Add new flavor profiles to products or create gluten-free items by incorporating ancient grains into existing formulas. This teff apple pie provides a nutty contrast to tart apples.
Long before wheat dominated the world of leavened bread baking, early cultures were discovering and domesticating wild grasses and plants. Where once there were numerous types of grains to choose from, today, corn, wheat and rice dominate the agricultural landscape. With the exception of corn and rice, other non-wheat grains were less widely cultivated and therefore are less widely available. However, consumer interest in ancient grains is growing. Bakers are using ancient grains to offer products made with whole grains, gluten-free products and breads with a unique, authentic flavor profile.
For a variety of reasons, these specialty grains are typically processed as whole grain flour. Products made with these grains give the baker a chance to experiment with new flavor profiles that will bring a tremendous diversity to production lines.
Flours milled from spelt, einkorn and emmer, ancestors of modern wheat, contain the proteins necessary to make gluten. In today's marketplace, only spelt is still widely available. Einkorn and emmer are harder to source and significantly more expensive. The fact that these ingredients are directly related to wheat makes them easy to introduce into existing baking formulas. They have some levels of functional gluten and will have some effects on the dough systems depending on the level of inclusion. Inclusion rates can range from 1 to 100 percent of the T.F.W. (total flour weight), however, these strains of wheat do not produce the volume of the finished product due to the ratio of gliadins and glutenins. Fermentation times and tolerances, volume and crumb structure will vary depending on inclusion rates.
Buckwheat, amaranth, and quinoa are broadleaf plants, but their seeds can be processed as true cereal grains. In general, these gluten-free pseudo-cereals have more amino acids, making them a better nutritional source of complete proteins. Traditional uses include leavened or unleavened flatbreads. The pseudo-cereal family of seeds typically absorbs and holds hydration well, which allows the final products to retain moisture after the bake.
Millet, sorghum and teff are not related to wheat, so they contain no gluten. Ancient grasses tend to be poor retainers of hydration and thus benefit the most from long contact with water and/or pre-gelatinization through par cooking. In dough systems, they can create unique dough handling characteristics. It is important to ensure that there is enough water in your dough to swell these tougher starches fully. Doughs with these grains can be very sticky, so use an appropriate amount of flour to release this dough at all stages of fermentation (i.e., bulk, divide/pre-shape, final proof). Boards, baskets or linens must be floured appropriately to ensure easy removal.
For many, the thought of whole grains once conjured images of drab, dry, leaden loaves of bread or gritty mystery muffins. Fortunately, this is changing, as research continues to show that a diet rich in whole grains is beneficial and people demand more healthful yet flavorful choices. Not only are whole grains good for health, but when treated properly, they can provide the same pleasing textures associated with traditional products. They also can produce new flavors, both subtle and robust.
One popular approach to incorporating whole grains is to “sneak” them into favorite formulas. This provides the fiber and nutritional benefits while still offering a familiar product. Another approach is to emphasize the positive qualities of a particular grain. This approach appeals to those who enjoy the unique flavors and textures available outside of the world of refined wheat flour. The pie dough in this teff apple pie incorporates a moderate amount of teff flour, which provides a deliciously nutty backdrop for the sweet and tart apples.
Working with ancient grains
When working with non-glutinous flours (pseudo-cereals and ancient grasses), you have to more aware of the source of the flours. A variety of mills offer the same flours with different milling processes and different particle sizes, resulting in significantly different flour handling properties. For example, the rate of water absorption for the same flour varies greatly from mill to mill. Water absorption also varies significantly from grain to grain. The pseudo-cereals tend to absorb and hold significantly more moisture, acting more like a paste, than the ancient grass-based flours, which tend to remain gritty in dough systems. The fact that these flours are gluten-free makes their inclusion rates critical. The minimum percent inclusion rate to achieve a noticeable flavor enhancement is to replace 10 percent of the total flour weight (TFW) in your existing formula. This is easily added with minimal interference of the gluten structure being developed by the dough. As you approach a 15 percent inclusion rate, the interference becomes more noticeable. The dough will become more fragile and will require modified mixing and handling. Inclusion rates above 15 percent are possible, but require more attention at all stages. As you approach inclusion rates greater than 50 percent, it is important to understand the limitations of the gluten structures within these doughs.
Looking to the traditional uses of these grains will help understand how to work with them in a modern bakery. Typically, these grains were used to make flatbreads. Flatbreads do not require internal structure, and it is possible to make flatbreads with high inclusion rates (more than 50 percent TFW). The method of inclusion also is important. While dry inclusions are easier to facilitate, they do not offer as much flavor to the final dough as pre-fermenting the flour. Traditional pre-ferments should be used as a basis for flavor development. The most advantageous preferment is one that uses high hydration, such as poolish or liquid starters. This high hydration pre-ferment allows the grains time to hydrate more fully. Depending on the finished product, it may even be necessary to pre-gelatinize some or all these flours by par-cooking with hot water to partially swell the starches prior to the final mixing and ensure full hydration during the bake. Grains such as millet, sorghum and teff do not absorb or hold water well at room temperature, and can greatly benefit from a pre-gelatinization technique.
Whether using dry or pre-gelatinized flour, these grains also greatly benefit from pre-fermentation, which allows the full flavor of the grain to emerge. The flavor profiles of each grain are unique and pleasing. Acidifying your specialty flours through a sourdough preferment magnifies and maximizes the true essence of the grain. Creating an ancient grain starter is a fairly simple way to extrapolate these unique flavors. This can be done quickly through the manipulation of an already existing sourdough culture. With any culture you already have, you can seed a new ancient starter. Using equal parts specialty flour and water, add 40 percent existing sourdough seed and mix until incorporated. Allow it to mature at room temperature for 12 hours. Repeat this feeding every 12 hours. Within one full day’s feeding, the starter will have transformed into a new and unique culture ready for use. Mature cultures can be used as “wild yeast” sourdough. With the application of new sourdoughs, you can begin to create new and unique formulas from specialty flours, with a variety of new flavor profiles.
The San Francisco Baking Institute (SFBI) is a world-renowned leader in artisan bread and pastry education. Its global alumni base includes thousands of professionals, educators and enthusiasts. Critics hail its book, Advanced Bread and Pastry, as the authoritative textbook in the field. SFBI is conducting a five-day workshop on ancient grains from June 28-July 2 and five-day workshops on whole grains and specialty flours Feb. 8-12, June 21-25 and Sept. 13-17 in San Francisco. For more information about the classes or for more formulas incorporating ancient grains, visit SFBI's website, www.sfbi.com.