A Brief History Of Baking: Alternative Flours

A Brief History Of Baking: Alternative Flours

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Although wheat based flour has been the most prolifically used within the western world, other areas of the world have employed other grains to create their own unique baked goods.

There are a number of different products, for instance, that are made from Maize (or Corn) that was first domesticated in Mexico approximately ten thousand years ago. It is a fundamental ingredient in Mexican, Central and South American cuisine. When the dried grain is cooked in slaked lime – a process called ‘nixtamalisation’ – it is called Hominy, which is ground into a dried corn flour. Masa de Maiz (‘masa’ being Spanish for dough) is used to make breads such as tortillas, tamales and other Latin American dishes. Also known as Cornmeal, it is used not only in Mesoamerica and South America. It is used in corn breads, corn fritters and hushpuppies in Northern America, and in maize based breads throughout the world, such as Makki di Roti – traditional, unleavened bread from the Punjab region in Northern India.

Today, with the growing demand for alternatives to wheat, baked goods can be made from a wide range of flours, with many being produced from nuts rather than grains. Almond and hazelnut are a popular substitution in tortes and dense cakes, while chestnut flour, the traditional ingredient in Northern Italian polenta recipes and a common ingredient in Mediterranean breads and desserts, lends a nutty, warm and savoury flavour to baked cakes and pastry. This makes chestnut flour (known as ‘farina dolce’ in Italy) an ideal gluten-free substitute for wheat flour in savoury pie cases, pairing beautifully with pumpkin and cheeses, as well as in desserts and puddings. Although not specifically baked, a Tuscan version of crêpes called Necci (see Patrizia Simone’s recipe here) is made using chestnut flour, and they are usually spread with honey or eaten plain, however they are not averse to savoury fillings such as a creamy mushroom sauce either. 

Introducing Grace Mooney, our resident Food Historian and beloved staff member…

Hi my name is Grace Mooney and I studied at Monash University completing my BA with Honours in 2014.   In my Honours year I investigated the changing food culture in Britain throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s, with particular focus on the influence of the celebrity chefs during this time period.

Although my area of study has primarily been British food history, I have become increasingly interested in Australian food history and culture.

Aside from food history, I am a collector of vintage items- from antiquity through to the 1950’s, particularly kitchenware and home wares.   I have a large collection of books (a lot of cookbooks) and of course I spend a considerate amount of time cooking and baking!

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