of spelt (Inferno XIII, 94–102).
Spelt is also mentioned in the Bible. The seventh plague in Egypt in Exodus, did not damage the harvest of wheat and spelt, as these were "late crops". Ezekiel 4:9 says: "Take thou also unto thee wheat, and barley, and beans, and lentils, and millet, and spelt, and put them in one vessel, and make thee bread thereof ...", though as noted above this is presumably a mistranslation and should be "emmer". It is mentioned again in Isaiah 28:25: "...and put in the wheat in rows and the barley in the appointed place and the spelt in the border thereof?"
So, when you eat this week's bake, you can think of yourself as very literary, biblical even.
Over the last couple of weekends I have purchased berries (grain) and flour by visiting a couple of local sources, which is a real treat.
I drove up to Grass Valley, and met Reed Hamilton who runs Grass Valley Grains to purchase a couple of bags of hard red winter wheat (The mainstay of American baking.) Reed is from a farm in Southern Illinois and worked from many years as a general contractor in the Sierra foothills; he decided to try his hand at growing wheat in the area (difficult to do on smaller plots of land) and milling, which he does currently. I will be grinding these berries myself and using the resulting whole grain flour, which includes all the bran and the germ, in many of the loaves I bake for you.
This past weekend, I drove up to Southern Oregon to meet the folks at Camas Country MIll near Eugene. the Hunton family grow some wonderful grains, including Emmer and Einkorn and a local varietal called Edison, which does well in damper Pacific Northwest weather. The family has been farming in the area for several generations and now focus on growing and milling heritage and ancient varietals of grains and other grain-like crops. Interestingly, they grow teff - the seed used to make the flour that is the basis for the Eithiopian bread Injera and ship the flour to Eithiopian communities all over the U.S.
I am jazzed about using these varietals to bake for you and will be experimenting to figure out what mixes of flours and additions will be most tasty.
This Week's Bake
This Friday evening I will bake raisin walnut mulit grain loaf for you, with whole grain flour, rye and organic white flour. I have increased the percentage of raisins and walnuts so it should turn out sweet and rich - great for toasting or served with blue cheese.
This week I am going to bake a loaf with whole wheat flour and cracked and sprouted Red Fife wheat. I have sprouted the berries and refrigerated them and cracked the wheat using my table top mill.
You may recall that Red Fife is a heritage varietal that came to America via Scottish immigrant farmers to the Ottawa Valley in Canada and spread throughout the U.S. Its use declined, as with other varietals, after WWII and standardization took hold across the national food supply chain.
Interestingly, the standardization and uniform product quality that this supply chain brought is us easy to take for granted: if you buy flour in a supermarket anywhere in the country, it will perform to the same level when baking, even thought invidual wheat crops vary widely in protein, moisture, gluten content and flavor.
I think the next evolution in our food infrastructure will be the enablement of "Mass customization" (An idea from Silicon Valley), where we can gain the benefits of our amazing supply chain (speed, efficiency, cost) with access to bespoke food products (Organic wheat from a family farm in North Dakota.).
We'll see: in the meantime, I will be baking for you.
I was out for a walk this morning and came upon a local baker - el Panadero - busy getting cookies and viennoiserie ready. I asked him - he didn't share his name - if he could show me his operation, which he was happy to do.
Baking is done in a large brick oven, rather crudely made, using a fan fed blow torch (The device to the right in the photo) to heat the oven. Funnily enough, when I was experimenting with methods of heating my oven, I tried out a roofing torch, fueled by a propane tank, propped in the opening. Worked fine, sounded like a jet engine, a little hard to control.
The operation felt rough but grounded; not that many steps away from what the process likely looked like 50+ years ago in a small pueblo. Some mechanical mixers, no refrigeration (essential to a bakery operation in the U.S or Europe.) and little other equipment.
My Mexican baking friends tell me that the local flour quality is not great (Remember, we are with the People of Corn) and this, combined with the simpler facilities and equipment, might account for rougher finish of the final product.
A few doors down is a Farmacia, which like our chains in the U.S., sells a variety of grocery products and has a small German convection oven with which to prepare fresh pastries from frozen product, undoubtedly produced at a large factory.
And that is all for now from your panadero.
While I am not able to bake with you, I thought it might be nice to give you a brief update from Zacatecas, where I have been working as a digital nomad for the past couple of weeks.
Zacatecas is about 8 hours North of Mexico City on the Altiplano between the Sierra Occidental, which stretch all the way up to Arizona, and the Sierra Madre Oriental. The town was established by the Spanish in the mid 1500s, before Shakespeare was born, to take advantage of the rich deposits of silver and lead, which are still mined today (funnily enough by some Canadian companies.
It is a beautiful town: a mix of Europe and the developing world, which I find very appealing. It gets a lot of Mexican tourists but only a few Europeans and almost no Americans, so it is a fine place to be forced to practice your Spanish, however execreble.
