Teff Trials

teff poolish bread

To anyone wondering: YES, I am still in baking school. YES, I am a little behind in writing about it.

Does six or seven weeks count as a little behind? Because here’s what we did six or seven weeks ago: We raised bread with sourdough starters made from several ancient grains: amaranth, sorghum, quinoa, millet, and teff.

My favorite of these was teff. It’s best known for the Ethiopian staple flatbread injera, but it makes a wonderful addition to loaf breads as well (although it contains little or no gluten, so a 100%-teff bread would require some of that gluten-free expertise that I don’t have yet). I’ve heard the flavor variously described as chocolate-y coffee-y, nutty, earthy. You could just call it tasty and leave it at that. And it imparts a lovely reddish crust color in the bargain.

teff poolish baguettes

So, enamored of this tasty and cute grain (Did I say cute? Well, yes, I think any grain whose diameter is less than 1 mm qualifies as cute, don’t you?), I was inspired to give it a whirl in my own kitchen. I picked up a 1.5-pound bag of teff flour for about $7. Add expensive to teff’s personality profile.

My first attempt was a teff sourdough. I took a portion of my starter, fed it with teff flour for a few days and proceeded to mix up a simple bread dough with it. The dough was too dry. I added water. It was still too dry. I added more water. It was the perfect consistency. Then in the next breath, it was soup.

This was when I remembered that teff is not only cute and tasty and expensive, but temperamental. It drinks and drinks up water, and suddenly lets it go (kind of like having an infant in the house again). I decided to try to work with the soup; this was a bad idea. I wound up with flat boards that could serve as cricket bats in a pinch:

teff cricket bats

I’ll do teff sourdough again some day, but in the meantime I took another tack — with a teff poolish this time. This was also one we had made in class. Determined not to overhydrate again, I held back quite a bit of water (more than I usually do) when mixing the final dough — and realized as I was cleaning up that I had not added any of it back in. I weighed it and it turned out to be a whopping 70 grams — about 10% of the total water in the formula. So instead of 68% hydration, this one came in at about 62%. On paper, practically a bagel.

And yet, the crumb was not super dense and dry. Not the most open I’ve ever done, for sure, but not terrible either. Go figure.

teff bread crumb

My final analysis: teff is tasty, cute, expensive, temperamental, and enigmatic. Now I dare you to try it.

This enigmatic bread goes to IDania (El Aroma de IDania) and Zorra (1x umrühren bitte) for BreadBakingDay #24, Mixed Breads, along with my appreciation for creating and hosting this wonderful monthly event.

Teff Poolish Bread
(adapted from SFBI)

Yield: 1930 – 2000 g. I made two baguettes and two boules with my 1930 g of dough.

Time:

  • Ferment teff poolish: 12 hours
  • Mix final dough: 10 minutes
  • First fermentation : 1.5 hours with a fold, if needed, at 45 minutes
  • Preshape, rest, and shape: 30 minutes
  • Proof: 45 minutes – 1.25 hours
  • Bake: 20 minutes or more (depending on size and shape of loaves)

Desired dough temperature: 75F

Teff Poolish Ingredients:

  • 273 g flour
  • 82 g teff flour
  • 355 g water
  • 0.4 g (1/8 t.) instant yeast

Final Dough Ingredients:

  • 818 g flour
  • 373 – 443 g water (I used the smaller amount; the original formula calls for the larger. You figure it out.)
  • 6.7 g (2-1/8 t.) instant yeast
  • 23.5 g (scant 4 t.) salt
  • All of the teff poolish

Method:

  1. In a bowl, combine the poolish ingredients. Cover and ferment for 12 hours at room temperature.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer with a dough hook, combine all of the final dough ingredients. Mix on low speed until incorporated.
  3. Continue mixing in low or medium speed to a medium level of gluten development.
  4. Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled container. Cover and ferment for 1.5 hours, with a fold after the first 45 minutes if the dough seems very slack.
  5. Turn the dough into a lightly floured counter. Divide into 250 – 350 g for baguettes, 500 – 700 g for boules or batards. Preshape  into cylinders (for baguettes) or balls and let rest, covered, for 20 minutes.
  6. Shape the dough into its final shapes and place it, seam-side-up, on a very well-floured couche or linen-lined baskets.
  7. Proof, covered, for 45 minutes or longer, until the indentation left by a fingertip springs back very slowly. Baguettes will take less time to proof than boules or batards, so bake them first.
  8. Meanwhile, preheat the oven, with baking stone, to 475F. You will also need steam during the initial phase of baking, so prepare for this now.
  9. Just before baking, slash the loaves as you like.
  10. Once the loaves are in the oven, reduce the temperature to 450. Bake for 8 minutes with steam, and another 12 – 25 minutes or so without steam. Then turn off the oven and leave the loaves in for another 5 – 10 minutes, with the door ajar.
  11. Cool on a wire rack.

