Last week, I finally was able to procure a 25 lb. bag of KamutTM flour. For months, so many producers were out of it, and those that did have it, like Whole Foods, sold it in much smaller quantities than I needed and for a premium price. So, as soon as I saw that Azure Standard had it back in stock, I immediately put in an order!
Since I discovered it, KamutTM flour has been an integral component in most of my flour blends. I’ve mentioned using it several times since I started this blog, but when I baked my first loaves of it after many months of not having it, I sat down and asked myself, “Why do I love this flour so much?” I realized that there are lots of reasons, so I thought I’d share them here.
Before I go on, let me answer the obvious question for those who don’t know what it is: What is KamutTM? KamutTM isn’t a type of wheat but a trademark name for the Khorasan strain of wheat. It is an ancient grain that was discovered in an ancient Egyptian burial chamber after World War II and the grains ended up in the hands of a Montana wheat farmer who cultivated them. The trademark name is important because:
- It ensures that the grain comes from the original seed stock and is both unmodified and unhybridized and completely non-GMO.
- It is also 100% certified organic.
These are important distinctions as they provide a guarantee of origin, purity, and quality.
Nutritionally, unlike regular wheat, Kamut has a high intrinsic energy as it has a higher lipid content than regular wheat. But it is also high in both protein and fiber and contains several essential minerals and vitamins such as niacin and manganese that contribute to its overall high nutritional value.
But the science-y stuff aside, another thing I love about this flour is the romance behind its history. As I mentioned above, the grain was found in an ancient burial chamber in Egypt after World War II, and though classified as Khorasan wheat, it has also been called “King Tut’s Wheat” or Pharoah’s Wheat” based on its origin.
And baking with flour that comes from wheat that has a provenance dating back thousands of years makes me think of what it was like baking back then. Sourdough was discovered in ancient Egypt around 3000 BC, and it’s cool to me to bake with grain whose origins date back that far. I admit it. I’m a hopeless romantic, dreaming of the “old days” and what it was like baking with those ancient hearth ovens with that original grain.
Plus, historians believe the discovery of sourdough was purely accidental. Accidental or not, it changed the world! Up to that point, bread was flat and dense. But the addition of yeast literally gave rise to a completely new form of bread that was then adopted by the Greeks and Romans, then spread to the rest of the world. Did it start with Khorasan wheat? Maybe. I have no idea. But who cares? It was used back then and that was all I needed to know to want bake with that ancient grain.
But other than the romantic history, I love KamutTM flour for what it brings to the loaves that I make with it. When combined with a high-extraction or whole-grain flour, it helps soften the crumb. This is because even though it forms gluten when mixed with water, its gluten is much more delicate than regular wheat.
And that delicateness was a challenge to work with at first as it introduced a trade-off with the soft crumb: The dough also became prone to tearing. It forced me to learn how to handle the dough more gently. Until then, I hadn’t realized how ham-handed I was with my dough. My stretch and fold sessions were relatively rough affairs compared to how I stretch and fold now; not that I’d completely rip the dough apart, but it certainly wasn’t with the deliberate care I take now. And that skill has carried over to other dough made with different flour blends.
Of course, as KamutTM is flour, and flour is food, what about its taste and texture? As I mentioned above, its gluten provides a smooth, almost velvety feel to the crumb. It also has a nutty flavor that contributes to the overall complexity of the flavor profile.
Working with KamutTM Flour
If you want to work with KamutTM, I recommend starting with a smaller quantity first to try it out. Whole Foods usually carries 1-pound bags from Bob’s Red Mill. That’s enough to make two 1-kg 60% Bread Flour/40% Kamut loaves @ about 85% hydration.
Other than that, here are a few things to keep in mind when working with Kamut:
- I’ve found that Kamut’s starches break down pretty easily. So, if you use a rye-based starter, be extremely watchful of your bulk fermentation. The loaves I made above used a 25% rye starter inoculation and bulk fermentation happened a lot faster than with normal bread flour. That amount of starter is going to speed things up anyway, but it was about twice as fast as normal with the Kamut present. I had to turn down the temperature on the fridge I use for cold final fermentation to about 39℉, where I normally have it set around 42-44℉ to favor lacto-fermentation. Of course, an alternative is to use less starter, but I really wanted a more pronounced tang.
- And since Kamut’s starches break down pretty easily, I do not recommend using a real high temperature for baking. The loaves I baked above were baked at 460℉ for 20 minutes with steam, then 425℉ for another 22 minutes dry. Because of all the released sugars, that bread finished with a dark crust!
- As I mentioned above, the type of gluten that is formed with Kamut is a lot more delicate than with the hard red wheat that’s normally used in baking. When you’re folding your dough, be very mindful of the extent to which you pull the dough. My advice is to only pull to the point where you feel some resistance, then fold the dough over. You may have to fold more times than you normally would during a session to ensure you’re building structure, but you’ll also ensure that you’re not tearing your dough.
- Kamut is a “thirsty” flour, so I recommend a healthy autolyse or fermento-lyse of at least 45 minutes. This will ensure that your flour is well-hydrated.
- As far as hydration percentage is concerned, you’ll have to experiment. The bread flour I use is particularly high in protein at around 15%, and though the Kamut from Azure Standard is about 11.7% protein, I can still my hydration way past 80%, though I typically don’t exceed 85%. Even then, it still handles like a 72% hydration dough with regular bread flour.
- If you make bread with 100% Kamut, best treat it like rye and bake it in a pan or a Dutch oven to prevent it from spreading out. It won’t spread out nearly as much as rye, but its gluten is not very strong.
- And speaking of strength, bear in mind that most Kamut flour is whole-grain flour, so don’t expect to get big holes. You’ll get plenty of spring, but just not a lot of voids in your crumb.