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 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. Real sourdough gets that thick, chewy, satisfying crust on the exterior while store yeast produces a more crumbly, less satisfying crust but which can be fine for sandwich 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. Or just buy a starter online. Not only are there some great commercial sourdough starters available, there are also bread makers on shops like Etsy and Ebay who sell their own starters. Usually these will be made with common wheat, but you can dilute them with spelt flour and as you continue to feed and use your starter it will switch to spelt only. Also, einkorn flour can be substituted for this recipe, but it behaves slightly different with water and might take some practice to get used to.
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).
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. 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) 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. When you take the yeast out of the fridge to use again you must first wake it up before using it in dough, otherwise the bacteria will outpace the yeast and you won’t get a good rise. To do this put the yeast in a warm spot overnight and feed it, then you can use it again the next day.
BREAD INGREDIENTS + EQUIPMENT
3 cups + extra spelt flour
1 cup spring water
4 tbsp sugar
1/2 cup wild yeast starter (or 1 tsp dry active yeast)
1/2 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 add 1 cup of flour, the water, sugar, salt, and yeast to a large bowl and mix well (I put my oven on low and put the bowl near the vent to keep it warm). Wild yeast especially requires warm growing environments to behave properly. Spelt does not take water the way common wheat does, and usually requires much less than what a 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 it should resemble pancake batter. Cover the bowl with cling wrap and sit overnight. This is going to give the yeast some time to grow in abundance and develop the cultures and flavors which make good sourdough, and the wetter dough helps the microbes grow more robustly (and prevent drying out). If you don’t want real sourdough you can skip this part as it is the overnight span which helps make the sourdough flavor.
If not making sourdough skip that first step and instead add all ingredients and mix. If you’ve started your sourdough, the next morning add the remaining flour and mix well, then 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. Sprinkle more flour over the dough mass and coat your hands with flour. Push into the dough and begin 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 like 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 no longer sticks but is still evenly 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 you can make adjustments the next time you make it. Once you’ve reached this point put it back in the bowl and cover with a damp cloth and put it back in the warm spot to allow it to rise. Allow to rise just until double in size or one to three hours depending on the temperature in your kitchen. This process is called proofing. Spelt does not like long proofing times, so it’s sometimes better to under-proof than over proof, especially with this first proof, and you can err on the shorter span of time.
After the dough has risen about twice its original size 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. With heirloom flours you can even just bake after the first rise, although going through longer proofing times will create more B vitamins and flavors. Either way it's not going to be pretty the first few times, so don't worry. It will still taste amazing. The trick is 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. Now that the dough has risen, punch to deflate it. We do this because if you let it rise non-stop for the whole proofing time the gas bubbles would expand so much they would cause the dough to collapse. So we deflate them to allow the bread more rising time. As this is going to be the final rise, shape your dough as desired and put in your banneton or on your parchment paper, bread pans, or baking sheet. You can even cut it into two pieces and round those into smaller loaves. 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 the area where you are raising your bread is too cold, or your starter isn’t very healthy and you can consider buying one online. Sometimes wild yeast does not produce gas as vigorously and doesn’t rise high but when put in the oven will still produce a decent bread loaf. Cover the dough as it rises this last time as well, 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 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, but it will still taste great.
45 minutes before you're going to put the bread in the oven preheat it to 425 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 it into the oven at this time as it needs to be hot when the bread goes into it. Once the dough is finally risen and ready to bake, turn out into the hot 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 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 26 minutes after which remove the lid and cook for another 8-12 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 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 softened butter and an egg at the start of the recipe (with a little more flour). I highly recommend making a brioche version of this bread. Heaven.