No-knead sourdough wholemeal spelt (Triticum spelta) bread: the high hydration dough
The CHEtarian diet always advises you to choose foods that have a list of ingredients as short as possible, and that can be defined as traditional at least for some people on earth. There are many foods that fall into this category, but perhaps there is one that has few rivals in antiquity; I am referring to bread, more specifically the sourdough bread.
Dear friends, I know that you are eager to finally find a “tried and tested” recipe, that will give the same result whenever you want to put it into practice.
Be aware that you are asking the impossible.
The variations that can change the result are numerous: the degree of maturity or the level of activity of our sourdough starter; or the strength, or the percentage of water content or type of milling of the flours we want to use; or simply the room temperature that changes from season to season, but even from ‘room to room’; or the power and type of our oven that can vary depending on the brand or model; not to mention the differences that can make the simplest of ingredients, the water, with its hardness deriving from the concentration of minerals contained in it.
Besides, every bread has a story of its own. And this is probably the thing I love most about homemade bread, in a totally homologated and standardized world: feeling that little bit of anxiety about the surprise that is about to be born is really stimulating.
So in addition to the factors already listed, some steps of baking such as “folding” or “shaping” are able to generate abysmal differences.
Therefore, as a first ingredient, I recommend a good dose of fatalism: accept the possible defeat before you get to work, never forgetting that any imperfections will have little importance compared to a bread, such as the no-knead sourdough wholemeal spelt bread, however, and always will be healthier than an industrial bread that you buy.
Anyway, by virtue of my hospitality, I also feel the duty to offer you a recipe that can be standardized as far as possible and worthy of the time, that you should dedicate to read it.
After all, CHE Food Revolution aims at revolution, not anarchy!
So get ready, because with my recipe, in addition to filling your whole building with the scent of the old-time bread, you will also have a perfect digestion for which your microbiota will be grateful to you.
Time: prep. 30 mins
fermentation 6/48 h
baking 40 mins
Yields: 8 people
3 cups of whole spelt flour (380 grams)
1 cup of bread flour or AP flour (130 grams)
Sourdough starter 60 g*
1 + 2/3 cups of water (in total 340 grams) to divide as following: 310 grams to mix with flours for autolysis**; 20 grams to mix with starter and sugar and add to the mixture of water-flour after 60 minutes or so; 10 grams to mix with salt and add the mixture of water-flour-starter after 15 minutes
1/2 tbsp of grape molasses o 1 tbsp of honey or 1 tbsp of sugar (these are the required quantities for who wants to do autolysis, otherwise you can double the amounts)
1 tsp of sea salt (I prefer my bread low salty, since it is often consumed with tasty dishes, so if you a want a strong taste you can use 1,5 tsp of salt)
approx. 50 grams of all purpose flour to use for bread making procedure
*The sourdough starter should be activated the day before preparing the dough: 1 tbsp (15 g) of sourdough starter should be fed with 25 grams of warm water and 25 grams of flour and left at room temperature if it’s more than 20 °C or more for over night or 8-12 hours. To see if it has been activated sufficiently, make a mark on the jar in which you feed it; if it has doubled in 8-12 hours, it is ready.
Step number 1
As I indicated in the creation of the sourdough, the room temperature is of crucial importance; in the winter months, with the heating on, place your dough close to them (I strongly underline that, close doesn’t mean above: if you exceed 28°C you will do more harm); in spring and autumn without heating, place the dough and/or starter inside your oven with the lamp on, or with a bowl full of boiling water: this method will serve to maintain a stable, warm temperature for many hours (even 5) without requiring the addition of new boiling water.
I warn you that the type of dough that we will be doing is a high hydration dough and therefore it will be very sticky, so we will not knead it with the classic techniques. My recipe for sourdough wholemeal spelt bread is a reinterpretation of the famous “No-Knead Bread” which mainly uses strong flours, necessary to give strength to the alveoli so as to retain more air and become higher and softer. We instead try to use less this type of flour mixes because they are very rich in gluten; naturally occurring and in particular, added “vital” gluten is known to cause intestinal inflammation in many people. What we do therefore is to use a minor portion of refined bread flour in order to create a satisfactorily perfect balance: bread (or white) flour provides strength to the structure, wholemeal spelt flour the flavor, aroma and health benefits.
Here is the first question I see flashing in your minds: if we don’t knead it, how will we make bread? Keep reading…
Step number 2
Respect the time necessary for autolysis (the waiting phase can vary from 1 to 12 hours, but I advice you not to exceed one hour if you are using a low gluten flour) which consists in mixing the flour and water before adding the starter and salt. This allows the wholemeal flours to absorb more water, as having more fibers they cannot absorb moisture as quickly as a more refined flour would: it takes time for the pores to become saturated with water. It also gives more flavor and stimulates fermentation.
