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, salt, 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, but also because wild yeast tastes better and has better texture than store-bought yeast which 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 flour.
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 and helping to keep in the steam from the dough which is what gives bread that great crusty exterior. You can cook bread without one but it probably won't be as awesomely 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, or even just a cookie sheet and still get great tasting bread. I prefer to make bread with organic white spelt but whole grain spelt is great as well. Other grains such as kamut and einkorn can also be used to make bread, but because I haven’t used them myself I’m not sure of their behavior with water and so your own exploration will be necessary.
YEAST STARTER INGREDIENTS
1 cup organic spelt flour
1 cup spring water
1 tbsp orange juice
Empty jar (a canning jar works just fine).
Put the water, orange juice, and flour in the jar and mix well, then set on the kitchen counter (best in a warm place) with the lid on but not tight and let it sit for 12 hours. That's it. Wild yeast is everywhere and the yeast on the flour will begin to grow and you will start to see bubbles all over the paste within 12 hours if you place it in a warm spot (the orange juice has an enzyme which helps break down the flour quickly to promote more rapid colonization with yeast—only use it the first time). This is the active yeast feeding and producing CO2 as a byproduct. When the mix does start producing bubbles you must continue to feed your starter. Do this by adding another 1 cup of flour and 3/4 cup of water twice a day. As soon as there are big, robust bubbles forming it's ready to use, but you want to continue feed your starter until the bubble activity is consistent and vigorous and can be seen as large air pockets through the side of the jar. I can usually begin to use mine a day after I started it. When not using the starter you should feed it and place it in the fridge, and feed it once a week to keep it alive. If a dark layer of water ever appears on top of the starter (this is called hooch) this is alcohol and means the yeast is stressed and needs to be fed, but pour off the dark layer first before feeding. Mold will grow on flour that is stuck to the walls of the jar, so it’s helpful to use a scraper to clean the sides after each feeding.
BREAD INGREDIENTS + EQUIPMENT
3 cups + extra spelt flour
1 cup spring water
2 tbsp sugar
1/2 cup wild yeast starter (or 1 tsp dry active yeast)
1 tsp salt
Parchment paper or banneton (optional)
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, and yeast to a large bowl and mix well. Wild yeast is more sensitive to salt, so we wait to add that later, otherwise it will suppress your yeast activity. 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 2-4 hours until doubled in volume. If making sourdough, only use 2 cups of flour to start and let it sit for 6-8 hours (overnight). 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. Turn out the dough onto this flour and add the salt to the dough pile. Sprinkle more flour over the dough mass and coat your hands with flour, then push the salt into the dough and begin to kneading. 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, but do not add so much that the dough becomes dry. There will be a moment when it doesn’t stick but is still damp. 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 at all. Don't worry, 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 (you don't really have to do this). Dry it, then put the dough inside and cover once more with a damp towel. 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 doubles again in size, probably around 3 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. 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 IT IS NOT NECESSARY and the picture of the loaf above I merely let rise on some parchment paper dusted with flour. 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.
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 well-floured bread pans. Depending on the temperature of your kitchen, it will take about 1.5-2.5 hours for this final rise (double in size). If it doesn’t double in size or more the center will be dense. It is a good idea to let this rise go until the shapes look more than double their original size. If your bread reaches a point where it no longer rises, you probably let it proof too long and should cut previous rising times, or your starter could be insufficiently robust enough and needs to be fed and developed more before making bread. You should cover the dough as it rises too, using a large bowl or plastic (take care not to touch the dough with the plastic, as it will stick to that too). I’ve even just used some parchment paper over top, which won’t stick if you dust the top of the dough with a little flour. If your dough sits uncovered for any long amount of time the edges will dry out and create strange textures on the bread.
45 minutes before you're going to put the bread in the oven, preheat it to 450 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.
Once the dough is risen, transfer it 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 have said, "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 20 minutes exactly, then remove the lid and let the bread cook again for 8-15 minutes until a dark golden brown (smaller loaves need less time). 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. As tempting as it is, DO NOT slice open for at least 15 FULL MINUTES. If you do open the bread before that time the steam will rapidly condense onto the interior and turn it soggy and dense. Afterward 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 8 tbsp of softened coconut oil or butter at the start of the recipe, or make brioche, bagels, or doughnuts. Enjoy!