I Love Baking with Kamut Flour!

I love working with ancient grain flour. To me, there’s a certain romance to working with grain that bread makers have used for thousands of years. To think that I’d be working with flour made from grain that bakers from ancient civilizations used makes my mind wander back to those ancient times and what it would have been like to bake back then.

Kamut, which is the commercial name for Khorasan wheat is an ancient grain that I discovered several months, but with which I only started recently baking. Its exact origin is unclear, but it is named after a historical area called “Khorasan” which was a region in what is known as the Fertile Crescent in the Middle East. The predominant civilizations that occupied that area were the Mesopotamians and Sumerians. If they were cultivating and using that grain, we’re talking about a grain that was used thousands of years ago! And we’re talking about 5,000+ years ago. I don’t know about you, but to me at least, that’s incredibly exciting!

But other than the romanticism I’ve assigned to the grain, baking with Kamut flour is incredible. Similar to durum flour, it absorbs water slowly, so it requires an autolyse period. And like durum flour, once hydrated, it forms a luxurious, highly pliable dough. And again, like durum or other whole grain flour, it absorbs a lot of water. Most of the bread I make with it is in the 78-82% hydration rate range. Even at those levels, the dough is very workable and not too tacky.

Interestingly enough, Kamut has a lower protein content than durum and whole wheat. The Kamut flour I use from Azure Standard, is rated at 11.7% protein, which is along the lines of King Arthur or Bob’s AP flour. So I often mix it with a little vital wheat gluten to get the protein content to around 14%. The reason for this is that even though it is milled to a super-smooth consistency, it still is a whole grain and will tend to cut the gluten strands. Admittedly, I’m still experimenting with how much vital wheat gluten I add.

As far as baking is concerned, see the loaves in the picture above? They were all made with 40% Kamut flour. The baguettes used 20% high-extraction and 40% AP Flour, whereas the batards used 10% whole wheat (from the starter), 30% high-extraction, and 20% AP Flour. For the batards, with that much bran in the dough, I wasn’t expecting large holes. But look at the oven spring of those loaves! It’s absolutely incredible. The batards exploded in the oven. The crumb, though not possessed of big holes was still really light and airy. And the texture – OMG, the texture – was absolutely fabulous!

And don’t get me started on the taste. Kamut flour adds a slight sweetness and a definite nuttiness to the flavor of the bread. Even though it’s whole grain flour, you don’t get that grain-forward taste. The taste is akin to macadamia nuts, and it’s addictive. I gave one of the loaves to a friend who brought it over to her aunt’s for a small luncheon. The ladies loved it so much they ate over half of it at lunchtime, then according to my friend, they polished it off at dinner. That loave was not small, weighing in at over 2 1/2 pounds.

It also helped that the sourdough was made from a nectarine botanical starter I had just cultivated. The fruity notes in the starter definitely integrated well Kamut’s nuttiness. Even my family who has gotten pretty used to having artisan bread around loved that loaf. Many sandwiches and avocado toasts were made.

Along with durum, Kamut flour will most likely be a regular blending flour for me. Technically, I could do 100% Kamut, but it’s relatively expensive at $1.57/pound. Contrast that to Durum, which is $0.94/pound. I’ve got to stretch it to make it last. Plus, I can only get it in 25-lb bags, which is a bummer. I’d love to be able to get 50-lb bags. But Kamut has limited cultivation in the US, so it’s definitely not as available as other flour.

I’m so glad I discovered Kamut. Like I said, It’ll be part of my regular flour blend from here on out!

Caveat Emptor! Where You Buy Your Flour Matters!

When I first started getting serious about baking artisan bread, I knew that I’d be eventually going through flour pretty quickly. So I researched various places in which I could purchase bulk flour in amounts equal to or greater than 25 lbs..

The obvious first choice to look was at the largest online retailer that we all know and… we all know… It’s tempting to go there because with Prime, there’s free shipping. But here’s the thing: The retailers jack up the price of the flour. How do you think they can ship for free?