Add 310 g of water to the flour a little at a time, put half a glass and stir; then add another half glass, stir and so on. Wait at least 1 hour at room temperature, or 12 hours in the fridge.
Then dissolve the sourdough and sugar in 20 g of water in a bowl and pour over the mix of water and flour, stir and wait 15 minutes; then dissolve the salt in 10 g of water and mix again with the mix of water, flour, starter and sugar (or other sweetener).
It is the process of degradation of cells (of any living being) by endogenous enzymes. When it comes to autolysis in bread making, we are talking about enzymes that degrade proteins and starches with protease and diastatic alpha and beta amylase enzymes. Although it enables simplifying the carbohydrates in the flour more quickly, transforming the starches into sugar and thus creating a rich feast for the colonies of your yeast, it mainly serves to develop better gluten in protein rich flours; degrading proteins makes the dough more elastic, so that it can form a lighter crumb, with more air chambers and more beautiful to look at. Enzymatic starch degradation also gives it a sweeter, more pleasant taste, and causes better caramelization for the crust, which is even more appreciated. This process, which costs you nothing more than a little time, replaces the use of diastatic malt in some recipes. However, if you are using especially weak flours such as rye or oats, I advise you not to use this technique because of their low gluten content
If the dough is too liquid for you, add a little more flour. And if you are a beginner, I suggest you to reduce the initial amount of water about 30 grams, counting on a total of 310 grams, instead of 340 original, so as to acquire the manual skill over time. If you make your bread with less water, nothing really bad will happen only you won’t have a very open crumb; preferably when you bake the bread in the oven, put some water inside a container, resistant to high temperatures, so that the loaf does not harden too much
Every time you let your dough rest, close the bowl with a plate, or use a plastic bag or stretch film: it will maintain high the humidity. Moreover, always place the dough in a warm place (max 28°C).
Step number 3
I premised that this will be a no-knead bread, but I didn’t say we’d leave it on its own. Get ready for the “folding game”, which consists in folding a piece of dough on itself: having to use your hands, to avoid that they become unusable after the first contact, wet them with fresh water from time to time; take your bowl, put your hands on one side under the dough with decision and pull it up; lay it on itself in the center folding it like a “letter” to be clear; repeat the operation on the 4 angles of the dough by turning the bowl at 90°.
This crucial operation must be repeated 3 to 5 times every 15-60 minutes; after each fold, give the dough a spherical shape, close the bowl with the plate and place it in a warm place.
For your information I have tried all the timing possibilities, the result does not change much, but if you want to know, I do 3 folds every 45 minutes; of course if you have to leave home, reduce the phases to 15 minutes.
So after about 2-3 hours of pulling and folding, you should notice both the growth of the dough and a greater uniformity, more elasticity and resistance: it sounds good. In the last rounds you will realize how much you can pull it, remarkably I dare say, even more than 30 cm; but do not overdo it too much because in case of dough breakage, you could compromise its success.
Step number 4
At this point you have two options: let it rest at room temperature in summer, or in case of cold weather in the oven, for another 4-6 hours in order to obtain a relatively short fermentation, otherwise you can put it in the fridge (always covered with a plate or a plastic bag) and proceed to a long fermentation of 8-48 hours.
You just have to remember to take the dough out of the fridge at least 2 hours before baking and bring it back to room temperature.
After having completed the first fermentation in cold or hot (max 28 °C), we must give our bread a pre-forming: to do this we will change its location!
Step number 5
Clean the kitchen counter well and if for some reason you don’t want to work on the bench, you could use a wooden panel or, if large enough, a wooden chopping board would be fine. Spread some flour carefully on a surface large enough to work comfortably and distribute it evenly with your hands, then place the dough gently on top. If it is stuck to the bowl, use either your hands diligently wet or a wet spatula for dough, releasing the edges always gently. Sprinkle a little flour over both the dough and your hands. Too much flour can be a problem, so don’t be generous. Now produce yourself in a last phase of “stretch and fold” collecting the edges at the top, as if you had to make a hair bun, then flour your hands to try to smooth out the sides while maintaining the shape of a ball; if the dough is very wet / sticky, use your spatula.
Step number 6
Leave dough to rise for another half an hour on the kitchen bench or cutting board and place the bowl on top like a lid.
Step number 7
Repeat the instructions in point 5, and finally transfer the ‘ball’ to the basket used for the final shape and proofing. If the dough is too sticky to handle, you can just drop it from the board into the preform basket. Personally I use a 20 cm wide glass salad bowl and I cover it with a kitchen towel, obviously not washed with softener (the bread with the scent of ocean breeze is not the best), sprinkling it with plenty of flour. Using the classic squared kitchen towel, you create a design on the bread that will not be as beautiful as those made with specific (and expensive) tools, however, equally appreciable. There are those who say that for ‘flouring of the towel’ step you need rice flour, but after baking many loaves of bread, I can say that all purpose flour would be fine too.
