Spelt Breadmaking Basics

If you’re like me, you probably never really thought about baking bread as an option. For some reason, it’s one of those things that seems like a mystery but we don’t dwell on it too long and we go on buying loaves from the grocery store with not much thought.

Well, that changed for me about a year ago. Due to a lot of digestive and GI problems, I was put on a very limited diet, the FODMAP diet. Ever heard of it? (Struggling with GI problems? Check out the diet here and the reasoning behind it here.)

Anyways, for 2 months I was on the strictest diet ever (dinner party host’s worst nightmare) and despite being kind of terrible, it was also an interesting challenge. Alex and I got very creative with our cooking, and its what really inspired me to try baking my own bread! Wheat flour was on the DO NOT EAT list. Having grown up with a celiac mom, that didn’t bother me too much because I grew up eating homemade cookies, pancakes, banana bread, etc. with rice flour or gluten free flour mixes. (Though I do not think my mom typically baked her own GF yeast bread – like I said, bread making remained a mystery to me.) However,  unlike people with celiac disease, folks on the FODMAP diet can eat spelt flour which is something I had never tried before so my interest was piqued.

What is spelt?

Spelt flour is an “ancient grain” that has low levels of gluten, is easy to digest, and has a higher protein content than wheat flour. I’m not an expert on any of this, but Alex and I quickly decided we liked the taste of spelt bread. Now that I’m off the strict FODMAP diet (but continue to watch what I eat and use it as a reference point), we continue to use spelt in all of our breads and baked goods. I highly recommend you try it, especially since my go-to recipe for spelt bread is really easy.

More info about spelt here. Where to buy it? I actually order it online from Amazon. They do carry it in certain stores, like Whole Foods, and you may try looking at your regular super market. I have found that I go through the small bags really quickly since I bake a lot of bread AND some of the brands at Whole Foods (VitaSpelt) are expensive. I recommend Bob’s Red Mill or Arrow Mills brand, and be sure to get whole spelt flour, not white spelt flour! I order Bob’s Red Mill spelt in packs of 4, 24oz. bags and store the open bag in an airtight container.

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Spelt Bread Recipe

After deciding to give it a try, I researched online and found a recipe that was easy enough not to scare me away. This is the one I used, and it continues to be my basic guide for spelt bread. Honey Spelt Bread

I continue to use the same proportion of ingredients as they recommend in that Food & Wine recipe, but I have switched up a few things while experimenting. Here’s my version of the recipe & directions!

Ingredients

  • 4.5 cups whole spelt flour + more for dusting
  • 2 teaspoons fine sea salt
  • 2 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 1-3/4 cups *warm* water
  • 2 tablespoons honey or agave or sugar
  • A loaf pan – 4X8 is the standard size

Directions

  1. Put the water in a microwavable bowl and microwave for 15-30 seconds so its lukewarm but not hot. Add your honey and yeast to the water and stir. Leave it for 15 minutes until its creamy and yeast has bubbled a little…It’s coming to life!
  2. Combine spelt flour and salt in a large mixing bowl – I use a whisk to make sure salt gets dispersed. Add the yeast mixture to the flour and combine with a spoon or your hands until its well mixed together. It will be sticky – that’s normal. Its also why I use a spoon and not my hands for this part…it’s sometimes hard to get off!
  3. Shape the dough into a ball, lift out of the bowl and dust the sides of the bowl with flour. Place the dough back into the bowl and cover with a dish towel or lightly greased plastic wrap.
  4. Then place your dough somewhere warm and leave for an hour or doubled in size– I usually turn my oven on WARM for a few minutes, then turn it off and place the bowl in there. Just make sure its not so hot it will cook your bread or damage the towel or plastic wrap. You can also just leave it on the counter if your kitchen is relatively warm.
  5. Lightly grease your loaf pan – I use olive oil and rub it around with a tiny piece of paper towel or my hands.
  6. Sprinkle spelt flour on a cutting board or clean work surface. Carefully coax your dough out of the bowl, it is okay if it’s a little stuck, that happens. Flour your hands and knead the dough by folding it in half one way and pushing on it, then folding it in half the other way and pushing on it. I usually do this just a few times. Spelt flour doesn’t need to be knead as much as wheat flour.
  7. After kneading the dough, shape it into a log the length of your loaf pan. Put the side that has visible folds on the bottom so the top is smooth.
  8. Cover again with a dish towel or greased plastic wrap and leave for 30 minutes or until it’s risen in the pan. This process is called “proofing.” I’m still perfecting the length of time, I change it up and sometimes leave it an hour or so. There’s such a thing as “over proofing” bread, but I don’t really know what that means…I think it gets too much air in the dough so there’s big holes. I haven’t noticed that in my loaves, but they always taste great!
  9. While the dough is proofing, preheat your oven to 450 degrees.
  10. Using a sharp knife, make a vertical cut down the center of the loaf a 1/4 inch deep or so. You can also make 4-5 horizontal cuts if you prefer. As the dough continues to rise in the oven, it will make a nice shape and also help air escape if necessary.
  11. Bake at 450 degrees for 30 – 35 minutes, keeping an eye on it so it doesn’t get too dark!
  12. Once it is done, take the bread out. Using oven mitts, turn the loaf pan over (use a knife on the edges if necessary) and pop your loaf out onto a clean surface. Using the mitts pick up the loaf and put it on top of something that will let the air get on all sides of it so it cools properly. 
  13. Once it has cooled…eat it!

PLEASE don’t let the number of steps deter you. It is a fun process and I know you can do it. Also, it gets easier each time and by now it is a piece of cake for me (or a piece of delicious bread…). Wishing you luck and can’t wait to hear how it turns out for you!

Additional Notes

  1. Toppings! This loaf of spelt bread has raw pepitas on top! I spritzed the dough with water and then pressed the pepitas into the top to add a nice crunch to the crust!
  2. Mixer – most bread recipes call for a standing mixer with dough hooks. Don’t let that deter you. Thus far I have not had any significant trouble using my stirring or hand mixing method. I may end up purchasing a mixer because it’ll make my life easier but don’t let your lack of mixer stop you from trying recipes!
  3. Yeast – You can buy fast acting yeast in little packets from the grocery store in the baking aisle next to the brownie mix (yum). Do this the first time you make bread, but if you decide you like making bread and/or pizza dough, you should buy the little jar because it’s more affordable than buying tons of the little packets!.
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