It’s said to be quite difficult to make a good loaf using spelt (épeautre in French) because it has less gluten in it than modern wheat, so it tends not to rise as well. A few months ago I encountered a chap at the market who was selling organic wholegrain spelt flour that he’d grown and milled himself; it was expensive (5 euros a kilo!) but I thought I’d give it a try.
I googled (of course) and this recipe looked the most promising. It’s almost a “no-knead” recipe — I remember reading somewhere that because of the low gluten content, spelt dough doesn’t respond well to a lot of handling and it’s best to avoid over-working it. The recipe worked out really well, making a moist, open-crumbed loaf. So I tried it again today with some different spelt flour that was described as semi-complet (semi-wholegrain). It obviously wasn’t as absorbent as the whole grain and the dough was wet and quite difficult to handle (it stuck to the pan). But the result was still very good, especially with some smoked trout.
There were things I would change about the recipe though, notably that it was too sweet for a “general purpose” bread, so this is my tweaked version. I bake it in two smaller loaves for the simple reason that it’s easier to handle a smaller piece of this sticky dough — plus it makes a lot of bread and this way you can freeze one loaf and eat the other, warm with butter.
530 grams wholegrain spelt flour (or semi-complet)
1 tbsp runny honey
320-350 grams water, depending on flour used
10 grams unrefined sea or rock salt
80 ml sourdough starter
Note: you can refer to the original recipe for photos and more detailed instructions.
You’ll need an appropriately sized cast-iron casserole to bake the loaves in — I use a small oval Le Creuset. If you have two, of course you can bake both loaves at once.
First whisk together the honey and the smaller quantity of water in a large ceramic or glass bowl. Then whisk in the starter. Add the flour and salt and stir thoroughly to blend, until there are no dry bits of flour visible. The dough will be very wet; if it is stiff, you need to add a little more water.
Now cover the bowl with cling film and leave to stand at room temperature for an hour. The flour will absorb more water during this time, but it will still be a soft, unresistant dough.
Lightly flour a clean surface and your hands. Scrape the dough out onto the floured surface and stretch and fold it — that is, pull the dough out into a strip, then fold it onto itself in thirds, like an envelope. Turn 90 degrees and repeat, using a little more flour if necessary. Return to the bowl, cover with cling film, and leave for about half an hour (a little less or more time doesn’t matter). Repeat the stretching and folding twice more at half-hour intervals. Then put the cling-filmed bowl in the fridge and leave to rise overnight (or all day at cool room temperature if you want to bake it the same day).
Line two bowls with clean teacloths and flour the cloths generously. Scrape the dough onto a floured surface and cut in two. Take each piece and form it into a ball by rotating it between your floured hands. It’s a bit “floppy”, but don’t worry, just flour it to stop it sticking and pop it into the lined bowl. Cover each bowl with cling film and leave to almost double in size — at room temperature this will probably take an hour and a half to two hours.
Half an hour before you want to cook the first loaf, preheat the oven to 200C and put in an lidded iron casserole into which one loaf will fit snugly to heat up. When hot, remove from the oven and with floured hands carefully turn one loaf from its bowl into the casserole. If it sticks to the cloth don’t panic, just do your best to detach it with minimal disturbance. Replace the lid and bake for 25-30 minutes. Remove the lid; the loaf should have risen nicely but will still be pale on top. Return to the oven for 10-15 minutes until the top is golden with darker patches. It’s better overcooked than under.
When you think it’s done, tip out of the casserole (using any available tools to help you if it’s stuck!) and tap the bottom to check it’s cooked. If you think it needs more time, just pop it directly on the oven shelf for 5 more minutes. Place on a rack to cool.
Repeat with the second loaf (unless you have two suitable casseroles in which case you can bake both at once).