Reading bread recipes online can make you freak out and slam the laptop shut. They're usually just written poorly or overwrought in their technique. Bread really isn't that difficult. It's literally just yeast, flour, and water. In my book Fuck Portion Control I discuss how bread made from heirloom grains is not only safe for us to consume, but necessary as we have long developed a symbiotic relationship with yeast and require the large amount of B vitamins which they produce in order to be well. Unlike common wheat, spelt flour is easy to digest and when made into bread is supportive of restoring a healthy metabolism. And no, organic wheat is not the same as spelt. Organic wheat will still kill you. Slowly.
Normally bread making occurs with yeast bought from the store, and you can do this—there's nothing wrong with that. I like wild yeast because it sounds cool to say I made a loaf from wild yeast. Wild yeast also tastes better and store yeast can sometimes impart off flavors into the bread. I also suspect wild yeast of making more vitamins than what the store yeast makes. I might be completely wrong about that. Either way I love my wild yeast.
There are two parts here—one is acquiring the yeast and the other is making the bread. Acquiring the yeast is really easy. Yeast is all around us and on every fresh food item you buy. Getting wild yeast is only a matter of cultivating the yeast spores that are already on the food, although it is more likely to be on whole-grain spelt, as yeast lives on the outer covering that is removed during refining, so you should start with a whole-grain spelt and can move on to making white bread loaves after the starter is built.
Typically it is best to cook this kind of bread in a dutch oven. There are many varieties, but they serve the purpose of stabilizing the heat around all sides of the bread which is what gives it that great crusty exterior. You can cook bread without one, but it probably won't rise as high nor be as crusty as dutch oven bread. If you have a dutch oven or can get one, I recommend it. But it is not necessary. You can also use bread pans for an easier experience and just as great tasting bread. I prefer to make bread with organic white spelt, but if choosing whole spelt it is best sprouted, such as from One Degree foods. Yeast can be acquired from a variety of whole foods, including whole wheat flour, grapes, or apples (that very thin white layer on grapes or unwaxed apples is yeast).
YEAST STARTER INGREDIENTS
1 cup whole-grain spelt flour
1 tbsp unrefined sugar
Grapes, a fig, or the skin of an unwaxed apple (look for white dusting on fruit—that is yeast)
Empty jar (a canning jar works just fine).
Fill the jar about 1/3 way with spring water. Add the spelt flour, sugar, fruit if you have it, and mix well, then place on the kitchen counter with the lid on but not tight and let it sit for 12 hours. That's it. The wild yeast will begin to grow on the food in the jar and you will begin to see bubbles all over the paste. This is the active yeast feeding and producing CO2 as a byproduct. Wild yeast does not produce bubbles as vigorously as store yeast (store yeast was selected to cause faster rise) so the bubbles might be small and unimpressive at first, but there is enough yeast there which will be evident in the bread making process. Over the next few days continue feeding the starter by adding another 1/2 cup of flour and a little water to keep it like pancake batter. As soon as there are bigger bubbles forming it's ready to use, but you want to continue feed your starter until the bubble activity is fairly vigorous and can be seen as large air pockets through the side of the jar. If a starter goes flat and develops a layer of darker water at the surface this is actually a good sign, showing the presence of a large mount of yeast (this layer is called hooch and is alcohol produced by the yeast and can be poured off before feeding or using) and just needs to be fed again to reactivate the yeast. The older a starter is, the more "sour" it will be, and your bread won't really become sourdough until the starter is a few weeks old, but it still can and should be used in the meantime. Many starter recipes call for a long, drawn out process of discarding part of the starter and re-feeding it. As soon as you see large bubbles forming, the starter is ready to use, and this re-feeding process merely serves to build up the yeast population and it's a waste of time and flour to keep discarding all that useable yeast, so make bread as soon as you see large bubbles, and use leftover flour from the kneading process, the flour usually discarded in the trash, to feed your starter. Nothing goes to waste!
BREAD INGREDIENTS + EQUIPMENT
3 cups + extra spelt flour
1 1/2 cup spring water
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp active yeast or 1/2 cup wild yeast starter
Dutch oven (or bread pans, or cookie sheet)
Plain razor blade (optional, for slashing the dough—a knife will not work).
In a not-cold kitchen (turn up the thermostat or turn on the oven) add the water, sugar, yeast, salt to a large bowl and mix well. Then add the flour and mix again. Spelt does not take water the way common wheat does, and usually requires much less than what normal bread recipes call for. Because there is already water in the starter, this will count toward what the flour can absorb, but don't worry if the dough looks sticky. It will get better as we work it. For now, cover the bowl with a damp cloth and let it sit for 2-3 hours if making normal bread, 4-8 hours if making sourdough. This is going to give the yeast some time to grow in abundance. The more time the yeast get to feed on the flour, the more vitamins and nutrients they produce and also the more flavor and sourness.
