For many of us, our relationship with food is a never-ending journey. Sometimes to move forward one finds themselves looking back. For bread and specifically the grains used to make it I find that the best results are indeed found in reflection. It is sometimes true that modern ingenuity has value for us, but that is usually only when paired with ancient wisdom. For grains, that wisdom is in the ancient varieties that have been grown for thousands of years.
Ancient Grains are grains, pseudo-grains, and cereals that predate modern genetic manipulation and hybridization or went through a very primitive form of selection by those growing and eating them. Types of Ancient Grain include Emmer, Rye, Spelt, Einkorn, Durum, Amaranth, Buckwheat, Barley, Millet, brown rice, and many more. The uses of each of these are as diverse as there are types and subtypes. Modern hybrids are cultivated for baking purposes and are a wonderful combination of texture, flavor, and protein properties. In my baking, I use Ancient Grains and some modern hybridized wheat to add depth of flavor without sacrificing nutrition and our connection to the past.
In using Ancient Grains in bread you can discover the range and flexibility that they have in adding distinct characteristics that can be tailored to the desired end-state. For example, Rye is an absolutely incredibly diverse grain in how it can be applied to baking as well as culinary purposes. In small percentages, 15-25%, added to a mix of sifted hard white flour yields a loaf of bread that is light, fluffy, and white with a delightful chewiness as well as a deeply caramelized crust. Rye is flexible enough that it can be used as a thickening agent for sauces and gravy or make a salted chocolate Rye cookie that is absolutely heavenly. In terms of adding different flavors and textures to bread, the combination of Ancient Grains is endless. The methodology of how to incorporate an Ancient Grain into bread is also endless. Sprouted, soaked and made into porridge, or simply ground in various percentages the flavor profile of bread can be altered dramatically based on the desired end state.
Similarly, Spelt flour grinds to a very fine grain and is softer than store-bought all-purpose flour. Adding it into a loaf of bread in moderate percentages will add a creamy texture and flavor that is entirely unique. Also, replacing bleached white pastry flour with Spelt in a pie dough recipe with buttermilk will take everything to a new level of flakiness and flavor. The correct application of an ancient grain will change the way you bake, cook, and eat.
One aspect of ancient grains that is important to note is that they can sometimes be frustrating to work with. In the example of Rye above, it truly makes or breaks a basic white loaf of bread in small quantities. Pushing your bake longer and deepening the color of the crust will create not just a meal but a memory. However, if you don’t add enough water to the mix to accommodate the increase in absorption of Rye flour the final result can instead be very dry and stale. With Spelt, if you add too much water, it won’t absorb and could fall flat in the oven. With patience and a little guidance, ancient grains used in bread and baking will transcend the entire experience.
With almost everything, the best source for ancient grains is reputable farms that respect the origin of their food and understand the symbiotic relationship between farming the soil and the final result. Like a really flavorful carrot, Rye berries ground with care and without adulterates are a wonderful addition to your diet. In winter months, when rye is available seasonally, dense and thick Rye bread is a nutrient powerhouse that can bridge the gap between the late fall harvest and early spring wild plants. And in spring, with the first crops of Spelt, you can make a light and fluffy honey brioche loaf that will be unmatched.
By learning about the breadth of different grains you can unlock the most delicious flavor combinations imaginable. The difficulty in trying bold and complex recipes will pay off over time one thousand times over. Small mistakes are amplified however the successes will be dramatic and truly memorable.
Director of Operations, DCG