Ancient Grains May Be the Answer, Or Not?
By the time you read this, I will be digesting the latest information on Whole Grains. I’m leaving for a conference on the current state of affairs surrounding our understanding of wheat, whole grains, and gluten.
You see, while the bread aisle of your favorite market may seem peaceful, there is an ongoing battle over all the gluten and wheat intolerances going around. You may be celiac, which means that you can never eat gluten of any kind. But if you are suffering from one of the many other forms of gluten or wheat intolerance, well, the jury is still out.
In fact, there is a growing movement to look beyond the gluten protein as the problem, and to seek a more nuanced, complicated understanding of all this. Is the problem all because we are using Modern, hybrid wheats? Is it the way that the flours are separated and then reassembled at the big mills? Is it the way the commercial yeasts and quick processes don’t break down the components in the flour the way slow and natural fermentation always did? Is it our flawed inner bacterial biome, lacking in the necessary probiotics to digest the bread?
I’m hoping to get closer to an answer, but it may be a while before anyone can conclusively figure all this out.
One thing that would rock the world of bread (if proven) is the idea that it’s all in the milling. What if, as some of the new wheat avengers believe, all we have to do is stone-grind our wheat, and all will be well? Most of us are blissfully unaware of what goes on at the mill, where it turns out, bran and germ are stripped from the grain, to be added back to the whole wheat flour later. The theory is that in this process, something vital is left out. Whole grains should be ground whole, and used quickly, to make a loaf that will be easy on the system.
Add to that the movement to resurrect Ancient Wheats, like Kamut, Spelt, Einkorn and Emmer, and you have a return to whole, real food that can’t be bad, even if it doesn’t solve the gluten problem.
So, to give some of this theory a try, I got a grain mill, and started playing around with grinding flours. It was fortuitous that the Wonder Mill people were looking for bloggers to try their mill at the same time that I was ready to get grinding again. I got into it once before, when I bought a grain mill attachment for my stand mixer. For several months I baked freshly ground kamut flour breads, before becoming disillusioned with the grinder. The flour that came out of it was hot to the touch, giving off visible steam as it ground, so I stopped.
One thing that the visionary bakers working with ancient grains agree on is that they have fragile gluten. Chad Robertson wrote the gorgeous new book Tartine Book 3 (Chronicle Books), and shared his slow and painstaking process for making his superlative breads. Of course, I am too lazy to make a full on wild starter, so I decided to make a yeasted slow risen, no knead focaccia, just to see how it went.
It was delicious. I think it’s a shortcut that can work, if you aren’t ready to start a wild yeast culture in your kitchen.
Here is the very wet, loose dough.
I used the spatula to gently scoop under the dough and fold it over itself periodically throughout the day. Six hours later I scraped it delicately onto a heavily cornmeal-dusted baking pan.
I covered it with chopped garlic and rosemary, salt and pepper and olive oil.
It bake up to a lovely golden brown.
You can certainly make this with already ground kamut, einkorn, spelt or other ancient wheat flour, too.
So try the whole, ancient flour approach and see if it works for you!
- 440 g kamut, ground to make 4 cups flour
- 3 cups warm water
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons yeast
- olive oil for pan, plus 2 T for topping
- cornmeal for pan
- 3 cloves garlic, chopped
- 2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, chopped
- coarse salt and freshly cracked pepper
- In a large bowl, stir all the ingredients until mixed. Don’t worry that it’s lumpy or loose. Cover with a wet towel or a pot lid to keep from drying out on top. Every 30 minutes, or hour, fold the dough across itself very gently, then turn the bowl a quarter turn and do it again. Try not to deflate.
- Do this for six hours or so.
- Preheat the oven, with a baking stone, to 425 F. Oil a large roasting pan and sprinkle heavily with coarse cornmeal Gently scrape the dough onto the cornmeal and spread lightly. Cover with the wet towel and let rise as the oven heats. Mix the olive oil, garlic and rosemary.
- When the oven is hot, drizzle the garlic mixture over the dough and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
- Bake for about 20 minutes, the edges will get quite crisp and brown and it will feel firm to the touch.
- Cool on the pan for 5 minutes, before carefully removing with a metal spatula.
- Serve with toppings of choice, like soft goat cheese or butter, or cool and split to use for sandwiches or panini.