Once the dough has proofed the desired time, sprinkle a generous layer of spelt flour onto a dry kitchen surface with enough room to work the dough, making sure none of the counter under the dough is exposed as it will stick to that. Then turn out the dough from the bowl onto this flour. Sprinkle more flour over the dough mass and coat your hands with flour, then begin to knead the dough. There is no special way to knead, all you do is smash the dough down, fold it into itself, and repeat that process however feels natural to you. Spelt does not need long nor vigorous kneading, this is more about spreading the water and yeast around inside the dough than it is about developing the gluten. The dough will start to get wet every time you press it down, so continuously add a little flour to prevent sticking. Eventually the dough will become drier from the flour and no longer easily stick to the counter or your fingers easily. This is important because if your dough is too wet it will rise sideways and become flat, but too dry and it won't rise well at all. The fine line between the two is when the outside of the dough is still damp but not sticking. Don't worry though, even if you don't get it quite right the bread will still be very tasty and cook well and you can make adjustments the next time you make it.
Wash out the bowl we used earlier so it's clean (if you're lazy you don't really have to do this). Dry it, then put the dough inside and cover once more with a damp towel. This step is where we let the dough rise again to allow the yeast to grow, produce nutrients, and break down the grain so that it's more easily digestible for us. Because wild yeast grow much more slowly this process takes a lot longer than is usual for bread making. The general rule is to let it rise until it is at least double in size than it was when you put it in. This should be at least 3 hours, but because I want more vitamins I try to let my bread rise for 4-6 hours. If maybe you haven't timed this right and your bedtime is fast approaching, you can even let it rise all night long and it will be just as fine and tasty when you cook it tomorrow and will have even more vitamins and yeast in it. The only thing that matters here is the minimum time, not really the maximum, so at least three hours.
After the allotted time has passed, punch down the dough in the bowl so it deflates. Now we are going to shape the dough into the form it will be when we cook it. This can be a little tricky because it can be hard to get it into the dutch oven. I'm still not very good at doing that. Many bakers use what's called a banneton which is a basket made especially for letting bread rise. This supports the bread in a roundish shape so it rises up instead of out. This is very useful for spelt because spelt has more of tendency to rise outward than upward compared to common wheat. But again, IT IS NOT NECESSARY and the picture of the loaf above I merely let rise on my cutting board. Some people use a bowl, and if you again wash out the old bowl and dry it but this time line it with flour you can have an easy, make-shift banneton. Either way it's not going to be pretty when you turn it out the first few times, so don't worry. It will still taste amazing. The trick is to using flour to coat whatever the bread is rising in/on, and this is what prevents sticking. All non-stick things will still stick to rising bread dough, except flour.
So shape your dough as desired and put it in/on whatever it will be doing its last rise. You can even cut it into two pieces and round those into smaller loaves, or if you don't have a dutch oven you can put your loaves into bread pans, and that way you don't even have to turn anything out, just pop them directly into the oven when they're ready. Depending on the temperature of your kitchen, it will take about 1.5-2.5 hours for this rise. I used to make the mistake of worrying I was letting my dough rise too long, and putting it in the oven resulted in a bread with a dense interior, because it didn't rise long enough. It is a good idea to let this rise go until the shapes look more than double their original size.
1 hour into the last rise (really 1/2 hour before you're going to put them in), preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. This is extremely hot and much care and caution should be taken from now on when dealing with the oven and the bread, as you can BURN THE SHIT out of yourself if you're not careful. If you're using a dutch oven, also place the dutch oven into the oven at this time, as it needs to be as hot as the oven when the bread goes into it. You can also put the leftover yeast away. Add some more spring water to the jar, 1/2 cup of flour, stir, and set out overnight to regrow more yeast, and then put it into the refrigerator the next day to keep until the next time you make bread.
Once the bread is risen, transfer the dough to the oven or the dutch oven. If you're using bread pans or a normal pan they can just go right in. If using a dutch oven BE CAREFUL and, using the thickest motherfucking oven mitts you can find (and make sure they are not wet—wet oven mitts will transfer the heat so fast to your hand it will burn the shit out of you before you can get them off), pull the rack with the dutch oven out so it is accessible, and put the lid aside. Some people pull the whole dutch oven out and put it on the stove to do this. Which ever way seems safest to you is the one you should do. Now, deftly turn out the risen dough into the dutch oven. it will begin sizzling. Quickly but safely use the razor blade to slash one long gash into the top of the bread dough, then make another one exactly perpendicular to the first. This is not necessary at all and you can skip it if you don't want to do it. This just cuts the drier outer layer apart so that the inside can rise a little more. The trick is to slice fairly quickly and with strength, or as Julia Child would proudly say, "with the courage of your convictions." The bread will still turn out great if you don't have a razor blade or can't slice it right, and don't do this if it risks hitting your hand on the hot, hot, hot, fucking hot dutch oven. Even the sharpest knife will catch on the dough, it can only be done with a razor blade so if you don't have one, don't worry about cutting it.
Now pop the bread, dutch oven, or whatever into the oven, replacing the lid if there is one. If you are using a dutch oven it cooks in there for 30 minutes exactly, then remove the lid and let the bread cook again for 15 minutes until a dark golden brown. Once this has been achieved and your home filled with the scent of fresh baked bread, remove from oven and place on a cooling rack or a dry, clean part of the kitchen counter. As tempting as it is, DO NOT slice open for at least 10 full minutes. If you do open the bread before then the steam will rapidly condense onto the interior and turn it soggy and dense. But once ten minutes have passed you can open up that baby and slather it with grass fed butter and chow down to your heart's content. This makes a classic crusty loaf, but if you desire a softer interior like sandwich bread add 3-4 tbsp of melted coconut oil or softened butter at the start of the recipe. Enjoy!