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Saturday, September 3, 2011

A couple of Millet Breads in the Tartine Style

Millet Breads

I found some millet flour when I was browsing a small ethnic grocery store.  What the precise ethnicity of this grocer was, I cannot say with any certainty, but there was a wide selection of unusual or imported goods from various places throughout Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa, so I am assuming that their main clientele is drawn from the local Islamic community.

Anti-Locovore Rant

I recall reading one or two studies that showed that newly arrived immigrants from other countries will strive to eat their traditional ethnic diet for one or two generations. In general this eventually falls by the wayside, and North American eating habits are adopted -- and suddenly all the major health problems of the western diet appear.  Supporting smaller ethnic grocers like this is one way to encourage immigrants to eat healthier foods familiar to them, ensuring the availability of such foods, many of which are imported, for longer than 2 generations.  It would also add healthy diversity to a typical western diet.  For this reason, I cannot completely agree with locovore ideals, even though I'm aware of the carbon transfer to the atmosphere that all this transportation causes.  It is not that we transport it that is the problem, it is how we transport it.  And don't give me the peak oil or freshness debates.  We used to import fermented tea from China by sail and oxcart.  We don't currently because there are cheaper ways to get it here.  But we will always find a way.  And we should, to keep the world interesting, and one.

Why Millet?

"In terms of large-scale commercial production… (pearled millet) is poised for revolutionary advances.  It stands at about the point maize did in the 1930s…"  
Lost Crops of Africa: Grains (National Research Council, U.S. 1996)
Millet originally comes from West Africa, but it became an important crop in India, and is now grown around the world.  There is a lot of interest in it by crop breeders, because they see it as the next big grain to feed the world, and everyone is scrambling to get in on the ground floor of something that is going to net a lot of profit.  If the world's temperature continues to rise, if droughts are ongoing, if soils are depleted worldwide, then we all might be growing and eating millet soon.

Wikipedia tells me that Pearl Millet is called Bajri in Rajasthani, Gujarati and Marathi (languages native to Indian states bordering the northwest regions of the subcontinent), where the flour is made into an unleavened flatbreads called Bhakri (often it is made with Sorghum flour, as well as millet flour).  Similar flatbreads made with millet flour are called chappati, rotla or thalipeeth.  The package shows a couple of Indian maidens making their Bhakri.  Essentially they make mud-balls with bajri and minimal water, and then pound it flat with the heel of their hands.

I'm not making those today.

The bag of Bajri tells me that this flour is a product of Canada.  Did the pearl millet that made this flour grow here, I wonder? (It does grow in Canada..  Agriculture Environmental Renewal Canada Inc. (AERC) has developed a hybrid for Canadian conditions)  Or was the grain grown in India and transported here for processing?  Was it milled here?  Or merely re-bagged here?  If it came as imported grains, it might have been treated in some way: hulled, or irradiated, to pass customs and environment laws.  If it was milled in India before coming here, we have no knowledge of the milling conditions (the wiki article indicates that some milling in India is fairly rustic; but this flour looks quite clean and fine).  I wish there were better info on packages.  No one can make informed decisions based on what is given.  I only know it says it is 100% millet.

Millet is a gluten-free grain, so a 100% millet bread is not going to succeed if you want it to look like a familiar yeast bread.  Here I've added the Bajri to some wheat flours.  In other words, these are not gluten-free breads, and they are not flatbreads.  Some web site that I browsed and forgot said that you can use 1/3 bajri in bread recipes without wrecking the dough.  I went a bit higher than that for my whole wheat trial loaves, but less than that for the dough with all purpose, and from my experience, I'd say that the 1/3 rule of thumb is pretty accurate.

Typical westerner, I generally look at millet and think 'bird seed'.  AERC is developing its hybrid with an eye to selling it as a beneficial forage grain.  Our culture thus feeds it to imported budgies, and domesticated pigs, chickens and cows, not appreciating that it is very healthy for us too.  In Indian culture, sometimes it is roasted and combined with sugar, ghee and nuts, and eaten as a sweet Sattu.

Millet appears to be susceptible to ergot, same as rye, at least in the bajri or milled form.  In its whole form, it actually contains some interesting anti-fungal elements.

Into the dough on the second turn (a la Tartine methods), I tossed in some hulled millet.  The "bulk barn" where I bought it gives out recipe cards for a simple millet porridge, suggesting that it can be "cooked as you would rice", with a ratio of water to millet of 3.5:1.  I didn't precook my millet this time, but it probably would be best to do so.  Uncooked millet probably would make a nice crunchy topping for a crust (think sesame seeds) but I just stirred it into the dough this time.  The bulk barn never tells you where the product you are buying was grown or transported from (even if I'm not a locovore, I still like to know).  But they do make the claim that millet is the "least allergenic and most easily digestible of all grains", and that it is high in B-complex vitamins and is "the most well balanced in essential amino acids among all grains".

I've heard that before.  But I've also heard it for quinoa and amaranth.

