Monday, October 3, 2011

Grains

The morning is brisk and the sky is clear. I read on the Accuweather website that Catawba weather is even "brisker" and was to drop down to low 40's last night.


It isn't cool enough here for a fire in the fireplace, but it would be back on the farm.


The onset of fall is my favorite time of year.


I am still waiting for the arrival of my shipment of grain from Montana. Have been waiting for a couple of weeks. Last week I was speaking to one of the gals in the office who told me they were still testing the quality of the 2011 harvest. When it was all said and done, they discovered that the protein content for the Hard White Wheat, a variety of golden wheat that I use for many of our recipes, was in the 13% range. Too low.


You see, after milling grains and using 100% whole wheat and spelt for my bread recipes for several years, it became apparent that even a half percentage point in the protein department would make a huge difference in bread quality. Many bakeries use different ingredients, like gluten, to maintain consistency in their breads. These extra ingredients also have different preservatives and chemicals that I wish to eliminate from our products. That means I have to really pay attention to the quality of ingredients I get, since I don't have the margin of those "back up" elements.


Higher level of protein is what makes bread have a lighter texture. It causes the cells of the flour to have enough heft and structure to hold up to the rising action of the yeast. When baking cookies or cornbread or biscuits, one wants a lower level of protein, to make more of a crumb. But not in a chewy loaf of italian bread. Or a flexible tortilla. Or slice of toast that won't completely fall apart in the toaster.


So after a couple of phone calls back and forth with the grain company, speaking to the guy who does the lab tests and the lady who does the real life in the kitchen bread baking tests, we decided to skip buying the 20 fifty pound bags of this years wheat and to go for the 2010 harvest, which is still plenty fresh, should last for at least two more years, and has a protein content of 14.5%.


It is on an Old Dominion truck right now, heading south, along with almost 25 fifty pound bags of Organic spelt berries and some Organic Durum Semolina grain and some Organic Kamut and Rye.


It is good doing business with a company who does what they can to make sure I have the right ingredients for the type of bread I bake. The grain from this year's harvest will be just right for many other bakers, so it won't go to waste. But I won't be stuck with something that produces an inferior bread.


I hope it gets here soon so I can return to my regular bakery schedule.


Oh, and for you, Debi, and others who are wondering what the heck Spelt is, here is a brief description I give to all my customers!


Spelt is an ancient grain, granddaddy to modern wheat berries. It is a grass, its use traced back over 5000 years to what is now modern Syria. The grain was grown in Germany and then brought here to the US by religious groups who did not believe in the practice of hybridization. So spelt has been grown in closed communities, in small volume, without the use of pesticides or other chemicals, for many years. Never cross-pollinized with other types of wheat.


It is a very high protein grain, red in color, and sweet in taste, if freshly milled. It makes an amazing bread, cake and cookie, if you know how to use it. One of the things that makes it so desirable is that for some reason, many folks who are made ill by regular wheat products can eat spelt with no ill effects. Spelt is NOT gluten-free. In fact, it is very high in natural gluten. But some folks who negatively react to wheat products are not actually allergic to the gluten, but some other factor in the wheat.


Since spelt is a specialty grain, grown in less quantity that the standard hard red wheat that is cusomarily used for most of the nation's wheat products, it is very expensive. But I have noticed that my spelt customers are some of the most loyal of the bunch, thrilled to have access to a yummy bread or cake or cookie that doesn't make them sick.


I think spelt has a hearty, rich flavor, and I love how it works in the breads I bake. My kids don't really care about the nutritional benefits. But Maggie and Patrick can each consume a loaf of spelt almond raisin rye in one afternoon. And Nora especially likes the spelt chocolate chip cookies. Rose likes the spelt seedy loaf and Thomas can consume several grilled cheese sandwiches made from spelt Milk and honey bread. All in one sitting!


But for today, at least, the mill is silent and the bakery is gathering dust until that pallet of grain arrives. I certainly hope the truck gets here after school so I have some young man and woman power to get it into our bakery! At least it isn't 95 degrees.

9 comments:

Krys Mann said...

