Almost Foolproof Sponge Method Whole Spelt Bread

Stephanie Kelley
As I have learned about their dangers, I’ve made it a point and a mission to steer clear of genetically modified produce and products containing GMOs.

Wheat is not a GMO grain, yet, but it turns out that the wheat we eat today is not the wheat our forbears ate.

Wheat has been hybridized in order to make it easier to grow and harvest. The plant is now much shorter than its ancestors, and as it turns out, the hybridization process also changed the chemical composition of the grain.

Celiac disease, wheat allergies, and gluten intolerance have all been connected to these strains of hybrid wheat.

Even sprouted wheat breads, or organically grown wheat made into artisanal breads are still wheat.
So, I started using spelt flour in my kitchen. Spelt is an ancient form of wheat, and many people who are allergic to wheat can eat spelt products.

Spelt works fine for me in most cases, but my initial attempts to make spelt bread were not successful. My spelt bread was not rising, and when baked was hard and inedible.

In fact, it was a big fat waste of my time and money!

But, I still wanted a piece of toast sometimes in the morning, so I kept looking until I came across the Sponge Method of making spelt bread.

Freshly baked spelt bread

Freshly baked spelt bread

This involves making a loose sponge of water, yeast and flour and letting it sit until it rises and falls, as if you are making sourdough starter.

I gave it a try, and lo! It produces loaves of bread that have a nice crumb and texture, and that are fairly easy to throw together. The only caveat, however, is that this bread is not really light enough to use for sandwiches.

It does makes great toast though, and is yummy topped with cheese melted under a broiler.

Whole Spelt Bread
Makes Two 9x 5 Loaves
To make the starter sponge:

  • 2 cups warm water
  • 1/2 teaspoon yeast
  • 2 cups whole spelt flour

Add the yeast to the warm water (make sure it’s not so hot it kills the little yeast beasties) and allow to sit for about 10 minutes until the yeast is active and frothy. After the yeast proofs, add the 2 cups of spelt and mix thoroughly. You’ll have a loose, runny batter. Cover with clear wrap and let the sponge sit until it does the rise and fall action, around 8 hours.
I’ve usually let it sit overnight, but I have let it go as long as 2 days before I get around to making the bread. One source I read said you could wait up to 4 days for more of a sourdough effect if you wanted, but I haven’t tried that yet.
To make the bread:

  • 1 cup warm water
  • 2 teaspoons yeast
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt
  • 1/4 cup natural honey
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt
  • Around 8 cups spelt flour plus extra to work with

Add the yeast to the warm water until it is frothy. Add he rest of the ingredients, except the flour until you have 2 cups total liquid. The lactic acid in the yogurt helps to preserve the bread, and it gives it a moister texture, but I’ve also made the bread without yogurt.

You can use some molasses as a sweetener as well, or a mix of molasses and honey. One tablespoon of sea salt might sound like a lot, but I learned by experience that if I cut back on it my bread is kind of, how shall I say it, tasteless!

The first batch I made I only used a teaspoon of salt and I ended up adding salt to every piece of toast I ate!

Add the two cups of new liquid to the starter, and begin stirring in the spelt flour. You want to end up with a loose, kind of shaggy dough. The gluten in spelt is much more sensitive than it is in regular wheat flour, and if you overwork spelt dough it won’t rise properly.

When you have a nice mass of dough that is holding together, turn it out onto a floured board and knead just until it forms into a nice soft mass that will hold its shape.

Put this into an oiled bowl and cover with clear wrap. Let it rise until it’s about one and a half times its original size. Don’t let it over-rise, or you’ll end up with flat bread!

During the winter, when I was first learning how to make this bread, I was having a devil of a time finding that classic “warm draft-free place” to rise my bread. Although my house didn’t feel especially cold to me, the yeast apparently thought we were in Siberia and just would not rise. I eventually had a brainstorm and brought an old heating pad into the kitchen.

I covered this with a towel and set the bread bowl on top and it worked like a charm!

Of course, now that it’s summer the bread rises very fast, so I have to keep an eye to make sure it doesn’t over-rise. In the winter, it took about 45 minutes to an hour to rise. It’s much faster right now.

After the dough has risen, dump it back out on the floured board and cut into two equal pieces. It will be quite soft and floppy, much more so than regular whole wheat dough.

For loaf bread, oil two loaf pans (I use 9 x 5 pans). Roll the dough and tuck into the pans. Make sure there are no flour streaks rolled into the loaf or it will come apart at that spot after it is baked.
Or, for round loaves form the dough into mounds and place on an oiled baking sheet. Sprinkle the top with flour so the cloth won’t stick to the dough, and cover with a dish towel. If this sticks when you pull it off to bake the loaves your bread will fall, so be sure to completely cover the top of the loaves with a light sprinkle of flour.

Let rise until the dough is about half an inch above the top of the loaf pan. In the summer, this is only taking my bread about 30 minutes. Keep and eye on it, because you also want to have the oven pre-heated to 375 degrees.

When the loaves are ready, pop them into the oven an bake for about an hour, or until the bread pulls away from the side of the pan.
Dump the loaves onto a towel or rack to cool. Although it is tempting, don’t cut your bread yet. It is still conditioning from the steam trapped inside the loaves, and if you cut them it will let this steam out.

I wrap one loaf and freeze it. This bread is great as toast, and is also delicious topped with poached eggs.

I haven’t tried it yet, but I suspect that if I used white spelt flour, or a mixture of white and whole it would be light enough to use for sandwiches.

Nissen’s Market carries bulk whole spelt flour, or you can order organic whole and white spelt flour from Speerville Mills through The Whole Farm company.

Bon Appetit!

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