For instance, to get a 50 lb bag of King Arthur Sir Galahad flour (the brand that is the bakery/restaurant equivalent to their retail AP flour), the cheapest I saw it was around $59.00 with free shipping. BUT I can get 25 lb. bags of KA AP flour at my local Smart & Final for less than $17.00! So you see, the online price has the shipping built into the price.

I had to learn this lesson the hard way. I purchased a 50-lb bag of KA Special Patent Flour which is similar to their bread flour. I paid $60 for that bag! And after spending that much I literally spent days poring over the ‘Web to find different sources of flour where I could either buy direct and pick up, or as in the case of Azure Standard (no, it’s not an affiliate link), the company has various “drop points” near me where their truck will stop and I can pick up my order.

For instance, a 50-lb bag Azure Standard unbleached organic bread flour is about $42. I pick it up at a drop point that’s 20 minutes from my home. So not only do I get my flour with not shipping, I’m getting certified organic flour. It’s amazing!

Mind you, it’s not that I mind paying shipping. But I do mind being misled by the whole “free shipping” bit. So if I can get my flour locally or all I have to do is drive no more than 30 minutes to pick it up, it’s a fair trade-off.

That said, I will pay for shipping if there’s a flour I just can’t get locally. One of those flours is the Hudson Cream brand by Stafford County Mills in Hudson, Kansas. Their white whole wheat flour is just a dream to work with and is milled to a super-fine consistency. It’s almost like working with bread flour! I’m not sure if they add any sprouted, malted barley to the flour for the amylase (which helps break down flour into sugars), but I get such great oven rise out of this flour. But King Arthur sources flour from this mill, so it’s definitely high-quality.

The reason I’m writing this entry is because we’re living in a world right now where there are lots of dishonest people taking advantage of the lockdown situation for their own personal gain. So take some time to do your research before you pull the trigger on flour with “free shipping.”

How Much Flour and Water Are in My Starter?

The other day, I made a big batch of Biga Naturale which is a biga made from a sourdough starter, at 75% hydration. Once it was mostly risen – nicely domed with bubbles forming on the surface as pictured above – I divided it into 4 X 200 gram portions (for pizza/flatbread starter that I’d store in the fridge for the coming week) and a single 360 gram portion that I’d use to make a double recipe of Pane di Como Antico.

All was well. I used two of the pizza portions to make some pizza dough for dinner last night, and early this morning, I took the 360 gram biga out of the fridge to bake my Pane di Como Antico for a community service event this afternoon.

Normally, I would’ve followed the recipe exactly, but this time, I was doubling the recipe and changing the hyrdration a bit so I needed to figure out the hydration of the starter. Had my starter been a 100% starter, it would’ve been a no-brainer to figure out the formula percentage of the flour and water – they’d both be 50%. But because I was using a 75% starter, I needed to figure out the actual formula percentage that each ingredient contributed to the overall mass of the dough.

For any given hydration rate, to figure out the flour and water percentages, it’s simple math:

Flour Percentage = (1 / (1 + Hydration Rate)) * 100
Water Percentage = 100 – (Flour Percentage)

So where did I get the 1? When calculating decimal fractions, we always use 1 as the “whole.” In this case, 1 represents the total amount of flour. So when we add 1 and the hydration rate, what we’re looking at is the representation of the flour and the water together.

Then to get the mass of the flour and water, it’s again just simple math:

Flour Mass = Dough Mass * Flour Formula Percentage
Water Mass = Dough Mass * Water Formula Percentage

Here’s a simple table where I’ve done the calculations:

Hydration RateFlour Formula %Water Formula %
60%63%38%
61%62%38%
62%62%38%
63%61%39%
64%61%39%
65%61%39%
66%60%40%
67%60%40%
68%60%40%
69%59%41%
70%59%41%
71%58%42%
72%58%42%
73%58%42%
74%57%43%
75%57%43%
76%57%43%
78%56%44%
79%56%44%
80%56%44%

Mind you, this is not totally accurate. We’re not taking into account the weight of the microbes (which will be minuscule anyway) and we’re also assuming that there’s no water loss due to evaporation. But it’ll get us close enough to get the job done in calculating an overall contribution to the final dough.

