While spelt bread might seem like a speciality bread, there is literary evidence that once upon a time, it used to be a staple food in people's diets. Spelt offers great nutritional value and it is rich in dietary fibre, essential for healthy digestion. After making my first spelt bread, I started wondering: where does spelt even comes from and what exactly is it?
A few articles later, one thing was obvious: spelt has a complicated history, like many grains which once played an important role in our ancestor's lives. Turns out spelt has been around for more than 8000 years. Now sold as "health food" spelt originated as a naturally occurring hybrid of domesticated tetraploid wheat such as emmer wheat and the wild goat-grass Aegilops tauschii [Wiki].
The history of spelt
You might wonder why I decided to share with you such details in an article about a recipe for spelt bread. For many years, the convenience of pre-cooked supermarket food took over our diets. I think it's time we dig deeper into the items we eat and learn how to utilise nature's finest wholefoods. We must first understand what it is that we eat and where did these food items come from. For example, until now, I didn't even know that spelt was even mentioned in Greek mythology, where spelt was a gift to the Greeks from the goddess Demeter.
There are many references to the uses of spelt. Even Biblical references and of course, more modern literary mentions. Archaeological evidence for uses of spelt points us to the fifth millennium BC in Transcaucasia. During the Iron Age, spelt became the main wheat species in southern Germany and Switzerland. Spelt or dinkel wheat remains a common product in Germany in Austria.
Spelt was introduced to the United States in the 1890s but in the 20th century, it was replaced by the normal bread wheat we now use and find in all supermarkets.
Spelt is mainly used in artisanal bakes. However, having played with spelt flour and made several spelt bread loaves, we can say with certainty, that it's an easy-to-work-with grain. As a whole grain, spelt is also a lot healthier than the usual white flour used in bread.
How to make spelt bread
Making spelt bread is not much different than making a simple white bread. You will need spelt flour, dried active yeast, lukewarm water, a little olive oil, caster sugar, sea salt and rosemary. If you want, you can replace the rosemary with any other fresh herb you prefer or omit it altogether.
We love the smell and taste of herbs in our homemade bread so we always try to integrate them where possible.
Mix the spelt flour, sugar and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Add the oil, lukewarm water and salt. Mix on the lowest speed until the ingredients come together.
The trick here is to get a soft dough which is not sticky.
Troubleshooting: If the dough feels too dry, add in more lukewarm water 1 tablespoon at a time.
If the dough feels too sticky, add in more spelt flour 1 tablespoon at a time.
Once you get the right consistency of a non-sticky but soft dough, continue mixing on medium speed for about 5 minutes until the dough becomes smooth and stretchy. It should be relatively firm to hold its shape.
If you prefer kneading it by hand, knead on a lightly floured surface for at least 10 minutes. We do recommend using a standing mixer for this bread.
Place the ball of dough in a lightly floured bowl, cover with a towel and leave to rise for 1-3 hours until doubled in size. You can also leave it to rise in the fridge overnight. It usually takes around 1 hour and 20 minutes for our bread to double in size. If possible keep an eye on it, you don't want to ovenproof the dough or it will start collapsing.
When it's risen it's time to punch down the risen dough and knead it for 2 minutes. This time I only use my hands as I find it easier to handle. Shape the dough into a smooth, round-shaped ball and place it on a baking paper.
Leave it to prove for about an hour until doubled in size.
Heat the oven to 210°C / 450°F.
The next steps are very important and they are going to help make your bread crusty!
Place a baking tray in the centre of the oven and a roasting tin on the bottom of the oven. If you don't have a special baking sheet for bread, you can simply use a round skillet. I tried both versions. For the pictures in this article, I used a skillet for my spelt bread. One thing to consider is that your spelt bread will not rise as much with the skillet as it will on a baking sheet.
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Score the dough with a knife. You can also use scissors if you want to score a cross.
Wearing oven gloves, very carefully transfer the spelt dough (together with the baking paper) to the hot baking sheet (or the hot skillet) and return to the hot oven.
Pour a glass of cold water into the roasting tin to produce steam. Quickly close the oven door.
Bake the loaf for 15 minutes, reduce the temperature to 180°C /400°F. Bake for another 20 minutes. The bread should be golden brown and should sound hollow when you tap its base.
Let it cool on a cooling rack. Serve hot or cold as you prefer. It's especially delicious with vegan butter. Enjoy!
This recipe has been developed entirely by Yuzu Bakes. Any resemblance with other recipes is purely coincidental.