Spelt Sourdough: An Intro to Whole-Grain Bread

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Samuel Fromartz


To try Sam's recipe for sourdough bread made with spelt flour and flax seeds, click here.

Imagine if Matisse limited himself to one color. His paintings wouldn't be quite so beautiful. It's the same with whole grains. Once you start cooking with them, you realize white flour is kind of monochromatic.

Whole grains extend the range of flavors and textures in baking, but you need to know how to use them. Take spelt, for example. This grain goes back at least 7000 years, which means bakers have had a lot of time to play with it. Unlike whole wheat flour, it doesn't have bitter notes—in fact, it is slightly sweet—and it creates a tremendously rich, nutty crust. For these reasons, I recommend starting with spelt rather than whole wheat flour if you're new to whole grains.

Now, whole grains have the reputation of being heavy, leaden bombs, but that needn't be the case. This loaf was light and airy, not dense at all (though the crumb was fairly tight). While open-hole ciabatta loaves are all the rage these days, this loaf can make a nice sandwich or toast, and the flax seeds add an assertive bite and crunchiness. Paired with spelt, they complement one another.

When I bake, I aim for taste, texture, and the experience of a stellar loaf, but that said, this bread packs a nutritional punch. One serving of spelt contains eight grams of fiber and a whopping 10.7 grams of protein. Flax seeds are chock full of omega-3 fatty acids and are also extremely high in fiber. Since the loaf contains 50 percent white bread flour, those figures are reduced, but still, a couple of slices for breakfast will last you until lunch.

I use a stiff sourdough starter in this dough, which helps build up the mild acidic flavor notes. The bread flour adds structure, so the loaf isn't too dense, but as you get used to spelt you can try reducing the percentage of white flour. For those who work with bakers percentages, this dough has roughly a 70 percent hydration (excluding the flax seed soaker).

Can this loaf be made with instant yeast instead of sourdough starter? Probably, though I haven't tried it. Thinking out loud, I would make a biga starter with a quarter teaspoon instant yeast, 106 grams water, and 80 grams of each type of flour. Then I would try adding another half to one teaspoon instant yeast to the final dough. If you try this, let me know how it works out.

This recipe makes two large batards or boules.

Recipe: Spelt Sourdough Bread with Flax Seeds

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Samuel Fromartz is a Washington-based writer focusing on food, the environment, and business. He is the author of Organic, Inc.: Natural Foods and How They Grew and is currently working on a book about bakers and bread.

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