Wild Yeast Spelt Bread
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 is not difficult to make. It's literally just yeast, flour, salt, and water. In my book Fuck Portion Control I talk about how the gluten in common wheat causes a myriad of metabolic health issues in humans. But heirloom grains are safe for us to consume, and bread is a necessary food for humans as we have long developed a somewhat symbiotic relationship with the yeast we use to make it, requiring the large amount of B vitamins and special form of niacin (called nicotinamide riboside) which they produce in order to be well, or to avoid feeling ravenously hungry all the time. In fact, the reason we crave bread is not for the carbs but for this special form of niacin which is not available from any other dietary sources (nor in commercial store-made bread which use chemicals instead of yeast). 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 prefer 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, and wild yeast culture is necessary to make real sourdough with that thick, chewy, satisfying crust on the exterior. I also suspect wild yeast of making more vitamins than what the store yeast makes, and it definitely makes the grain more digestible. Einkorn flour can also be substituted for this recipe, but it behaves slightly different with water and might take some adjustments with a little less water.
There are two parts here—one is acquiring the yeast and the other is making the bread. Acquiring the yeast is really easy—you can buy a starter online. But yeast is all around us and on the flour itself. Getting wild yeast is only a matter of cultivating the yeast spores that are already there. But go ahead and do yourself a favor and get one online—skip this step of making your own and you’ll save several days and get to making bread sooner. There are lots of great starters available from amazing home bakers.
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 and steam around all sides of the bread. 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. Again, most bread recipes and instructions sound as if you must do it the way they say, but usually that is the method they have learned and bread can take as little or as much effort as you want to put into it. 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.
YEAST STARTER INGREDIENTS
1 cup organic spelt flour
1 cup spring water
1 tbsp orange juice
Empty jar (a canning jar works just fine).
(or just buy a starter online)
Put the water, orange juice, and flour in the jar and mix well, then set on the kitchen counter 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. If you use tap water or even filtered water the chlorine will kill the yeast, so don’t do that. 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. The bubbles are 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 1/2 cup of flour and 1/2 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. After you’ve used your starter to make bread, you should feed it and place it in the fridge, and feed it once a week to keep it alive. To use again you must take the starter out, feed it, and let it warm up in order for it to be effective in bread making. If you use it without warming it up first the loaf will not rise and will be consumed by the bacteria in the culture alone. If a dark layer of water ever appears on top of the starter (this is called hooch) it 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. If mold does grow there your starter is not ruined, just remove the mold and feed your starter again. The starter should always smell fresh and yeasty. If for some reason you don’t have access to non-chlorinated water, you can leave tap water out for a day or boil it for a few minutes, uncovered, both of which cause the chlorine to evaporate. Allow to cool before using.
*If you’re having trouble with your rise or your starter, you can do a fun little trick that is totally acceptable and add some store bought dry active yeast to the sourdough starter. It will still retain its sourdough quality, which is provided by the bacteria in the culture producing acetic acid, and the stronger store bought yeast will make raising the bread a lot easier and more reliable.
BREAD INGREDIENTS + EQUIPMENT
4 cups + extra organic white spelt flour
1 1/3 cup spring water
1/2 cup yeast starter
1 tsp salt
Oil for pan
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 advance of making bread, remove your starter from the fridge if you already have one, feed it and allow it to warm up, which takes a good 5-8 hours. A cold starter will result in failure when making bread, because the yeasts are not yet awakened. Then, in a not-cold kitchen mix the water and starter in a large bowl, then add the flour and mix well. This first step is called the autolyse, where the water soaks into the gluten proteins and begins to make the flour break down. This is very important because this is the step which results in those long ropes of stringy, crunchy bread on the interior of good sourdough. Some recipes ask that you add the salt at this stage too, or begin kneading, but the salt makes gluten more tough, so if you add the salt before the gluten has elongated (especially in heirloom grains) your bread will be mealy and dense, and all kneading really does is force water into the gluten which will occur anyway if you let it sit. At this stage it may look pretty dry, but spelt doesn’t handle water the same way that normal wheat does, so use your hands to complete the mixing if required. You can compare the texture development by noticing how the dough is at first dry, grainy, and stiff, but when you come back to it the dough will have taken on a texture that is wet, stretchy, and shiny. Now cover the dough and let it sit for one hour.
