I’ve been wanting to give sourdough a try for years, but dragged my feet about putting energy into getting a starter going from scratch. Now I have no excuse, since there is always of jar of spelt “levain” hanging out on the counter at Chrysalis Earth Farm. I’ve made this bread, adapted very slightly from the King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking cookbook, several times now, always with reliable and delicious results.
Remember that it is important to use only non-chlorinated water. If your water is chlorinated, you can filter it or leave it sitting out for 24 hours to allow the chlorine gas to escape.
Feed the starter up to 1/2 cup flour, and an equal part water, and leave at room temperature for at least 2 hours before using to ensure it is “ripe” and ready.
Makes 2 small loaves
2-3 tablespoons spelt levain
2 cups whole spelt flour
1 cup cold water
6 cups whole spelt flour
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 cups cool water
4 tablespoons melted unsalted butter
The day before you wish to bake, mix together the sponge ingredients and let sit, covered with a damp cloth, for 12 hours or overnight. It should expand slightly and form small bubbles.
Combine the remaining dough ingredients with the sponge to form a soft dough. In my experience the dough often seems to turn out a bit dry and may require a tablespoon or two of additional water to incorporate the flour. Form into a ball and turn onto a counter — this dough was not at all sticky and I didn’t need to flour the surface first –and knead for several minutes, until smooth and elastic. Return to bowl and let rise for an hour (or a few, it always seems to take several hours for it to show any sign of expansion, which may be due to winter weather. In my experience it won’t be as dramatic a rise as with yeasted bread, certainly not a doubling.) Divide in half, form each into a loaf and place in greased 8 1/2 by 4 1/2 inch bread pans. Let rise up another hour and a half to two hours — ideally by this point it will have reached up to about half an inch below the top of the pans. When nearly risen, preheat oven to 425F and prepare for steaming (optional, I haven’t bothered yet, which may be why the sides of my loaves tend to split). Brush the tops of the loaves with water or oil and slash just before inserting into oven. After 10 minutes, reduce heat to 400°F and bake for about 30-35 minutes more. Remove from pans immediately and allow to cool.
Variations: Cumin seeds kneaded into the dough make for a delicious loaf! I imagine caraway seeds would be great in this as well, though I haven’t had any on hand to try. Sunflower seeds pressed into the top of the crust just before slashing also added a delightful crunch. I look forward to experimenting with other spices and seeds soon.