An emmer loaf…

Emmer (Triticum dicoccum), is a seriously ancient form of wheat, its first recorded cultivation dating back to around  9,000 BC, in south-east Turkey. These days, it’s the grain known as farro in Italy, though it’s also grown in other countries. Wikipedia will tell you more than you ever wanted to know about it.

The references to spelt in the Bible, are now known to be a mistranslation, and emmer is what was meant, as spelt was, geographically at least, very unlikely, while emmer was widely known throughout the historical Middle East and Mediterranean. Spelt, on the other hand, from its origins 5,000 years BC in Transcaucasia, moved westwards, and has always been primarily a European grain, before being carried to the Americas. (Pedant’s note – this is a simplification.)

Wikipedia also says, somewhat sniffily (presumably being Mother’s Pride  fans), that “Ethnographic evidence from Turkey and other emmer-growing areas suggests that emmer makes good bread (judged by the taste and texture standards of traditional bread). My italics.

The clear implication being that traditional bread is in some way inferior. To what? Modern, soya-flour laden, vinegar-dosed, Chorleywood crap? Yeah, right…

Based on my first experience, emmer bread is likely to be pretty damn good by any standards. It’s also (pane di farro),  popular in some regions of Italy, so it must have something going for it.

The flour, under my living room mini-fluorescent lights, has an attractive pinkish colour. In daylight, and under the kitchen fluorescent tube, it’s beige, as, in fact, was the resulting bread (don’t let that put you off – bread, made with anything other than highly-processed white flour, is almost never white; it is NOT a defect). Clearly, the colour balance of mini fluorescents is all to hell.

Everything I’ve read suggests that emmer is low in gluten, though getting accurate figures has proven impossible, so I decided to treat it as I would spelt taking:-

200g Wholemeal, organic, emmer flour

300g Unbleached, organic, strong white bread flour (both from Shipton Mill)

2 teaspoons fine sea salt

3 tablespoons e-v olive oil

A scant teaspoon of malt extract

1¼ teaspoons Fermipan yeast

300ml lukewarm water (all but 20ml was used, making it 56% hydration)

I made a starter as usual. 100ml or so of the measured water was poured into a small mug, and the malt extract stirred in and dissolved, followed by a tablespoon of the mixed flours (before adding the salt), and a teaspoon of yeast – the rest was added to the flour, to give it a bit of a boost. Stir vigorously until all lumps are gone, and leave for 20 minutes or so.

As soon as the yeast mixture had frothed up thickly, it was added to salted, well-mixed, flours, with most of the rest of the water – I held back about 30ml, as usual.

The dough proved very easy to mix, just needing another 10ml of water to encourage a little recalcitrant flour to behave. Once mixed, it was surprisingly sticky so, rather than dust it with flour, I just let the dough sit in the bowl for 10 minutes, after which the outside had become surprising dry, but the whole, when kneaded, was very easy to handle, and the dryness of the outside soon got worked into the. dough and disappeared (and no, there was no sign of it in the finished bread).

The first kneading gave the impression that the dough was quite high in gluten – something you don’t normally feel at that stage. I set it aside for its first proving, tightly covered with clingfilm as normal. That took about an hour – pretty average.

The second kneading, the one that normally develops the gluten, also felt the dough firm up after a couple of minutes, so I took the hint, rolled up the dough and divided it into two equal (weighed), parts. They were shaped into balls and sat on a sheet of baking parchment, on my peel (so they could be slipped into the oven without being disturbed), and spritzed with olive oil – this stops the dough drying out, and also gives a light, crisp, crust.

I covered them with a clear plastic bowl, and tossed a clean tea-towel over that, and left them to get on with the business of rising – something of an unknown quantity. The clear bowl is used so I can see what’s going on without disturbing the warm, moist, microclimate than develops under it – the towel not only helps retain warmth, it stops condensation forming inside the bowl, and blocking the view (my kitchen is subject to cold draughts at times). Bread treated like this does actually rise better.

They rose better than expected (better, for example, than the same amount of rye would have), though not as much a an all-white-flour loaves would have, which was as I expected, and when I judged that it was all I was going to get, I dredged them lightly with white flour*, slashed a single cut across the top, and moved them to a pre-heated oven, at 200C, for 30 minutes.

*This is purely cosmetic – it adds nothing to the taste – but loaves do look better for it.

I had no idea how much less time, if any, two small loaves needed, compared to one large one. In the event, 30 minutes turned out pretty well. I initially thought the bread was a tiny bit undercooked, and I though 35 minutes would have been better. Now I’m not so sure. Still, 30-35 minutes, or 35-40 for one large loaf, will be fine.

The bread, when sliced, proved to be remarkably light and moist (as emmer is higher in fibre than wheat, I was expecting a coarse bread), quite unlike other wholemeal flours, with a light, but definite, flavour, and I like it, a lot. So much so that this might become my standard loaf (currently white with 10% light rye).

The crust, by the way, was amazingly light and crisp – far more so than with white flour alone.

Next week, I intend to try a 100% emmer loaf. The recipe, apart from that, will be as above.

I think emmer rolls might be rather nice, too

My emmer, like all my flours now, came from Shipton Mill. Be aware, if you go there, that there is a defect in their software – unless you use lower case for the letters in your Post Code, you won’t be able to check out.

Given that it will piss off many people who are unable to check out, as I was initially, and they are likely to just think Sod it, and go elsewhere, I’ve suggested, politely, that fixing the error might be a good idea. So far, a couple of months on, it hasn’t happened, so I think it’s pretty clear it’s not going to. Frankly, that’s just dumb. Not to mention perverse.