An hour later sprinkle the salt over the dough. Very lightly dampen your right hand (left if left handed) and, bracing the bowl with your other hand use the damp one to grab one side of the dough ball, slowly lift it up, stretching the dough out like you’re playing with play-dough, then fold that stretched dough on top of the ball and press down (this is the video I used to learn to learn this technique ). Repeat until salt is incorporated, then cover and allow to sit for two more hours.
When two hours have passed remove cover and repeat the folding action three or four times, grabbing one side, stretching it out gently, then folding the dough back into itself. Cover, let rest again, and repeat this step two more times every hour. This process of lamination builds up a structure within the bread to help prevent spreading outward during baking.
After you have folded the dough several times it should look like it’s rising by now and growing in volume. Lightly flour your countertop and turn out the dough. Using a similar motion as the previous, grab one side of the dough and stretch it out far enough that you can wrap it fully over and around the other side of the dough, tucking it under with the other hand. The floured surface will now make the dough drier and more prepared for the final rise. Repeat this fold two or three more times until the ball starts to feel like a tight parcel, then push the ball around the counter in little circles using both hands cupped lightly around and your fingers to seal the folds underneath (see the video above). Let the parcel rest for ten or fifteen minutes, then turn it upside down into a banneton (optional) which is a basket made especially for letting bread rise. If you don’t have a banneton just move the dough onto or into whatever pan you will be baking it in/on. A banneton supports the bread in a roundish shape so it rises up instead of out, but at this point the dough should have made a pretty good little parcel which will bake just fine on its own. Using flour to coat whatever the bread is rising in/on is what prevents sticking, and all “non-stick” things will still stick to rising bread dough, except flour.
Now preheat the oven to 450˚ F (232˚ C). Once the dough is finally risen (about double in size, 40-80 minutes later), it’s ready to go into the dutch oven, or if you're using bread pans or a normal pan they can just go right in. An older version of this recipe, and most traditional bread-making methods, involve putting the dough into an already heated dutch oven, but heirloom grains cook too quickly using this method and this will cause the exterior to harden and to stay low and dense. I’ve found it’s better for this recipe to put the pan into the oven along with the bread, which allows the yeast more time to rise while both heat up. But this increases the chance of sticking, so generously oil the bottom of the pan before you place the dough inside. You can also bake the bread on a cookie sheet over a piece of parchment paper, though the dutch oven helps the bread have a chewy crust. You can know if the dough is ready by slightly touching the exterior of the dough—if it bounces back quickly it’s not ready yet. If it bounces back slowly it’s ready to bake. If it doesn’t bounce back at all, you’ve over-proved it and can still bake but it will most likely deflate in the oven. After the dough is turned out into the pan, 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 and gives the loaf those nice crispy ears that are a hallmark of sourdough. The trick is to slice fairly quickly and with strength, or as Julia Child would 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. 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 about 35-45 minutes until it’s a nice deep golden brown (smaller loaves need less time). If using pans bake for 30 minutes or until it turns 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. As tempting as it is, DO NOT slice open for at least 15-20 FULL MINUTES. If you do open the bread before that time the steam will rapidly condense onto the interior and turn it soggy. Afterward you can open up that baby and slather it with grass fed butter and chow down to your heart's content. If you prefer a more sour-tasting sourdough, put the dough in the fridge overnight (8 hours) for the final proofing (the state before preheating the oven) and bake the next morning instead. If you prefer a less sour dough you can skip the two-hour resting phase in the beginning, getting the bread in the oven sooner.