Transfer the ball gently from the chopping panel to the floured kitchen towel, taking care to leave the part of the chignon at the top: relax, as by turning the ball upside down inside the baking medium, the smooth part will remain on top. Cover the ball after having sprinkled it with some flour, using a plate or a plastic bag, and let it proof one last time for 45 minutes.
And now the moment of truth!
Step number 8
Once you cover the ball, turn on your oven at maximum temperature: I leave it on for at least 30 minutes more, so as not to lose heat quickly as soon as I open the door to insert the loaf. Mine reaches 275°C. Place the baking medium you have chosen in the central rails so that it can get hot too. (I use this strange term, i.e. the baking medium, as you have various alternatives for this).
To make good ‘baker’s bread’, the only variation that can make the real difference are the characteristics of the oven. The high, but more than anything else, stable temperatures offered by professional ovens, combined with their great ability to retain steam, create the perfect union essential for a crispy crust: neither too hard nor too soft.
The web is full of recipes which are based on usage of the famous Dutch oven, or cast iron pots with lid, whose respectable results simulate very well the characteristics of a masonry oven. But what if you don’t have either? I, for example, fall into the latter category and I certainly do not retreat from producing our excellent ‘healthy breads’: maybe 1 cm lower, but as far as taste and quality are concerned, I assure you, the result is identical.
If you have pizza stone, you could use it in combination with a lid made from an earthenware baking dish or a resistant steel pot (used as a lid upside down); or you could use a simple steel pot (with lid) resistant to these temperatures, as long as it doesn’t have plastic handles or glass lid.
After approx. 45 minutes of heating up, take out the cooking medium without scalding yourself, place the ball inside by gently turning it upside down on it.
The most butterfingered ones can use baking paper to transfer the ball into the hot cooking medium: to do this I recommend you wetting and squeezing the kitchen paper so as to eliminate any creases, inevitable if it was dry, therefore able to make unaesthetic signs on the bread surface. Use this paper instead of a dry cloth before transferring your dough from the dough board to the basket. But since the dough will not be turned upside down, keep the smooth surface on top
Just before putting back in the oven, make an incision about 0,5 cm deep with a razor blade or baker’s knife, or a sharp knife; I successfully use the blades of my chopper, holding them at an angle of 45°. This will allow the air that will form in the bread to exit homogeneously; in the meantime it will allow the temperature to penetrate into the “heart” of the bread: the risk otherwise is to make it crack, or swell on one side and deflate on the other. So do it, but in case you forget it (personal experience) it will not be the end of the world.
Let’s cover with the lid (or its equivalent) before closing the oven door: even though we can’t get close to the air tightness guaranteed by the costly baking equipment, in order not to leave the bread without steam, I put a grill in the lowest rail of my oven and insert an oven safe dish with water inside on it. This will continue to provide the necessary steam during the first baking phase, which will last 25 minutes at a temperature of 230°C. The next 15 minutes we will reduce the temperature to 200°C and remove both the lid and the steam source.
Step number 9
And if you have done everything right you will get a well leavened loaf of bread, with a crust that will invite you to take a bite!
However, hold back: cutting the bread before it’s completely cooled will return it moist inside, which means ruining all your dedicated efforts.
In order to offer an optimal cooling phase, you could use a cooling grid; if you don’t have one, then do like me: place it sideways on a vertical surface at an angle, taking care to turn it every now and then. And wait also 4-8 hours to cut it, as our no-knead sourdough wholemeal spelt bread, being highly hydrated, will tend to be more humid than normal: so be patient.
Advice on timing
Normally I activate the starter in the morning, when it is ready in the evening I start making dough after autolysis and folding phases as above, I put my dough in the fridge and in the morning later I put it out of the fridge and let it reach the room temp, as soon as I conclude the last steps of preforming and proofing I bake it, and it gets ready to cut for tea-time
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Finally, dear friends, as I mentioned at the beginning, even if you had followed my every instruction word by word, the result may not be as you expected, for a myriad of variables. Don’t despair, know that with time you will get to know your oven better and develop a baker’s instinct that will guide you in determining when to stop leavening the dough and when it will be time to make the folds.
Even the equipment certainly has its weight in the final result, and in case you don’t want to emulate my rudimentary alternatives, here are some examples to become a professional: the shortest way for success pass from the famous Dutch oven Le Cocotte by Staub, or more “proletarian” models in cast-iron (it costs less than half as much). To create beautiful lines on your bread there are some special baskets, le banneton: you could use them instead of the bowls you have which don’t forms drawings.
Instead I strongly suggest you to get a specific spatula because thanks to it, the dough becomes really docile, allowing also an easier folding phase without sticking.
In case you are afraid to cut yourself with razor blades or anything else, you could also buy a baker’s knif.
Have a good revolution and enjoy your bread