Spelt is a member of the wheat family but pre-dates wheat; many moons ago it was common in the fields of Europe. The main difference between the two is that the spelt kernel has a tough outer hull that does not come off when threshed. The spelt kernel is sent away to be threshed through a special machine, which is why it is unloved by farmers and consequently more expensive to purchase.
People often think that spelt loaves are gluten-free but this is not the case. The spelt sourdough contains a fair amount of gluten, although the gluten that it does contain is easier to digest than standard wheat flour. If you are seriously affected by gluten, a 100 per cent rye loaf is a much better option. Spelt is also low on the glycaemic index and a good option for diabetics. This loaf has a lovely caramel flavour and texture and if you close your eyes really tight you can almost taste the past.
To mix the spelt sourdough by hand, put the starter in a large mixing bowl with the spelt flour and water. Mix together with a large spoon until the mixture comes together to form a dough. Turn out onto a clean work surface and knead into a ball for about 10 minutes. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside to rest for 20 minutes. Sprinkle the salt over the dough and knead it for a further 10 minutes. Cover and set aside for 10 minutes. Knead well for a further 5 minutes, or until smooth and elastic.
If you are using an electric mixer, put the starter in the bowl of the mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment. Add the spelt flour and water. Mix on slow speed for 4 minutes, then increase the speed to medium–fast for 3 minutes. Cover the bowl and set aside to rest for 20 minutes. Sprinkle the salt over the dough and mix on slow speed for 1 minute. Increase the speed to medium-fast for 6 minutes, or until smooth and elastic.
To check the dough has the required structure, roll up
Lightly grease a container with oil spray and sit the dough inside. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside at ambient room temperature (approximately 20°C/68°F) for 1 hour to bulk prove.
To knock back the dough, turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface and press out into a rectangle, about
Use a blunt knife or divider to divide the dough into three even-sized portions, weighing about
Line three small baskets with a tea towel (dish towel) in each, lightly dust each with flour and place a loaf inside, seam side up. If you are using a traditional cane basket, you don’t need the tea towel and can simply dust the basket with flour. Alternatively, you can place the loaves on a baking tray lined with baking paper, seam side down. Place in the refrigerator loosely covered with a plastic bag for 8–12 hours.
Spray the oven with water and
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