One of those “ancient grains” you may have heard about, spelt has been consumed by human beings since before agriculture was widely practiced. Since then, spelt has been overshadowed by its more industry-friendly cousin, wheat. While the proteins in spelt aren’t as accommodating to the rigors of mass production, they do just fine in the micro-production environment of the home kitchen. That's one of many reasons why spelt bread is worth baking.
A few simple techniques help spelt to be its best self. This recipe uses a “poolish,” which is simply a way of fermenting a portion of the flour before mixing the final dough. It adds flavor and gives the dough more strength to trap the carbon dioxide created by the yeast. Next, while wheat generally benefits from vigorous mixing or kneading, spelt is a bit more delicate, which is why this method calls for a short mixing time, followed by a series of folds. Spelt bread also tends to dry out a bit faster than wheat breads, so the hydration of this dough is a bit higher in order to compensate. Folding this wetter dough can be tricky, so if you’re new to handling bread dough, you may want to watch some videos about the dough-folding process.
Finally, in order to achieve a nice oven spring and crackling crust, we recommend the Dutch oven baking method. Getting the dough into a hot cast-iron pot can be a little challenging. The suggested method involves using two dough scrapers to lift the dough and set it inside the pot, but if you don’t feel comfortable getting that close to piping-hot cast iron, perhaps you could use oven mitts, lift the dough on a large piece of parchment, or make a peel out of a flexible cutting board. Feel free to invent your own way — just don’t burn yourself!
- For the poolish:
- 80g white spelt flour
- 10g whole spelt flour
- 90g water
- Pinch of instant yeast
- For the dough
- 160g white spelt flour
- 20g whole spelt flour
- 95g water
- 5g salt
- Pinch of instant yeast
- Brown rice flour for dusting
Weigh the ingredients for the poolish into a tupperware type container with a lid. Mix to combine, then cover and leave to ferment at an ambient temperature of 65-70 F for 12 to 16 hours.
After at least twelve hours, weigh the ingredients for the dough into a roughly 2 1/2 quart mixing bowl. You want to end up with a dough temperature of about 75F, so if it’s very cold or very warm in your environment, you may want to compensate by using slightly warmer or cooler water. Add the poolish and mix with a spoon until well-combined. Cover the bowl. One efficient and effective method is to place the entire bowl into a plastic produce bag from the grocery store.
After about 45 minutes, fold the dough. Repeat two more times at 45-minute intervals for a total of three folds.
About 45 minutes after the final fold — roughly 3 hours after mixing — prepare a cutting board with a good dusting of both spelt flour and brown rice flour. Dust your countertop with spelt flour and invert the bowl so the dough falls gently onto the floured countertop. Quickly and carefully fold the edges of the dough into the center, flip the loaf so the seams are on the bottom and place the loaf onto the prepared board. Cover the loaf without touching the dough (a large inverted bowl or tupperware container works well). Allow the dough to rise for a final 45 minutes.
With about 20 minutes to go in the last rise, put a 5-quart cast-iron Dutch oven with lid into the oven and set it to 500F.
At the end of the final rising period, the oven and cast-iron pot should be fully preheated. Gather your two dough scrapers and a sheet of aluminum foil large enough to cover the top of the Dutch oven. Remove the pot from the oven. With one dough scraper in each hand, carefully slide the scrapers under the loaf from either side and transfer the loaf to the cast-iron pot. Cover the pot with the foil and place the preheated lid on top. Return the pot to the oven. Bake for 12 minutes, then remove the lid and foil. Bake until the surface of the loaf is a deep brown, another 12-15 minutes.
Remove the loaf to a cooling rack. Allow it to fully cool before slicing.