BAKE: My Experiments with Spelt
When I was about seven or eight, I would often accompany my great aunt to buy vitamins at our local health food store, aptly named Salud. I loved going with her because the long walk in the hot Puerto Rican sun was always rewarded with fresh pineapple juice and a carrot muffin to take home. The muffins, which were always individually wrapped in a basket by the register, were moist, slightly oily, sweetly spicy, and hearty. They tasted like nothing else did in my world.
Through the years I have played with different recipes and flours trying to find what to me is a wonderful trifecta of attributes in a baked good: nutritious, flavorful, and delightful. Over and over the flour that I turn to for this is spelt, a species of wheat that has been grown and used for millennia — from ancient Roman wedding cakes to matzo to modern day baking. There is so much to love about spelt. Rich in protein, fiber, and B vitamins, it makes a tender flour that has a nutty, slightly sweet flavor. Spelt can often be substituted cup for cup (with all-purpose wheat) in baked goods.
Swapping spelt flour for all-purpose can be a little bit of a trial-and-error process at first, but I’ve never found swapping the two to produce an epic fail. Cake, muffin, pancake, and flatbread recipes are great places to experiment. You can also swap smaller quantities, like 25% to 50% of the all-purpose flour, to add more flavor to a recipe you already love. One of my favorite places to do this is with pasta dough. Substituting half of the semolina flour in pasta dough with spelt flour makes for an extra tasty pasta that is particularly lovely with mushrooms.
While spelt does contain gluten and is unsuitable for anyone with celiac disease or any other gluten allergy, it’s often tolerable for those with mild sensitivities. The gluten in spelt is different from the kind found in regular wheat flour, and the gluten proteins it does contain are are also very low. Fermenting a spelt dough or batter is also a great way of making that small amount of gluten even more digestible.
A savory fermented spelt dough can be used for empanadas, pizzas, or flatbreads; it’s more doughy than flakey, hearty, and very tasty. While the spelt dough needs to rise a minimum of 12 hours, it is at its best when it has a few more days. The dough complements all sorts of fillings. I have paired it with apples and Brussels sprouts, but it’s great (and very pretty) with red cabbage, caramelized onions, and Comté cheese, or with ricotta and roasted delicata squash. You can dream of what you will use as a topping or filling while you wait for the dough to rise.
BAKE is an ongoing series of columns about baking as a facet of wellbeing.
- Reduce gluten
- Boost protein, fiber, and B vitamins
- Achieve a tender texture
- Add a nutty flavor