Thursday, 28 August 2014

Bread and Beer: Spelt

Whole Grain Loaf with Sprouted Spelt
Brewing and baking complement each other in various ways: key to both is an understanding of the logic behind your process, the stages of fermentation in the product, and the ways in which modification in the former can shape the latter and change the flavour profile of whatever it is you are making.   The most recent Tartine Book by baker Chad Robertson contains an extended digression comparing the fermentation cycle of lambics with the much shorter cycle of naturally risen breads:
"Lambic brewers are conducting a symphony of natural processes, acting as both catalysts and shepherds in an attempt to achieve the desired outcome. The notion that the pattern has a specific sequence was a revelation; there was surely something valuable in this discovery related to bread. Lambic beers typically go through at least five distinct phases of fermentation. Unlike more common styles of beer where the flavor character is mostly determined by the types of grain and hops used, lambic’s complex character is shaped in large part by the wild fermentation, which changes with seasonal temperature fluctuations among other things. The origins of the lambic process and the way our bread was taking shape were closely related. Over time, the concept of sequential phases of fermentation would illuminate parts of my bread-baking process that had been invisible before.
Tartine bread goes through a process closer to a 24-hour cycle than the 24-month cycle of lambic beer. With bread I am working with fewer dominant types of wild microorganisms than the extraordinarily diverse process that produces lambic. But as much as I try to control the process on the one hand, letting the wild fermentation go through very active phases to develop depths of flavor is key to my approach. Minimal manipulation in the early stages—to allow maximum expression and transformation wrought by the microflora—is always the goal."
But there is also a more mundane overlap between baking and brewing in the ingredients its useful to have on hand.  Since I don't have a flour mill, in my case this is limited to raw grains that I can crush for brewing, or use whole or coarsely chopped in baking: things like spelt, rye, buckwheat, etc.  I confess I enjoy the thought that I can use these grains to make either beer or bread: it fits with the no doubt romanticized picture of traditional farmhouse ales, brewed with whatever grains were on hand, all of which might also be put to various other uses around the farm.

Whole spelt can be used in a variety of ways in bread, but it must first be rehydrated one way or another.  This achieves two important goals: softening the grain so that it won't be too tough in the final bread, but also beginning some enzyme activity (similar to what goes on in the mash) that make various minerals nutritionally available and begins breaking down starches into sugars.  One way to achieve this is by making a "soaker", hydrating coarsely ground grains in water overnight.  I've tried this a few times, but more recently I've been germinating the grains first by briefly hydrating them, the leaving them to sprout for a day or two (this is the process that is initiated and then halted in malting grains).  One final technique, which I haven't tried, involves basically mashing the grains or boiling them into a gelatinized porridge, then using this as part of the dough for the final bread.  This last method is closest to how we use these grains in beer.

I've used raw spelt three or four times when brewing, usually as a substitute for wheat malt in saisons and farmhouse beers.  I don't know if I could pick out differences between the two in separate beers, but I have noticed that spelt seems to improve the perception of body without being quite as silky as oats---something that can be useful when you're trying to make beers that are dry but not too thin or astringent.  The spelt saison I brewed with The Yeast Bay's saison blend remains one of my favourite home brews, and I recently added dry hops to another bitter, hoppy saison brewed with spelt which was also tasting very promising.

When using raw spelt in small quantities  (less that 5% of the grist), I usually just mash it along with everything else, though perhaps taking the time to change the gap on my Corona mill and give it a finer crush (raw grains are often difficult to mill).  When using a higher proportion, I now do a cereal mash with the spelt and a small amount of base malt. As I understand it, spelt should gelatinize at mash temperatures, making a cereal mash unnecessary; but the one time I tried to skip this step, my efficiency dipped considerably.  It may be that crushing the spelt more finely (or using rolled or even malted spelt) would have facilitated gelatinization, so that more of the starch was converted and my efficiency remained the same.  However since its raw spelt I use in baking, and the cereal mash isn't too much extra work, this is the process I've settled on.

Cereal Mash
You can find good accounts of the science behind cereal mashing online; my process is fairly simple.  I draw out a quart or two of water from my main kettle, add the crushed spelt along with a handful of base malt, and heat it to around 150°F; I hold it here for about 10 minutes, then bring the mixture to a boil, stirring it regularly for anywhere between 15 and 30 minutes, until I have a thick and gloopy porridge.  This then goes back into my main kettle, which by this point is on its way up to strike-in temperatures.  I add the rest of the grist, and mash as normal.

I'll post tasting notes and recipe for my most recent spelt saison in a few weeks when its bottled and carbonated.  In the meantime, with the weekend coming up, I'm finally back to brewing again!

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