Last Updated on 6 months by Tim
I’ve been running this blog for quite a while now without ever publishing a bread recipe. It’s about time. I’ll promise to not turn this into a baking blog, but this spelt bread is worth a try even for hobby bakers.
What would German culture be without bread? A lot of folks over here have some kind of bread with every meal. Bread is much more essential to German cuisine than the potato, an American import, will ever be.
A lot of German people are obsessed with bread. I’m not one of them. It tastes good but I don’t need to have it every breakfast and dinner. And when I’m away from home the last thing I would do is fantasize about German bread. There’s plenty of good food to explore outside of Germany so I don’t miss my breakfast bread when I’m on holiday.
Why spelt bread?
Maybe it would’ve been easier to just give you a recipe for wheat bread. It’s easier to bake and wheat flour is much more accessible. But I’m a Swabian. The traditional flour of this region is spelt flour. I also use it for my apple fritters and it is the traditional flour to use for spätzle.
I’m not kidding you. The soil in Southern Germany used to be so bad that wheat couldn’t be grown widely. People in Southern Germany have eaten rye and spelt bread long before wheat became the superior choice.
Now, to bake rye bread you would need a sourdough starter. Delicious, but a lot of work if you don’t have one lying around in your fridge. Spelt bread, on the other hand, can be risen with yeast.
If you’ve never worked with spelt flour before, let me tell you, it is more challenging to work with than wheat flour. The gluten network formed by spelt flour is much weaker than the one formed by wheat flour.
Spelt bread is less airy and you do need to give the dough enough tension to hold its shape. If you’re an inexperienced baker, this recipe isn’t the best starting point. Practice the basic bread baking skills with wheat flour first.
A lot of people assume that baking is an exact science. It is not. Baking is an experience. You should never follow a recipe mindlessly. Every dough behaves differently. You will need to get in touch with the dough, feel it. Add as much water as it needs, and let it rise and proof until your instinct tells you it’s ready to bake.
What goes into my dough
To get more flavor into my bread, I prepare a poolish the day before and leave it to ferment for a whole day in the fridge. The poolish is just a 1:1 mixture of flour and water with 1 % yeast in relation to the flour weight. Get the fermentation started for two hours at room temperature before leaving the poolish in the fridge overnight.
The other component you will have to prepare ahead of time is the ‘Kochstück’. I’m sorry I couldn’t find a translation for this part. It’s somehow unknown in the English speaking hemisphere. It’s cooked dough that is used to incorporate more water into bread. That is necessary because spelt bread tends to be on the dry side.
You simply cook some raw flour with five times the amount of water on the stovetop until it gelatinizes and all the water is trapped in the gel network. This is also the perfect opportunity to add all the salt you will need in your dough. The salt will dissolve in the ‘Kochstück’ and can then be easily incorporated into the final dough.
The ‘Kochstück’ should be thoroughly chilled and kept in the fridge until you are ready to bake.
How to knead the dough
You do always want to autolyse your dough. That is, giving it time to hydrate before kneading. Half an hour is usually sufficient. After that, you can mix in your poolish, yeast, and oil.
I prefer to knead this bread in my stand mixer. Eight minutes on the low setting followed by one minute on the high setting will usually do. You can also knead it by hand. Just make sure, that you knead it long enough for the gluten network to develop properly.
Leave the dough to rise until it has doubled in size. I can’t tell you the exact time for this. It’s different for everyone depending on the room temperature and yeast activity.
While the dough rises, you will need to fold it two times: 30 and 60 minutes after kneading. To fold the dough, you stretch it with your lightly wetted hand and then fold it over itself, about 3-4 times. Then, cover your dough again with plastic wrap and leave it to rise until the next fold.
Proof your dough correctly
Shape your risen dough into a tight ball that has enough tension to hold its shape. You will then need to let it rise again until properly proofed inside a bowl that is about the size of your dough ball. Make sure to cover the bottom of your proofing bowl with a clean kitchen towel that is dusted with potato starch to prevent the dough from sticking.
You can verify if your dough is ready for baking by poking it with a floured hand. If the indentation springs back slowly and incompletely, the dough is fully proofed.
Bake your spelt bread
I bake my bread in a preheated Dutch oven at 475 °F (245 °C). I don’t score my loaf prior to baking but invert it seam-side up into my Dutch oven. This will give the bread an organic look that I am very pleased with.
The Dutch oven remains closed for the first half-hour of baking. This mimics the steam baking oven professionals have and lets your bread rise better. After half an hour, I open the lid and let the surface caramelize until browned to my liking, usually around 15 minutes.
You should lightly spray the surface of the bread with water once it is out of the oven. This will give the crust a nice shine and make your bread look super beautiful. That’s what every decent bakery in Germany does.
And last but not least, resist the temptation to slice your bread while still hot. Wait for it to cool down completely, then devour. I love my bread simple with a touch of butter and chives as you can see in the picture. But you can eat this spelt bread with whatever pleases you. It’s delicious!