I have been baking exclusively with spelt flour for the last several months and it all began when I bought a kilo of organic spelt flour from the Stybel flour stand at Orbanics. I had heard that spelt is supposed to be better for you: that it is easier to digest, higher in protein, high in complex carbohydrates, contains all 8 essential amino acids needed by the human body, and is loaded with key essential minerals and vitamins. But, it has taken me a long time to actually buy some to bake with. I bake almost exclusively with whole wheat flour, so I am used to working with a whole grain flour. I actually like the nuttiness of some of the heartier whole wheat flours and would always buy bread and other baked goods from the Vollkorn (Wholemeal) bakery when I lived in Germany. The funny thing is after all these years I didn’t realize that bread I used to buy the most was a whole kernel spelt bread (Dinkelflockenbrot).
Italians call it “Farro” and it is found in gourmet soups, pizza crusts, breads and cakes; in Umbria it is even used instead of durum wheat to make pasta.
Spelt (Triticum spelta) is an ancient grain that is member of the same grain family as common bread wheat, rye, oats and barley, but is an entirely different species. It is one of the original seven grains mentioned in Ezekiel 4:9: “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 …”. Sister Hildegard von Bingen (St. Hildegard), touted as one of the earliest health food nuts, said “the spelt is the best of grains. It is rich and nourishing and milder than other grain. It produces a strong body and healthy blood to those who eat it and it makes the spirit of man light and cheerful. If someone is ill, boil some spelt, mix it with egg and this will heal him like a fine ointment.”
Spelt was a popular grain up until the 19th century, when the common bread wheat was discovered to be easier to mill and give a much higher yield than spelt which was harder to process because it contains a very thick husk unlike its cousin. Spelt started showing up in health food stores in the 1980s, but has only recently shown a tremendous comeback since whole foods are shown to be much better for us.
Spelt is not wheat-free like some people are saying, and is definitely not gluten free. Celiac sufferers cannot consume products made from spelt, but some people with wheat allergies or wheat intolerance can eat small quantities of spelt. If, however, you have an allergy or intolerance to wheat, consult a doctor before you try eating products made with spelt.
Spelt is not difficult to bake with, but there are a few important pointers to ensure a successful baked-good:
- Unlike all-purpose flour, where you can get away with not always sifting the flour, it is important to sift spelt flour before using it. Otherwise, you may end up with a lumpy dough or cake batter.
- Compared to wheat flour, spelt flour needs less liquid to make the same consistency dough. Use three-quarters the amount of liquid relative to that you would use with wheat flour. For example, if a particular recipe requires 1 cup of liquid when mixed with wheat flour, it would need ¾ of a cup when using spelt flour.
- Do not overmix the batter or overknead the dough. The gluten in spelt is not as durable as in other wheat and may result in a crumbly or tough texture.
- It is recommended to keep spelt flour in your refrigerator or freezer to maintain its freshness.
Don’t be afraid to bake with spelt, it makes a really light loaf of bread with an appealing nutty flavour. The high protein in the spelt results in a very light, soft-textured bread that isn’t crumbly when sliced. It also makes a light, soft-textured cake.
Pie crust adapted from a recipe from the The Pie and Pastry Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum
170g (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cold
2 cups spelt flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
127g (4.5 ounces) cream cheese, cold and cut into 3 or 4 pieces
2 tablespoons ice water
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 tablespoon caster sugar
1/4 cup Demerara sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons ground cardamom
1kg (2-1/4 pounds) fresh sour cherries, pitted, or 3 packages of 380 grams (2 pounds) frozen sour cherries, partially thawed and drained
In a large bowl, mix the cherries with the sugar, cornstarch and cardamom. Add more sugar if the cherries are too tart.
Cut the butter into small (about 3/4-inch) cubes. Wrap it in plastic wrap and freeze it until frozen solid. Place the flour, salt, and baking powder in freezer bag and freeze for at least 30 minutes.
Place the flour mixture in a food processor with the metal blade and process for a few seconds to combine. Add the cream cheese and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the butter and pulse until it is in even small pieces, each a little larger than a pea. Add the water and the vinegar and pulse until the pieces of butter are the size of tiny peas. The mixture will be separate tiny pieces. Do not pulse into a mass.
Divide the mixture into two ziploc bags and knead the mixture just until the dough comes together. Flatten into discs and refrigerate for at least 45 minutes or overnight.
Grease a 22-inch (9-inch) pie pan. Roll out the bottom crust and place in the pan. Add the cherry filling and cover with the top crust. Cut slits in the top crust or cut out a decorative design to let the steam out of the pie while it is baking. Crimp the edges decoratively. Brush the crust with an egg wash and sprinkle the top with caster sugar.
Place the pie on baking sheet and bake at 200C (400F) for 20 minutes. Cover the edges with a foil collar to prevent over-browning. Continue to bake until the filling bubbles and the crust is golden brown, about 25-30 minutes longer. Transfer the pie to rack and cool for at least 1 hour. Serve warm or at room temperature.