Thursday, February 1, 2018

Spelt Sourdough Bread

Man, oh, man do I like eating bread. I swore off all processed wheat about 8 years ago and have not regretted one second of it. For a while, I swore off wheat, too, and tried the gluten-free lifestyle, but found that gluten-free products are mostly junk food at best. Nearly all fruits and vegetables are "gluten free" for Chrissake. Why aren't apples labeled "Gluten-free!"? Eating brownies made with rice flour is a great idea for those with Celiac, but no better for you than wheat-flour brownies.

In my endless quest for real food, I look for real bread.  This is not it:

Wonder-ful (not)

This is:

The Recipe

I get numerous requests for the recipe of the bread in my Potato Hack book. I really don't have a recipe, I consider my breads to be living creatures, like the tomatoes in my summer garden. Each batch of bread is different. Here, I'll show you the birth of my latest batch.

The Starter

 I like to make a sourdough starter every winter and have fresh bread while I try to stay warm. You can keep a sourdough starter alive for years of you treat it right. The average lifespan of my sourdough is about 4 months, though. A vacation or weeks of neglect will kill it. But it's really easy to make and keep alive.

This year, I'm using a Cultures for Life sourdough starter I got from Amazon. They send you a small packet of dried sourdough starter, you simply mix it with water and a spoonful of whole wheat flour. The next day, add a bit more flour and water.  Repeat for 4-5 days, and soon you'll have a jarful of tangy smelling sourdough starter. You simply take out a cup of the starter mix and add it to your flour and let it sit a while.

Timeout for some science and history!

"Sourdough" is a catchall phrase for bread made with a special mixture of yeast and lactic acid forming bacteria, It's a cross between sauerkraut and bread, kinda. A truly fermented food.  They call us Alaskans "sourdoughs" because the old miners relied on it for bread during the goldrush of 1896.  Then there's the old joke that most of us up here are sour on Alaska, but ain't got the dough to leave.

Not to be confused with sour "toe."

Strange things done in the midnight sun...

My Starter:

My sourdough culture resides in a quart jar. I keep it where it's about 75-85 degrees and feed it daily. If I'm not going to be around for a few days, or getting tired of home made bread (ha!), I'll put it in the refrigerator and only feed weekly.

Looks like a thin pancake batter. Smells "tart." 

I cover the jar with a lid that's been replaced by a paper towel. This let's it breath.

When there's enough starter to steal some, you take about half your starter culture and mix it with whole grain spelt flour. Cover it with a towel or saran wrap, and store it in a cool place (40-60degF) for up to several days. The cooler it is, the longer you can keep it. The taste of sourdough breads made with varying fermentation times and temperatures is very noticeable.

If you lack patience (like me), you can put the bowl of bread dough in a warm place and be ready to bake bread in just a couple hours.

After the dough has fermented a while, it will get bubbly and expand. This internal expansion is caused by the yeast and bacteria and what gives bread its characteristic look, taste, feel, and smell. Once it's nice and bubbly, I add about a quarter cup of honey, a tsp of salt, and then any various seeds and whole grains you have laying around. Today I used oat groats, pumpkin seeds, and flaxseed. I love using spelt (a form of wheat) flour for my whole-grain breads. Spelt is not as dark as rye and never fails with my sourdough cultures.

Stir and let rise again in a warm or cool place. You can put the dough in its baking pan or tray at this point if you like. This type of bread does not need endless kneading or mixing, just a quick stir to incorporate all of the ingredients and wet the flour is fine.

Pro-tip: Line the pan with parchment paper to prevent sticking.

Bake it

This is the trickiest part.  You want to cook your bread so that it's nice and crusty and the inside is not still raw. If you take the bread out too early, it's hard to re-cook it.  If you leave it in too long, it can get burnt and overly dry and hard.

I like to bake my bread at 400F for 40 minutes, then use an electronic temperature probe to check for an internal temp of 200 degrees. I might even check at the 20 minute mark to see how close I am.

