It has been a least a year of testing and re-testing spelt sourdough breads, reading and following instructions in different bread books, I even took a friggin’ course on it and still I had yet to produce one loaf that was anything similar to my no knead bread with commercial yeast.
That is until two weeks ago.
I simply swapped some active sourdough starter (I explain how to make one below) for the commercial yeast, left the rest of the process exactly the same and voila, no knead spelt sourdough bread! Sometimes the old saying “keep it simple, stupid” is really useful. 😉
How to Create Your Spelt Sourdough Starter
First off, if you don’t already have it, go buy yourself a copy of Do Sourdough: Slow Bread for Busy Lives. I have read many bread books, but this is the only one that completely demystified sourdough starters and breads for me. However, the author still uses a multi-step process that includes a production sourdough then a final dough so I’m going to stick to my no knead spelt sourdough bread process.
Here are a few tips from all my trial and error before we get started:
- Use whole spelt flour. Your starter will get going easier as the outer bran layers of the whole grain are covered with natural yeasts.
- Use your hands to mix it for the very first time. There are also lots of natural bacteria and yeasts on your hands that can help the starter get going.
- Keep it warm! From the temperature of the water you use to the place you keep it while it gets going is all important to creating a successful starter.
- Do not use anything metal to store or mix your sourdough starter, it can hinder and potentially kill it.
1/4 cup whole spelt flour
1/4 cup warm water
Mix the flour and water together in a small glass or ceramic bowl with your hands. Transfer to a litre sized mason jar. Cover with the mason jar lid and ring but do not close or tighten the lid, the starter needs to breathe. Place in a warm spot (near, not on, a fireplace in the Winter or simply on the counter in the Summer).
Repeat steps from Day 1 but add the flour and water directly to the mason jar. Use a wooden spoon or rubber spatula to mix it all together and scrape the sides down.
1/4 cup whole spelt flour
1/8 cup warm water
Add the flour and water to the mason jar. Use a wooden spoon or rubber spatula to mix it all together and scrape the sides down. You should start to see some activity like little bubbles on top or on the sides.
1/2 cup whole spelt flour
1/4 cup warm water
Add the flour and water to the mason jar. Use a wooden spoon or rubber spatula to mix it all together and scrape the sides down. There should definitely be bubbles visible now and the starter may also be increasing in volume after each feeding and then decreasing as the yeasts consume the food (flour) you’ve given them.
Your spelt sourdough starter is now ready to make bread! Simply carry on with the recipe below when your starter is at it’s most active (see explanation below).
How to Store Your Spelt Sourdough Starter
In the fridge that’s how! 🙂 No you don’t need to feed it once a week or at all really, just for a few days before you want to make bread. Loosely close the lid on the mason jar and keep it near the front of your fridge where it’s a little less cold than the back.
For example, the bread pictured in this recipe was made with a spelt sourdough starter affectionately named Gal Gadough (get it? 😉 ) that has been sitting dormant in my fridge for months. It had a thick layer of that grey liquid called hooch on top and smelled exactly like nail polish. Totally ok, but totally gross. I scooped out half of what was in there and tossed it in the compost (you can also stir it in, but I needed some more room in the jar to add additional water and flour) and then I did the following:
- Fed her 1/4 cup whole spelt flour and 1/4 cup warm water once a day for three days.
- Made the no knead spelt sourdough recipe below on the third day when my starter was most active.
- Returned the rest of the starter in the jar to the fridge for next time.
Don’t forget to give your spelt sourdough starter a name!
How to Determine when Your Spelt Sourdough Starter is most Active
After every feeding you will notice that your spelt sourdough starter rises, gets bubbly and then subsides again. It is best to use your sourdough starter when it has risen up, shows lots of bubbles on top and throughout and still has a bit of a dome on it. It is at this point that your starter is most active and the yeasts have created the most gas bubbles they can.
