Spelt loaf

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The moody shot of a spelt loaf

Baking bread is a passion of mine. It is what brought me onto my food journey. After being very ill for some time and diagnosed with an auto immune condition, I was put on a rather toxic combination of drugs which saw me off work for a few months and awake for 22 hours a day! Coupled with this, I was permanently hungry – second breakfast became a thing for me.

So to help my days go by I decided to start baking bread by hand. Although baking bread is a very therapeutic activity, it does take a few attempts to get the hang of and can at first be frustrating, but you will have a fabulous loaf of bread to eat for first and second breakfast!

Unfortunately, what I didn’t realise at the time is the gluten factor and its affect on the immune system, which in turn does not help with auto immune conditions. The spelt loaf goes a little way to reducing the gluten (note it is definitely not low or no gluten) and should be less damaging to your gut.

4 small loaves proved and about to hit the oven

The ultimate bread for health, certainly lower impact, is sourdough. If you want to learn how to make sourdough I suggest following Chad Robertson’s direction in his Tartine Bread book. His Country loaf recipe is a labour of love but definitely worth your time investment if you like sourdough (I would suggest you make two at a time!).

So why is there less gluten in spelt bread? The technical answer is that the gluten which forms in a spelt bread is more delicate than normal bread flour. Spelt is an ancient cousin of the modern wheat grown for bread production today. Spelt has similar properties but has less of the protein gliaden, which when combined with the protein glutenin with a bit of water produce gluten.

As we have developed wheat to produce “better” loaves of bread so too have we developed “better” production techniques. This has resulted in the human body now rejecting a food product which has sustained us for thousands of years. Best thing since sliced bread? Think again!

Inside of a small spelt loaf

This spelt loaf is slightly more difficult to make than a standard loaf using bread flour, but I think is worth the effort. The dough is very wet so I always use a stand mixer. If you don’t have a stand mixer then make sure you have a dough scraper, plenty of patience and turn your phone off – you will not be able to pick it up without first having a dough fight on your hands!

The raw ingredients ready to mix

Ingredients (makes 1 x 900g loaf):

  • 500g white spelt flour
  • 1 tsp fast action yeast
  • 1 tsp sugar (or honey if prefered)
  • 1.5 tsp salt
  • 350ml water, lukewarm
  • 1 TBSP oil
  • Butter to grease bread tin

Method:

  1. Put the flour and salt into a large mixing bowl. Put the yeast, sugar and water into a jug and mix well; leave for a few minutes and you should see the yeast begin to react with the water and sugar. If nothing happens, then your yeast may be dead and continuing would be futile.
  2. Pour the liquid into a well in the flour, add the oil and gradually mix the liquid into the flour. If you are using a stand mixer, use the dough hook and let the mixer run for at least 5 minutes, scraping down the sides every so often. If you are making by hand, mix the dough in the bowl until it comes together and the dough “cleans” the side of the bowl.
  3. Knead the dough; the stand mixer will do this for you in the 5 minutes. Kneading by hand will take 10 to 15 minutes. Tip the dough onto the work top, lightly flour the work top first. Knead the dough for about 15 minutes until it is firm and when pushed with a finger it bonces back. As the dough will be quite “wet” you will need to stick with it and try not to add too much flour. Using a dough scraper will help.
  4. Put the dough into an oiled bowl and cover with a damp towel and leave to rise in a warm place for approx. 1 hour.
  5. In the meantime, prepare your bread tin. I prefer to use butter as it sticks to the sides of the tin, oil tends to run off.
  6. Knock back the dough. All this term means is that you should tip the risen dough out of the bowl onto your worktop and knead it for 2 to 3 minutes. This pushes all the carbon dioxide out of the dough. Then you want to shape it to the size of your bread tin. With practice you will be able to get lots of surface tension on the dough which will help with the final look of the loaf. Put the shaped dough into the tin, cover with your damp cloth and allow to prove for 20-30 minutes.
  7. Turn on the oven and set to 200C with the shelf in the top 1/3 of the oven. Drop a baking tray water onto the bottom shelf of the oven – this will provide a nice steamy environment to bake your loaf.
  8. Check your loaf after 20 minutes. You should find it has risen, but not as much as you would expect a standard bread. Give it a prod with an oiled finger and if soft and does not bounce back out you’re ready to bake. If not, leave for another 5 minutes and check again.
  9. If you want to, you can now glaze the top of the loaf with some egg wash and throw some seeds or salt over the top.
  10. Put you loaf on the higher oven shelf and leave to bake for 30 minutes. Then check it, don’t open the oven door before 30 minutes is up as you could deflate your loaf – not a good look. If the loaf is looking nice and firm, remove it from the tin and place it back in the oven – this will give you a nice even crust.
  11. Bake for another 15 to 20 minutes. You’ll know your loaf is baked with practice, but it will sound hollow if when fully baked if you tap the base.
  12. Let the loaf cool on a cooling rack. Then, eat it!

Notes:

Rising and proving – there are no set time scales for either the rising or proving processes as they are reliant on the temperature of your kitchen and the amount of salt added to the dough. If you put in less salt and rise the dough in a warm place it will take less time than if you add more salt and rise in a cool place. Generally, the slower the rise the better.

Time in the oven will also vary depending on the shape and size of loaf tin. I made this dough into 4 x 250g loaves and they took a lot less time to bake (I did make the mistake of placing them too close together in the oven and nearly ended up with co-joined loaves!). Trial and error is part of the baking process.

Cooling on a wire rack is important as if we place the hot loaves on a board or place, condensation will gather on the underside of the loaf – not great. Also, if you want a softer crust, then you can cover the cooling loaf with a tea towel.

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