If you get it right, you get to enjoy a slightly pungent smelling, tangy bread that's been eaten by tough men for hundreds (thousands) of years. Makes good sandwiches, but even better toast.


A meal in itself.  Sourdough whole grain spelt bread and aged Irish cheddar.

Pro-tip: Sourdough also makes excellent pizza crust.

There ya go!  Now go make your own.


  1. The other day I made an "Irish" soda bread with my freshly ground Einkorn flour. I am with you: wow do I like eating bread. I had to seriously jamm on the breaks to stop myself from eating the WHOLE load after it was baked!!!

    It has such a lovely taste, but I can't describe it accurately. Most people call it nutty. It has a lovely milk chocolate color.

    Anyway, I have ordered Kamut, Teff, and Emmer flour from my miller so will be making bread with these flours as well.

    I have baked with Spelt flour in the past so already know this flour.

    I am so hankering for another slice of my Einkorn bread, and trying to resist temptation.....

    Jo tB

    1. What all goes into your Irish soda bread? Have you tried adding honey to the dough? It seems to give it a lot more life and a bit more taste.

    2. Hi Tim, no I don't put honey in my bread, as I don't like it sweet. My recipe is:
      3 cups Einkorn flour
      1 3/4 tsp salt
      1 1/4 tspbaking soda
      1 1/2 to 2 cups buttermilk

      I used 2 cups buttermilk, but it turned out to be far too much, as it looked more like cake mix than dough. So next time I will start with 1 1/2 cups buttermilk and see how the dough turns out. I was warned that Einkorn takes about 20% less moisture, which I forgot to take into account. Still it was a lovely bread.

      Jo tB

  2. Looks great Tim!

    Here's my 'pro-tip' for testing if a loaf of bread is done; tap the bottom. If it sounds hollow, it's done.

    Happy Groundhog's day everybody :-)

    1. I think that's what my Mom used to do, too! Thanks. Damn that groundhog! (Unless CNN is fake news...

    2. I have tried that tip in the past, but didn't turn out to be foolproof. It sounded hollow, but when I cut into it it was still wet in the middle. Even the needle trick came out "dry" but the middle was still uncooked.

      Jo tB

    3. Jo - duly noted! I've found it worked fine for sourdough and yeasted breads, but soda breads are a whole other animal. I remember having a hard time with them. The round loaves baked better than the ones I made in a pan, as I recall. (It's been a while)

  3. Tim, I am curious about your pizza recipe. My sourdough pizza crust never seems to rise. It ends up gummy inside no matter how thin I roll it. So I keep a starter and make crepes. These turn out perfect every time.


    1. Sourdough wholegrain pizza dough is nothing like Pizza Hut, for sure. I spread it out on a pizza pan pretty thin and bake at 400 for about 10 minutes, then put the toppings on and bake another 15-20 minutes. It's more like a crispy flatbread. If you make several pizzas at once, freeze leftover slices and reheat in the microwave, I think they are even better than fresh, lol.

  4. Mighty fine looking loaf of bread there! I got into making sourdough a few years ago and then had all sorts of fun with honey wheat, sourdoughs and lots of soda bread (Irish Spotted Dog is a fun to both make and eat). Found a local mill with amazing favorite was 50/50 whole wheat and rye. Tried to make my own sourdough starter and it didn't go so well and I think the one from my class that's been in the fridge for 1.5 years is pure hooch at this point (maybe I can get drunk from it if I run out of beer?).

    I've made a few loaves recently (mainly for my new lady friend) and I think it's time to make some more this weekend. Nothing like the smell of fresh baked mom used to grind her own flour...she took from scratch more serious than I ever will. :)

    1. "(mainly for my new lady friend)" haha, that'll keep here around for sure!