Burton, Wallace and Rachie (Crop Science: 12.2.187-188 (1971)) tested pearl millet and found it to be equal or superior to wheat, corn, sorghum and rice in protein and oil content, with similar amounts of calcium and phosphorus, and more iron than any other grain.  It is deficient in lysine (like wheat).  The starch is similar to sorghum and corn.  The oil contains more palmitic, stearic and linolenic and less oleic and linoleic fatty acids than corn oil.

Diet is an immense mystery.  So much is unknown.  Our gut is a black box.

Bajra has been described as very sweet, nutty, with a slight bittersweet aftertaste.  I don't taste the aftertaste.  In addition to starches, it contains arabinose and xylose, and pentose bound with the cellulose.  It will come as no surprise to anyone who is familiar with Sandor Katz's Wild Fermentation that millet is healthiest when properly fermented.  I suppose a millet flour sourdough would be the best way to make a fermented millet bread (instead of having a whole wheat flour sourdough as I've done here).

The Breads

Here's the breakdown of the breads:

Dough #1 (enough for 2 loaves, to give away to my sweetie and my friends)
  • 600g All Purpose Flour
  • 200g Whole Wheat Flour
  • 200g Millet Flour
  • 200g Tartine Starter (50:50 ap:ww, at 100% hydration)
  • 750g water
  • 20g salt
  • 150g hulled millet
Dough #2 (my loaves)
  • 600g Whole Wheat flour
  • 400g Millet flour
  • 200g whole wheat starter (100% whole wheat, 100% hydration)
  • 850g water
  • 20g salt
  • 150g hulled millet
The first dough feels okay, although the colour of the millet flour reminds me of the gray of putty.  Not everyone is going to like the look of it.  The second dough immediately soaked up so much water that, despite the higher hydration, it didn't develop very well at all.  It would always tear when I tried to turn it, and when eventually I came to shape the dough, I wouldn't say that there was any real gluten strands.  I kneaded it a bit, because you really can't turn it, it isn't wet enough, even at 85%.

The wild yeast starter I used was actually quite old: I had refreshed it a couple of days ago and immediately stuck it into the fridge.  Last night I pulled it out to refresh it again, and noticed that although there was some hooch in the mix, it really hadn't risen at all.

My wild yeasts have suffered lately, having been moved from the cellar to get ready for the renovations.
I used a tablespoon of it to refresh it and was going to simply toss the rest, but after it had sat on the counter a couple of hours, it looked like it was reviving somewhat, so I thought I'd use it in these breads.  I've already decided that this starter and these breads will not give me a good trial of millet flour, though: I'll have to try it again.  But I'll only try it again if the taste warrants it, if I see some possibility in it.

I didn't turn it more than 3 times, then I went to bed and let it bulk ferment 4 hours without turns.  When I awoke, I divided and formed the dough, and let it proof another 4 hours.  Not exactly Tartine methodology, to be sure: so if the bread fails, I thought, it is due to my many failures at following the proper schedules.


Not much rise, despite the long bulk fermentation and proofing.  A very strange fermentation pattern in the crumb.

But the bread tastes good.  It seems to be best warm, and great with peanut butter.  However, peanut butter is even lower in lysine than wheat and millet: not a good choice to balance the amino acids of this bread.  Cheese would be better for you.  Maybe one should add Parmesan to the millet.

This millet bread stales quickly, possibly because of the oils.

The whole wheat and bajri flour bread, with hulled millet, cut warm from the oven

Notes to Myself
  • The taste of millet is certainly interesting, but I really think that this bread is one you must eat the same day it is made, preferably warm.  Maybe that is another reason why the flatbreads have enjoyed popularity.
  • Try the traditional millet flatbreads once.  Perhaps the problem here isn't the yeast but the millet flour itself: maybe it doesn't want to rise.
  • Next time you try this wild-yeast version, make sure the wild yeast is in fine form.  Keep the millet flour to around 1/3 the total wheat dough.  Keep it well hydrated (>85%) if you are using only whole wheat for the other 2/3.  Alternatively, you could soak the millet seeds overnight, that might add enough moisture to the mix that you could remain at 85%.  Mix the flours thoroughly before adding them to the water.
  • Try adding parmesan cheese to soaked millet seeds (or ricotta to bajri dough) to balance the amino acid profile, to make a millet cheesebread
  • The idea of fermenting the millet flour is an interesting one: certainly this will change the pH of the mixture.  I am admitting my ignorance of the way in which proteins will change their electrical charge in different acid or base mixtures.  My concern here is with increasing the lysine content of the dough, trying to balance the amino acids, making them more bio-available, etc.  What does fermentation do to this?  I suspect that when I was making this dough, something in the bajri interacted with the water, causing it to firm up like a mudball, and I believe that this was the amino acids combining chemically or electrically with the water to form tight bonds: it felt as though the bajri WANTED to be a flatbread.  I don't know how else to describe it.  How to change this property of the flour (if indeed that is a laudable goal) would take tons more research.

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