Recipe: Boules de spelt (crusty spelt bread)

In a frenzy of research yeasterday (ha ha) and this morning, after I decided I was going to bake bread today, I found a whole slew of fancy recipes and recommendations for making the perfect artisan loaf: bigas and starters and sponges and putting hot stones in the oven and all that. And professional food bloggers wonder why people are hesitant to bake yeast-risen bread. “It’s super easy!” they promise. “You just have to start three days in advance and babysit it all day.”

And, of course, there were zero recipes for 100% spelt artisan loaves. All I found was a suggestion to reduce the amount of water by 25%, but I wasn’t sure it that applied to whole spelt flour only, or white spelt flour as well (I followed this suggestion initially, and ended up having to add more water; this is reflected in the recipe I have recorded below).

Finally, I decided to give up on the world of steam-injected ovens and turn to a simpler time. A fictional time and place, in fact. Yes, it’s back to the Inn at the Crossroads (or more precisely, their cookbook). Their recipe for crusty white bread that Jon smells while dreaming of Winterfell was the second yeast bread recipe I ever tried (the first was a chocolate cherry bread when I was about 12 years old; pretty tasty, but not really worth the effort, so I gave up) and was my go-to bread recipe for about a year, until I was diagnosed with a wheat allergy. It’s simple and produced great wheat bread, so I thought I’d try adapting it for spelt bread.

This post was the best explanation of why baking bread with spelt works differently than baking with wheat. Here’s hoping the reduced water helps!

Crusty Spelt Bread

Adapted from A Feast of Ice and Fire; the original recipe can be found here.

Yield: 2 medium-sized loaves.

Scant 3 tsp dry yeast
1 Tbsp honey
1.25 cups warm water
2 cups white spelt flour, plus more for dusting
1.5 cups whole spelt flour
1 tsp coarse salt (optional)
3 Tbsp cornmeal (or more as needed)
Olive oil or other greasing agent

Proofing the yeast with water and honey.
Proofing the yeast with water and honey.

Add the yeast and honey to the water in a large bowl and mix it up (I recommend reserving up to 1/4 cup of the warm water at this point, since I find it easier to add water to make the dough the right consistency than to add flour if it ends up too wet). Don’t worry if there are still clumps of yeast visible; it will finish mixing in the flour. [The original recipe calls for just adding the flour and salt at this point, but I prefer to wait for the yeast to proof: look for foam and/or new bubbles to start developing in the yeast/water/honey mixture. This is a sign that your yeast is actually alive, which ensure that you’ll end up with risen bread instead of a sad mess.] Add the flour and salt and begin working them into the mixture. If the dough seems too dry at this point (i.e., if there’s absolutely no way you’ll be able to get all the flour worked in), add more warm water, about a tablespoon at a time.

Bringing the dough together with a short knead.
Bringing the dough together with a short knead.

Dump the dough onto a clean, floured countertop or board and knead for 2-3 minutes, pushing with the heel of your hand, then gathering the dough back into a lump. Knead until the dough becomes one big mass and it bounces back when you poke it. If it’s still too sticky, add a little extra flour. [As per here, I reduced the kneading time. Various places around the internet have suggested that lots of kneading is unnecessary, so I basically go by the poke test.]

The dough, before rising.
The dough, before rising.

Now place the dough into a large, greased bowl, cover it with a (damp, if you’re in a desert like me) towel, and let it sit in a warm place for about 2 hours. You can also put it in the refrigerator overnight or for up to 2 days, at which point it will begin to take on a slight sourdough taste.

After the first rise.
After the first rise.

Once the dough has at least doubled in size, divide it in half. Pull on each piece to form a ball, tucking all the ends in at the bottom. The balls should be semi-smooth. [You can use a similar technique, but elongated, to form a short batard.] Dust the top of each round loaf with a bit of flour and make some light slices in the dough with a very sharp knife. Place the loaves at least 4 inches apart on a baking sheet dusted with cornmeal and allow them to rise, uncovered, for about 40 minutes.

Formed loaves, before the final rise.
Formed loaves, before the final rise.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Place a baking dish with 1-2 cups water in the oven with the bread (this is supposed to give a nice crusty loaf. DO NOT ADD COLD WATER TO A HOT BAKING DISH! IT WILL EXPLODE. [Guess who got to learn from experience today…] I thought this was an interesting and relatively accessible explanation as to why). Alternatively, toss a handful of ice cubes on to the bottom of the oven after you put the bread in. Bake the loaves for around 30 minutes, until the crusts are a dark golden color and the loaves sound hollow when you tap them.

Final product.
Final product.

Result: this is definitely still a work in progress. The boules spread more and rose less than I would have liked, and the interior didn’t have those lovely huge air bubbles you find in a good artisan loaf. Maybe this is just a reality of baking spelt-only bread. I might investigate gluten-free baking tricks; somebody’s sure to have figured out gluten-free artisan bread by now.

Not too bad for a novice.
Not too bad for a novice.

Serving suggestions: anything goes! We put some baba ganoush on it at dinner, and I’m sure a variety of breakfast spreads and possibly a grilled cheese sandwich are in my future.

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5 thoughts on “Recipe: Boules de spelt (crusty spelt bread)

      1. The recipe calls for 1 and 1/4 cups of water and a total of 3 and 1/2 cups of flour (which I split between whole grain and white flours).

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