CommentsLeave a comment

  1. says

    I had the same problem with the teff, thanks for sharing, hope you get to the sourdough version as I would love to get my head around the idea of using this ancient grain and others like soghrum, quinoa, etc….

    Jeremy

  2. says

    You just gave me THE most amazing gift with this post: my most recent impulse buy was a bag of teff flour (the stuff is not cheap, by the way) – and of course, I had no idea what to do with it, apart from injera, which I didn’t feel like it.

    You saved my life – I’m making this for sure!

  3. says

    I’ve only ever made injera with teff, and hoo-wee did that smell funky! But since I have a the rest of that bag of teff flour hanging around, maybe it’s time to play around with it again. Temperamental flours just give me excuses to bake more :)

  4. Howard says

    I was thinking of you the other day, as I read one of your posts, and wondering how things were going at SFBI. Sounds like you’re doing just fine. It’s such a wonderful opportunity you have, and then there’s the momories you get to take with you when it’s over—it’s the stuff dreams are made of. Hang in there, have fun and keep baking those beautiful loaves.

  5. Rhonda Beck says

    Thanks for the formula! I’m going to mix up some teff poolish tonight. I was taking a pastry class (Viennoiserie) the week your program was working on ancient grains, and you hooked me up with a couple bags full of bread that week. I remember this bread was very good. I sured wanted to play with the ‘big kids’ in the professional program after that!
    I’m enjoying your posts – thanks again!

    Rhonda

  6. says

    I have a big fat bag of teff that a friend brought me back from Ethiopia. I wonder if it will have the same personality profile as yours… The only way to find out is to try! One more lovely bread on my list…

  7. says

    Thanks for the post. i’ve been using teff quite a bit lately in gluten-free baking, and love it! I guess because its used in combination with other starches and flours, its temperamental nature isnt quite so pronounced! I haven’t used it as a sourdough except to make injera, but have been wanting to use it in combination with wheat for a while now.

  8. says

    Hi Susan, Nice post, that Teff. I bought some a few years ago and although I never EVER made bread with it, I found that it made really yummy pancakes ‘specially with a portion of the mix made from Teff liquid levain.
    Love your writing, keep on rockin, happy baking!
    -dRa

  9. says

    Hi Susan, I am happy that you are having fun at SFBI. I never heard of Teff, so it is a new one for me. It sounds a bit like working with Spelt, which has the same weird hydration problems and can tend to let the water go if you work it too much. Thanks for the info, have more fun! Teresa

  10. Cheryl says

    Teff is a great flour for certain things- I will have to try this. I am GF and use Teff in anything that has chocolate.. Chocolate Chip Cookies, Brownies etc. Works great and adds a nice flavor.

  11. mlaiuppa says

    That sounds intriguing but I think a little to fussy for me. I’m not much of an exact baker and I think the tempermental part would be my undoing.

    Right now I’m playing with quinoa.

  12. says

    Oh I tried (and we as Baking Babes tried) but yes temperamental! I like your infant/teff comparison. I was looking at mud at one point of time.. or rather quicksand. Strange stuff but fun! Your loaves look great!

  13. says

    love your writing! an interesting experiment. Always enjoy injera bread and now I am very intrigued so will make a loaf of temperamental teff next.

  14. bnom says

    Soup is right! I thought I’d add 100 grams of teff to my usual sourdough formula. Wow, was it wet. I managed to shape a baguette but it wasn’t pretty. I then shaped a boule and let it proof in a heavily rice-floured couche lined bowl. The couche was soaking wet when I tried to invert it into a preheated cast iron. Of course it stuck. Forget scoring. I was expecting to just throw the whole thing out but to my surprise it puffed up nicely, had a sturdy but not dense crumb and fantastic flavor.

  15. Martin says

    I though Teff was prohibitively expensive but found a Denver Ethiopian store where the 25 pound bag is just $36. No more excuses! Plan to mix it with millet flour.
    Having friends who must live gluten free really expands my cooking and baking horizons – why stick with wheat?!

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