The other day I read an article online about wheat and health. In doing further research I discovered that there is quite a dispute going on over the folks who advocate the gluten-free diet and those who believe that switching from white to whole-grain wheat products will be better for the health of anyone who doesn't actually have Celiac Disease.
But for those who are dealing with that illness, there is yet another school of thought that says that it is the long process of modifying wheat that has produced a new type of wheat that is a kind of super-carbohydrate.
I knew that there is a high-protein wheat, semolina, that is used to make pasta, among other products. High-protein wheat does not dissolve into shreds when boiled, which does make it preferable for pasta products. But you don't make bread out of it.
The "bread flour" that you see in the supermarkets of Tucson is the high-protein flour that has been developed for baking. But you don't make cookies or coffee cake out of it.
So are you going to end up with all-purpose flour, pastry flour and bread flour on your shelves or in your freezer? I certainly did, until I stopped buying bread flour because I get the kind of bread that I want by using all-purpose flour, milk and good yeast (I use SAF).
The artisanal bread recipes that I have shared recently call for both whole-wheat and all-purpose flour, but that doesn't answer the question: why was wheat modified through years of cross-pollination? Is there really such a thing as this super-carb?
I discovered that the gluten-free folks think so, absolutely. That prompted me to wonder whether there is also such a thing as Heirloom Wheat, that is produced from earlier generations of wheat that has remained unaltered through the years.
Well, turns out there is. The first thing that came to mind is Spelt, a grain that is associated in my mind with ancient Rome. I learned long ago that Spelt is a forerunner of wheat, and I have often wanted to bake with it and see what comes out. Now I am planning to pick some up at Sprouts in Tucson, because it is marketed here and isn't too hard to find.
But there is also Heirloom Wheat. Search it on the Internet and you will be referred to several small mills that are willing to ship their products, and I picked out one that I will be contacting for a couple of ten-pound bags of all-purpose-type flour.
The name of this mill is Heartland Mill, but it is by no means the only flour company listed in the search that I did. I have been in the habit of preferring King Arthur flours, but I am going to order some Heirloom Wheat and see if it has any effect on the weight-loss efforts that I have made since I had a health crisis last year.
If I can talk her into it, I will get my daughter to try some heirloom bread. The contention of some of the heirloom spokespeople is that before you give up gluten and wheat flour, you should change the flour and see if the new cross-strains of super carbohydrate wheat are the problem. So I am going to do that.
I will also talk to the folks at the Organic Bakery on north Oracle Road in Tucson and get their opinion, and information on whether they use heirloom wheat flour or not.
Meanwhile, if you are game for some spelt, try this recipe with commentary from Rebecca Wood.
"Spelt bread has a pleasing, nutty flavor and a substantial texture. It makes great breakfast toast, canapés and sandwiches. For a lighter flavor and texture, use up to 50% white spelt flour.
Note: it is important that you don’t over-knead spelt dough."
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
2 cups warm water (105° to 110° F)
3 tablespoons honey or sugar
3 tablespoons melted butter or olive oil
2 teaspoons sea salt
6 cups spelt flour (use any combination of whole or white spelt)
Combine the yeast, water and honey in a large warm bowl. Let it stand for 10 minutes or until the yeast softens. Stir in the butter and salt and 3 cups of the flour. Stir vigorously with a wooden spoon. Add the remaining flour in increments until the dough becomes too stiff to stir, then place the dough on a lightly floured surface. Knead for about 6 minutes, adding any remaining flour as necessary, until the dough becomes smooth and elastic. Do not over-knead.
You can also place these ingredients in an electric mixer bowl and combine them using the bread hook attachment, leaving it on Speed 2 for no more than 5 minutes.
Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl. Cover and let it rise in a warm, draft-free spot for about 2 hours or until it has doubled in bulk.
Grease two 8 ½” x 4 ½” loaf pans. Punch the dough down to deflate it and divide it in half. Form each half into a smooth loaf and place it in a prepared pan. Cover and let rise in a warm, draft-free spot for about 1 hour or until the dough has risen to the top of the pans.
Preheat the oven to 350° F.
Uncover the risen loaves. Place the pans on a heavy baking sheet and bake for 45 minutes or until the tops are light brown and crusty. Remove from the oven and tap out of the pan into the baking sheet. Turn the oven off and return the breads to the oven to crisp for 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack.
This recipe stands or falls on the flavor that spelt flour imparts to bread. It can't be too far from wheat, though, since apparently wheat is descended from it. I will share results in a future column, and I hope for feedback from readers as well.