I am staying at an eccentric apartment hotel, an old casa broken up into apartments and the proprietress Soledad makes occasional, mysterious appearances. The staff are happy to chatter away at me in Spanish and I am happy to try and understand them. I try to run every morning which, at 8,000 Ft altitude, makes me wheeze.
And now, to bread. In some ways. bread is not Mexico's strong suit. A visiit to the local Panaderia will show your a cornucopia of pastries, a little heavy, made with lard, icing askew. But lovely in their own way. Some nice buns.
The real thing here is the corn and the corn tortilla. Nothing quite like a super fresh tortillas served as tacos or with roast chicken. As Michael Pollan notes, the Aztecs were the "Corn People", who had been fed by the grain for many thousands of years. Interestingly, corn tortillas are made and sold by one vendor in the local market and flour tortillas are made and sold by another. And at the restaurant I eat at, flour tortillas are used only for quesadillas and corn for tacos.
If we do not speak again, have a fine holiday. Feliz Navidad!
It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.
Adam Smith gave bakers a bad rap 300 years ago when he noted that they - all businesspeople really - didn't produce the goods they produced out of some deep altruism or because someone was holding a gun to their heads, but because it made economic sense to do so.
This sounds rather cold hearted, as is Smith's popular reputation these days (Laissez faire capitalism is criticized more for its depredations that it is lauded for the wealth that it creates and the folks that it raises out of poverty.) But there are a couple of important caveats worth noting.
First, Adam Smith was part of the Scottish Enlightenment, a group of thinkers from that bleak Northern country, who saw all men as equal (A big new idea in the 1700s, which fueled this country's independence.) and as each having great potential for self development. Second, Smith observed that tariffs - the state's main form of revenue back then - on everything from salt to hats to sealing wax, hurt the consumer by raising their cost of living. His rambling and reasonably readable "Wealth of Nations" (Which I finally got around to reading last year) is full of observations about how free markets and free trade raise folks' standards of living and enable them to save and invest more.
This is not to say that free trade and technological change (Smith wrote about this too) are not disruptive and that society should not take care of those affected by these factors, but that open markets are, in Smith's estimation, much about consumers than they are about capital. This is the reverse of the way we tend to think of capitalism these days.
Now about those bakers (And brewers and butchers.). Smith's comment, while certainly true about what motivates sellers in open markets dealing with freely traded commodities, misses something about both craftsmanship and innovation. At some level, the butcher, brewer and baker want to take pride in what they make, and expand their expertise in doing so. Even those of use who spend most of our day in front of a computer screen moving bits and bytes around, look for some elegance, some perfection in what we do. And we push to improve the way we do things.
This is evident all around us, especially with respect to food in the Bay Area. For example, the development of a coffee culture, first locally and now spreading worldwide; in the development of a "California Cuisine"; in the spread of excellent winemaking and craft brewing. And in baking, where we live at the epicenter of the (Re)discovery of artisan sourdough bread.
Brioche is typically enriched with eggs and butter and sugar, giving it a rich, moist texture. Challah, parker house rolls and some hamburger buns use a similar recipe.
I have been experimenting with using olive oil instead of butter, which gives the bread a mild, tangy taste. Traditionally, brioche is baked in a fluted pan
This Week's Bake
I will be baking an olive oil brioche for you this weekend with fresh rosemary, chopped and bruised to open up its flavor. Each loaf is actually weight of two conventional loaves so if you recieve 1/2 a loaf do not be alarmed. I use an organic high gluten flour that gives the loaf - baked in a panettone paper - an open crumb.
One cannot think of France and not think about a baguette, and vice versa. The loaf is burned into our consciousness as part of something truly French, and the French, great cultural marketers that they are, have firmly anchored their bread culture around it.
Interestingly, the baguette as we know it only showed up with any regularity in the 1920s and since then has become standardized across the country - the French are fiends for regulation - as to weight and content. This makes sense as white flour - something we take for granted these days - was a luxury reserved for the very rich.
I find the modern Parisian baguette airy to the point of being almost tasteless, and certainly not having the punch one comes to expect with sourdough breads. In fact, most baguettes are made using commercial yeast, sometimes with a little sourdough levain for flavor. Paris real estate is so expensive that many central bakeries have their loaves par baked or even baked at another location, which changes the end product.
When I was at baking school a couple of years ago, the instructor pointed out a machine standing in the corner of the kitchen. Japanese made, it could crank out perfectly shaped baguettes using volumes of proofed dough. This struck me as a distillation of the Japanese fascination with all things French (about 1 MM visit Paris annually): take the essential French food and automate its production.
This Saturday's Bake
I will be baking 100% sourdough baguettes, whose dough has been proofed for 24 hours, deepening its flavor. The dough has 5% rye and 5% high extraction flour, giving the bread a substantial taste and crumb. My baguette shaping skills are still developing, so your loaf will likely look a little rough.
Your Canadian Baker