How quickly it rises and falls depends on a number of different factors like water temperature and room temperature (the warmer it is the faster it goes) so keep an eye on it and over time you will know the perfect time to use it simply by looking at it.
I hope I’ve helped demystify how to make a decent loaf of sourdough bread. It is a huge sense of relief for me to know I can make great bread without all the confusing and time consuming tricks and tools I’ve read about in so many books. Here’s to amazing and simple sourdough bread!
If you’re feeling adventurous go ahead and try any of my other no knead spelt bread recipes and simply swap the commercial yeast for 100 grams of active sourdough starter.
No Knead Spelt Sourdough Bread
- 100 grams active spelt sourdough starter or another kind of sourdough starter
- 100 grams organic whole spelt flour (fine grind if available)
- 300 grams organic all purpose, unbleached spelt flour (also called white spelt flour)
- 1 1/4 tsp sea salt
- 300 ml room temperature water
In a medium bowl, stir together the flour and salt. Add the sourdough starter and water. Use your hands to gently mix the dough until it is completely incorporated and sticking to your fingers. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature until the surface is dotted with bubbles and the dough is 1 1/2 to 2 times in size (7-8 hours or more depending on how active your sourdough starter is).
When the first rise is complete, place your heavy cast iron pot with lid into the oven and pre-heat the oven and the pot to 475 degrees F. Position the rack in the lower third of the oven. The pot needs to pre-heat for at least 30 minutes.
Generously dust a work surface with flour. Use a bowl scraper or rubber spatula to scrape the dough out of the bowl in one piece. Using lightly floured hands gently pat the dough out into a rectangle. With your dough spatula (or a large flipper) fold one short side of the dough into the middle and then fold the other short side on top. Then fold the dough in half the other direction. Dust lightly with flour, cover with plastic and let rest for 5 minutes. While you are waiting, line a medium sized bowl with parchment paper, using your fist to push the paper down into the bowl and your other hand to crease the paper around the inside and top edge of the bowl.
Repeat the folding process outlined above a second time, let the dough rest for 5 minutes and then repeat folding process a third time. With lightly floured hands, lift the dough and place it into the parchment lined bowl seam side down. Cover with plastic and place on the counter next to the stove for 20 minutes for the second rise. To test if the dough is ready, press, do not poke, the tip of one floured finger quickly and lightly, about half an inch, slightly off center, into the crown of the dough (area of maximum expansion). If the indentation remains but springs back slightly, the dough is ready for the oven. If the dent fills in, give the dough another 5-10 minutes to rise and re-test.
Remove the plastic covering from your bread dough. Using heat resistant pot holders, carefully remove the pot from the oven and remove the lid. Using both hands, lift the dough out of the bowl by holding all corners of the parchment paper and lower it into the pot. The edges of the parchment paper will brown, but will be just fine in the hot oven.
Working quickly dust the top of the bread with flour using a small sieve (optional). Use a sharp pair of scissors to make 3-4 shallow cuts at a 45 degree angle along the center line of the dough to assist in "oven spring". Cover the pot with the lid and put it back into the oven. Reduce the heat to 450 degrees F and bake for 30 minutes.
After 30 minutes, remove the lid and place a large baking sheet or tin foil on the rack underneath the pot (to help prevent burning on the bottom) and continue baking for another 10 minutes until the bread is a lovely chestnut color but not burnt. Use a heatproof spatula or pot holders to carefully lift the bread out of the hot pot and place it on a rack to cool thoroughly. If you have an instant read thermometer, the bread is done when the internal temperature is 190-200 degrees F.
This bread can also be baked in a loaf tin (as in my pictures) instead of a cast iron pot. The process is the same, but the bread dough sits in the the loaf tin for the second rise instead of a parchment paper lined bowl.
I find the best way to store this bread is to cut it all into slices after it has cooled and freeze all the slices in a plastic zip bag. This way you can take out as many slices as you want from the freezer, thaw them and/or toast them and enjoy homemade bread that's just as good as the day you made it!