“Good bread is the most fundamentally satisfying of all foods; and good bread with fresh butter, the greatest of feasts.”

James Beard (1903-1985)

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Spelt bread

Spelt is an ancient grain that was introduced to the United States in the late 1800s. It is a little sweeter and slightly nuttier than whole wheat but is not as "bulky". Spelt flour can be easily found in specialty stores or in larger supermarkets. It contains some gluten but not enough to validate a "spelt only" bread, hence the bread flour in this recipe.

Baking this particular type of bread takes a little bit of planning but it's worth the effort. The day before, mix a flour slurry with spelt, warm water and a bit of yeast. Let it sit overnight at room temperature and in the morning it should smell slightly sour and yeasty, with bubbles.

Spelt loaf

The day before
1/4 cup spelt
1/4 cup warm water
1/ 4 teaspoon active dry yeast

Stir the warm water and the yeast into the flour until well blended. Cover the container and let sit at room temperature for 12-16 hours.

The next day
1/4 cup bread flour

Stir in another quarter cup of bread flour, cover and set aside for about four hours.

Four hours later
1/4 cup warm water
2 cups of bread flour
1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup warm water

Carefully stir a 1/4 cup of warm water into the slurry, making sure there are no lumps. In a mixing bowl, add two cups of bread flour and pour in the warm, bubbly yeast mix. Add the dry yeast and stir into the flour. Let it sit for a minute or two, then add the 3/4 cup of warm water and the salt. Mix the dough until it comes together, then scrape it out of the bowl and knead it for five minutes on a lightly dusted counter. If the dough is too dry, spray it with a little bit of water. If it's too wet, flour your hands and carefully incorporate it into the dough.

When the dough is soft and flexible, oil a bowl and put the dough in it. Cover and rise until 3x its size. Punch down, cover and rise until 2x its size. Prepare a banneton with flour (or if you have a plastic wicker basket, spray with cooking spray and flour generously). At this point you can also weigh the dough and divide into equal parts for rolls, batards or baguettes.

Heat the oven to 400F. Place a baking sheet on the lower rack and add half a cup of water. Knead the dough and shape it into a ball. Put it carefully, seam side up, into the prepared basket and cover. Let it rise one more time, until double its size. When ready, invert the basket carefully onto a baking sheet so as not to deflate the dough and bake for 35 minutes. For the last five minutes, leave the oven door cracked open so that the moisture can disappear and a crunchier crust forms on the loaf.

Cool on a rack before slicing.

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