Hi, thanks for the information, it is really helpful. I bought your bread in VA when I was visiting my mom and have followed the blog ever since. I actually live on a small island in the Caribbean and make most of my bread/doughs etc but we don't have lots of good flour options to play with (just getting whole wheat or unbleached white can be a challenge). I recently saw some spelt flour in the grocery store and would love to try it as we love hearty bread but don't know how to substitute it for my recipes. I know with the flour we have received in the past if I sub the whole wheat for white, I need to add some vital wheat gluten to avoid brick like bread/pizza dough. I would love any advice you have or directions to recipes I could try.

CountryDew said...

That was a lot of information! I had no idea. I learned a lot.

Hope you all are doing great. I drove by your old place two weekends ago; it made me kind of sad.

It has rained here for the last 16 days. My husband has been trying to cut hay and his frustration is keen. Today, though, thankfully, it has been clear and I hope we're on a little Indian Summer warming trend.

gingerhillery@mac.com said...

Hi Krys, thanks for checking in! Wow, all the way from an island in the Caribbean! Part of your problem may be that the flour is too much like all purpose, which has a protein content of around 12-12.5% and that will not ever make a good loaf of yeast bread, but would make a good quick bread, like banana bread. If you can get spelt flour, I would try to substitute it for the regular flour in a recipe, but not a huge recipe, so you won't waste an expensive commodity in experimentation. It is more water soluble than other flours, so you might need to add less liquid. Be VERY careful to not add too much flour. Many people ruin their bread and make bricks because the dough is sticky so they keep adding more flour and then it is too much. If you are kneading by hand, this is going to be very tricky, but it can be done. Perhaps by using oil on your hands instead of flour, to make it work better. The end result dough should be bouncy. But as you start to work it, it will be quite sticky. You see, the kneading is developing the gluten which causes the dough to be flexible and stretchy. One trick I use is to make a sponge first. That is done by mixing all the ingredients, but only half the flour and minus any salt or fat(which both inhibit yeast development). It will be the consistency of cake batter. You beat it with a large spoon for a few minutes, t hen let the yeasty batter rise and double a time or two. It is so cool how that batter that is gloopy will become nice and stretchy and satiny, after an hour or two. But this will only happen if your flour has high enough protein %. After the sponge has developed, if the recipe calls for oil or salt add those things and the rest of the flour, bit by bit, beating in thoroughly. It is so very easy to add too much flour, so you want to add it gradually. I wish you could come over, because I would love to show you exactly what I am talking about!
Spelt is very hi protein naturally, so it should work just fine. I have never used vital wheat gluten but I know lots of great bakers who do. It might be necessary if you can't access great flour. Gosh, I think I just gave you way more info than you probably wanted! Will try to post my favorite pizza crust recipe. Easy and great. Email me for my milk and honey recipe!

gingerhillery@mac.com said...

Hi Anita! So glad you learned something. Makes me sad thinking about you driving by the old place, too.

I can remember the extreme frustration with rain and hay cutting. Gee. You need the rain to grow the grass and then you can't get the stuff put into bales. I will cross fingers and say a prayer that you will have a nice window to get it put up. I bet it was a great hay year. Wish we could figure out a way to get some of that hay brought out here to the suffering ranchers. Drought is brutal, isn't it? Miss you, but glad blogging keeps me connected with your goings on. I hope I can get back to school someday. In the meantime, tomorrow I am going to the university up the hill from our house to a symposium on economics and small business.

Krys Mann said...

Thanks Ginger, That information was really helpful. I do my bread by hand (with an import tax of 40% on all goods plus shipping, we have to justify extra appliances). If I can get Bread Flour, I do, but all purpose is sometimes the only option here with Whole wheat becoming a bit more common. I have a great book on pizza and dough written from an Italian writer and much like you said about avoiding adding too much flour and using oil as well as the process of working the gluten has been be helpful to me as If I know the reason why things happens, I can then work to correct it when it goes wrong or repeat it when it goes right. Your additional information just gives me more tools. I have an easy whole wheat pizza recipe we use constantly and even make little dough balls to dip in garlic butter (I use a grill pan and bake that and my bread on the grill , electricity is very expensive so we use the gas grill whenever possible.) I am going to pick up the spelt tomorrow and give it a shot...very excited! Thanks again

Greener Pastures--A City Girl Goes Country said...

Wow, that was interesting! Who knew? It doesn't surprise me that people don't get sick eating spelt like they do other grain because it hasn't been messed with by man. Usually whatever is natural is safer and healthier.

They only got one cutting of hay here Ginger.

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