  5. Very cool! When I make bread, I soak my grains until almost/just sprouted. Then I grind them up in the food processor. (I'd assume they'd enter your recipe where the flour does, I suppose. But obviously they're "wet.") I'm still stubborn on that "whole grain" part of it. I still can't get over the idea that a grain once broken (ie, ground up into flour a few months ago) might be a "broken grain." It's probably my obsessive-compulsive nature and maybe I'll get over the idea eventually. Time will tell. Take care and the bread looks amazing!

    Terri F

  6. Great post, very inspiring!

    Demonizing wheat makes no sense without context. Studies have shown even celiaks can eat real sourdough bread without reaction. Studies have shown that modern dwarf wheat is indeed more reactive than traditional kinds.

    The solution if you're scared of wheat? Well, spelt sourdough addresses both of these issues!

    But I'm not so sure sourdough is always a necessity. Maybe if you're going to make bread your staple food, it is best to be on the safe side.

    However, the Hunza people were famous for health and longevity, and they consumed chapatis as a staple.

    And I confess, I'm a reader of the Bible. Bread was their staple in Bible times, and usually sourdough. Freshly ground, but not soaked. However, it was also not unusual to eat unleavened bread. If guests arrived unexpectedly, there was no time for sourdough. Also at the Exodus from Egypt they had unleavened bread because they were in a hurry.

    So even unleavened wheat was part of traditional diets.

    1. The problem with wheat is the phytates / lectins. I'm assuming, if traditionally fermented, sourdough removes most, if not all, of those toxins. If one is eating bread on a daily basis then this is important.

  7. Are phytates really a problem? If someone eats a healthy diet plus bread are they going to have nutrient deficiencies? I'd be interested in seeing research on the issue.

    1. You can check this out and see you what you think;

  8. Tim, that bread looks delightfully rustic and tasty. I do miss bread but I think I could make this once in a while and try not to eat it all in one sitting.
    To Robert Andersson:
    Being in a family that has quite a few members that are sensitive to/don't thrive on wheat, Ive mulled around all the ideas about traditional cultures where wheat was a main component of their diet, I think that if you have been eating the standard American diet with commercial wheat products 3 times a day, well, many of us at least, have damaged our digestive system and more importantly our immune systems. Once you start making antbodies to wheat, which attack your own body tissues that have proteins similar to wheat, you just can't go back to eating a bread staple diet, no matter how healthily and traditionally prepared. It's frustrating isn't it when wheat was the staff of life in earlier times. I do seem to be able to enjoy an occassional spelt or kamut treat though.

    1. Anne, I agree with you. The huge grain stores set up by Joseph in the bible would have been wheat, but it definitely WOULDN'T have been the modern overly GMO'd wheat of today. I recently read that Einkorn is the oldest of the Ancient wheats and so I started making soda bread with it, and once I get my sourdough starter going I will be making sourdough bread with it. I very much like the soft feel of the bread in my mouth.

      Jo tB

    2. Anne, have you seen this study?

      Celiac patients had zero reaction to real Italian sourdough bread. Quite fascinating. Also there's been a study comparing modern wheat to more ancient kinds, like spelt, einkorn, etc, and yes modern wheat is far more reactive. So for your occasional treat, you do well to go for ancient kinds of wheat, and preferably sourdough. Also, it's interesting to note that real pasta should be made from durum wheat, which is also a traditional kind. There is also rye of course, which also makes delicious bread. It seem to have more prebiotic properties than wheat, and it is also not as hybridized as modern wheat.

      In our modern society, we don't have to rely on wheat as a staple food. There are so many other good sources of starch. Potatoes, beans etc. I prefer to take it easy on wheat, not make it a major source of calories.

  9. I guess antinutrients like phytates and lectins could be an issue if someone eats the majority his calories from grains, and the rest of his diet is very low in nutrients. But we actually want smaller doses of antinutrients for their anti cancer properties, etc.

  10. I know this is off topic but does anyone know about the phytate content with respect to parboiled rice? Is it as low as regular white rice or is it more on par with brown rice?