Also, you’d think that you could apply this technique to figure out the weight of any ingredient in the final dough. I suppose you could if you built the dough under a tightly controlled and consistent environment. But the problem with that is that during mixing you may add a bit of flour or water, to adjust for temperature and humidity. So it throws off the actual flour and water you may have used. In this case, the best you can do is get an estimate of an ingredient. Personally, I’ve found that the margin for error is about 10%.

And even with the starter calculation, it’s not totally accurate. But we’re only dealing with a two-ingredient dough, so there’s not going to be much else to take into consideration.

Azure Market Organics Unbleached Bread Flour, Ultra-Unifine

I am SO giddy about this flour! In my previous post, I sang the praises for the Azure Market Organics 100% Whole White Wheat Flour and now, I’m even MORE giddy about this bread flour. It not only goes through the Unifine process, Azure also performs an extra sifting stage to remove about 10% of the sharp bran particles.

So what we’re dealing with here is a high-extraction flour that has so much more nutrition than regular bread flour. And get this: It has 14.7% protein content! That’s 2% more than King Arthur at 12.7%! It’s amazing!

The first thing I noticed when I opened my bag was that the flour color is pretty dull, and Azure states it will get even more dull over time. But it’s silky-smooth in texture and it is an absolute DREAM to work with!

This morning, I made two 50-50 white whole wheat/bread flour batards. I used the whole wheat flour for a poolish and the bread flour for the final dough. The overnight ferment really helped smooth out the wheat flour (though to be honest, that flour’s already smooth). The results were spectacular. The poolish was nicely puffy with a distinct tang in the morning.

As for the final bread, as expected, it didn’t spring up as much as other loaves because of the high wheat flour content. But with the bit of extra protein in the bread flour, the crumb was not nearly as tight as with other white flours I’ve used.

Unifine Is Oh So Fine!

Yesterday I got my latest shipment of wheat: A high-extraction bread flour and 100% whole white wheat flour. Both were produced by Azure (azurestandard.com) and milled with their Unifine mill.

I first ran across the Unifine milling process while researching sources for Type 85 flour, which is a “tweener” flour; not quite white, not quite wheat. With Type 85 flour, 85% of the wheat grain is extracted in the milling process, providing for a flour that works like bread flour (usu. around 62-65% extraction), but has much more intrinsic fiber and nutrient retention.

I stumbled upon the Unifine Mill website, thinking that it was an actual miller. Intrigued, I read through all their information, and then changed my search for millers that used the Unifine mill. And that’s how I found Azure.

I haven’t yet opened the bread flour, but I opened up the white whole wheat flour and baked with it today. The thing that struck me immediately was the texture of the flour. It is so fine that it feels like bread flour! It’s absolutely silky smooth, and it’s light in color. But you know it’s whole grain flour once it gets wet – it turns much darker. But I can’t believe how nice the texture is and that’s due to the Unifine milling process. It produces really fine whole grain flour, but still retains all the nutrients and fiber!

I just baked a 50-50 loaf, making an overnight poolish from the white whole wheat flour. It turned out amazing!

With that amount of whole grain flour, I was expecting a bit of a grainier texture in the crumb. It’s smooth! Absolutely smooth! #mindblown For the savvy out there, yeah, I didn’t get a big oven spring out of it because I baked the loaf way early so I could feed my wife. It was only three hours into a 12-hour cold proof. On the positive side of things though, the texture was unlike any loaf I’ve done with partial or even 100% whole wheat. No graininess, no grittiness. As smooth as if I baked it entirely with bread flour!

Needless to say, I’m completely sold on this flour. If you can find flour produced by the Unifine process, try it out. You will NOT be disappointed!