Tuesday, 6 December 2016

I've Finally Cracked It! Working with Yeast and Spelt: Iced Finger Buns (Wheat Free, with Dairy Free Option)

UPDATE 05/05/2017: I slightly altered the dough preparation method, introducing a sponge technique to help dissolve the yeast, and properly gauge the amount of flour and liquid needed.

I've done it. I've finally done it. I have succeeded after years of trying: I have at long last cracked the code to making dough with yeast and spelt! So many years of failed attempts... I'm so relieved.

So, I decided to celebrate by making a tasty batch of lovely iced finger buns! A little taste of childhood for my siblings and I.

There is nothing quite as English as spreading a load of icing on top of a piece of bread. I don't quite know why, but it fairly accurately sums up the spirit of the British approach to eating. And to make them, you need a nice, soft, pillowy bread recipe.

So what has my difficulty been with spelt and yeast? I've mentioned many times over the years, more than I can count at this stage, that spelt and yeast don't mix well. This was a believe I had formulated as a result of countless failed attempts at making yeast leavened dough with spelt flour instead of wheat flour. I thought the problem was the flour. Turns out the problem has been the yeast and the fermentation process all these years.

Ireland doesn't have a very warm climate: it has a wet, damp, humid, mostly freezing cold climate. None of these is conducive to:

1. Fermentation
Yeast needs a nice warm environment to grow in. It is indeed a living organism, a tiny little mushroom creature, that needs to be warm, well fed, and hydrated to perform like it should. I obviously haven't been getting my dough proving at the right temperature of humidity all these years, because the dough has never risen.

or 2. Yeast Lifespan
Cold damp houses aren't nice places for yeast to live. I'd say more times than not over the last few years, I've used yeast that has probably already perished under such inhospitable conditions.

I bought some new yeast, some new flour, and attempted to make yeast dough again. I summed up the courage to attempt it again, even though it may have failed miserably. This time, I was not disappointed.

I had formulated the recipe by cross referencing a load of recipes together, inspired mostly by the Korean doughnuts and dinner rolls of Maangchi, and by the iced bun recipe of The Great British Bake Off's Paul Hollywood. I also followed some recommendations online about how liquid behaves differently with wheat flour and spelt flour. Armed with this knowledge, I formulated the recipe below.

I made sure the dough had a lovely house to live in while fermenting: the oven, with the heat turned off but the light left on, with a bowl of boiled water on the bottom shelf to make it nice and steamy. This made the dough rise perfectly! I was amazed: the dough looked, and smelled, incredible. Look at all those bubbills!!

Although I had a little hiccup with the oven, where the element was broken and I had to improvise with the fan assisted grill setting, they baked wonderfully! The rolls were exquisitely soft and springy on cooling, and had a deliciously present yeasty flavour. 

The butter, sugar, and eggs keep the bread soft, but not too sickly sweet or rich. In fact, I think they'd make nice hot dog rolls if the mixture were slightly re-purposed.

See the lovely soft sides, and delicious texture within? I know I'm totally fangirling over this bread right now, but I cannot tell you how happy I am to finally have a successful spelt bread attempt.

So, without any further ado, after almost four years of blogging, I present to you a recipe for soft spelt bread.

☑ Soya (check for soya lecithin)
☑ Wheat
☑ Nuts

☒ Eggs
☒ Dairy (dairy substitutes can be found in italics)
☒ Gluten
☒ Yeast
☒ Refined sugar products

For 16 small buns, or 12 large buns
  • 1 pound (455 grammes) white spelt flour, plus some for dusting
  • 2 quarter-ounce (7 gramme) packages of dry active yeast
  • ½ teaspoon (3 millilitres) salt
  • 2 ounces (55 grammes) caster sugar
  • 2 medium eggs, room temperature
  • 6 fluid ounces (180 millilitres) hand-hot milk
  • 2 or 3 tablespoons (30 to 45 millilitres) warm water, to adjust the texture if needed
  • 2 ounces (55 grammes) butter, at room temperature, or margarine
For icing,
  • 1 tablespoon (15 grammes) butter, or margarine
  • 3 ounces (85 grammes) icing sugar
  • 2 to 3 teaspoons (10 to 15 millilitres) hot water
  • Optional: Food colourings and essences


First, prepare the yeast dough.
  • In a large bowl, mix together the sugar, milk, salt, and eggs. Mix in the yeast, and then add in half of the flour to make a paste. If it is too dry, add more milk or water, and if it is too wet, add some more flour. It should be like a gluey paste, not a cake or pancake mixture.
  • Allow this mixture to sit for about 20 minutes, or until it starts to rise and bubble. If you like, you can allow to it rise until doubled, which will save kneading time.
  • Add in rest of the flour, a little at a time, to form a dough. You can use your hands, or a wooden spoon. You may not need to add all the flour, or you may need to add some more. Bread making is not an exact science: sometimes room humidity, or even the brand of flour, can change the consistency.
  • Once you achieve a dough, turn out onto a floured work surface and knead for 5 minutes. The dough should be soft and tacky, almost sticky.
  • Then, knead in the soft butter. It will take another 3 or 5 minutes to knead in the butter, and once you're done it should be a lovely soft, supple, tacky (but not sticky) dough.
  • Clean out the bowl and grease it lightly. Roll the dough into a ball and put in the bowl, tossing a few times to coat it in oil.
  • Cover with clingfilm, then a tea towel, and leave to rise in a warm place for 1 to 1½ hours to at least double in size. I put mine in the oven, turned off, with the oven light on, and a bowl of hot water on the bottom shelf to make a nice warm, humid atmosphere. 

Now, make the fingers.

  • Grease and flour a 13 by 9 inch (33 by 22 centimetre) flat baking tray.
  • Once risen and puffed full of air, gently deflate and turn out onto the work surface. Only use a dusting of flour if it's sticking.
  • Divide the dough into 16 pieces, and roll each piece into a rectangle about 4 inches (10 centimetres) wide; the length doesn't matter. Roll them up like little Swiss rolls.
  • Place the rolls on the baking tray about an inch (2 centimetres) apart to allow for rising. You want them to rise into each others' sides to get nice soft sides.
  • Drape a clean tea towel or the clingfilm from earlier over the rolls and place back in the warm place and leave for 45 minutes to an hour, until once again at least doubled in size.
  • Preheat your oven to 220ºC (425ºF, Gas Mk.7 or 8), then bake the rolls on the centre shelf for 10 to 12 minutes, or until golden brown on top and well risen.
  • Turn the buns out, still attached to one another, onto a wire rack to cool completely before pulling apart.
I used two trays because I didn't have one big enough. 
And yes, there are 14. I miscounted my doughballs.

Once fully cool, ice the fingers.
  • Mix together the icing sugar, butter, and half of the water until a smooth icing is formed. You may need to add more water to make it nice and spreadable.
  • Spread about a rounded teaspoon of icing onto each roll and spread it across the top with the blunt side of a table knife, or a palette knife.
  • If you like, you can decorate the tops with sprinkles, hundreds and thousands, sweets, or grated chocolate.
I decorated mine with some coffee flavoured icing, and some plain icing in white and pink. Look forward to more experiments with spelt bread in the future, but for now make these and enjoy them for up to two days, as long as they're kept airtight.

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