Have I ever mentioned that I learned how to hand-make spelt bread from an ancient grain and wood-fired stove guru?
Dora Friesen, of Integrity Foods lives a hop skip and a jump away from my mom and dad’s farm-just off #8 Highway in Manitoba, Canada.
Dora and her husband Cornie have dedicated their business to bread. And oh boy, do they know what they are doing!
Their ingredients are about as pure as it gets and they stick to organic spelt for the most part. Several stores here regularly stock their wholesome loaves, cookies and buns. They make a beautiful desem sourdough that has been hailed as possibly the best in the country!
Each batch, if you can believe it, comes out of a woodfired stove just metres from the door of their home/bakery. Year-round, even in the dead of the Manitoba winter that’s how they bake.
Spelt is a distant ‘cousin’ of wheat. It has not been cross-bred or hybridized and is classified as an ancient grain (it’s been around for about 5,000 years!). Proponents of spelt say it offers a broader spectrum of nutrients than wheat and, while it’s not appropriate for people with Celiac disease because it does contain gluten, many people with sensitivities to wheat report that they can eat spelt.
Although this isn’t a sourdough recipe, I have often used it because it turns out beautifully every single time. Maybe some day, I will get a pinch of the Integrity Foods desem starter and share that recipe with you too!
For now, here’s is the foolproof:
Integrity Foods Spelt bread (hand kneading method)
Makes 3 loaves, buns, pizza crusts, cinammon rolls or whatever you wish!
*Proof yeast in a small bowl while *milling the grain.
- 1 Tbsp traditional yeast (there’s a difference between quick-rising and traditional)
- 1/2 c lukewarm water
*Proofing means just set it to the side and give it time to activate while you are getting some other things ready. It will start to bubble on top (although ours didn’t that day). Many people use a sprinkle of sugar to ‘feed’ the yeast, but Dora says that’s not necessary (and trust me, our recipe turned out fine).
*These days most people do not mill their own grain. Either way, spelt flour should be stored in the freezer. For best results, try to get it out the night before you bake so it is room temperature.
Get 9-10 cups of flour ready. In a large mixing bowl, prepare the liquids. Stir the first four ingredients below to dissolve.
- 1 1/2 Tbsp salt (preferably sea salt)
- 1Tbsp honey or sugar
- 1/4 tsp ascorbic acid (see pic, but you can get this at any Vita Health – just make sure it is the one pictured and not calcium ascorbate. The calcium basically neutralizes the effects of the ascorbic acid and your bread won’t turn out).
- 3 1/2 cups of warm-ish water
Add: 1/3 cup of olive oil or oil of your choice
*Optional: seeds of your choice (flax, sunflower etc). To get the maximum nutritional benefit from your seeds, soak them overnight.
Add 4 cups of spelt flour and stir with a wooden whisk or wooden spoon. How much? The key here is 100 strokes. This develops the gluten and gives the bread a nicer texture. Dora says to be sure to watch how the mixture changes as it’s stirred. At the end there will be stretchy strands That’s the gluten at work and it’s very important for good bread.
Add more flour – 2 cups at a time and work it by hand. This was always the part that freaked me out because I thought you had to do it a certain way or you would wreck your bread. Not so. At least not with spelt, which Dora says is a very ‘forgiving’ grain. Continue working the flour until it’s all in the dough.
Knead until your dough is smooth and ‘elastic-like’. If necessary, Dora says to add more flour.
Ok. Now that you are finished kneading, cover your dough with a tea towel and/or plastic to keep it moist. let it rise for 2 hours or until it is double in size. This might depend a bit on the temperature outside and in your house. Punch your dough down (ahhh, therapy!) and let it rise again for an hour or so.
At this point you can shape the dough into whatever you want. Let’s assume though, you are making bread for your family. The neat thing that Dora showed me, is not to cut the dough or twist it in order to separate it into loaves. This destroys the cell structure, she said. Instead, squeeze it apart in your fist.
Once you have your bread in pans, let it proof (rise) for 45 minutes or so. Then bake at 375 (350 convection) for 35 minutes.
Although we are pretty much grain-free these days, when I first made the recipe more than a year ago, everyone was clamouring at the table for a slice of fresh bread. The smell was unbelievable. A very tough food critic, my (then) 6 year old, proclaimed it the best bread ever.
So try it for yourself. Maybe not every week. But at least once. If I can do it and enjoy it (in the car with a 3 and 6 year old), you can too!
p.s. What’s the difference between spring and winter-grown spelt varieties? Consistency. That means better results and performance and less heartbreak for you.
Tip: You can substitute spelt in just about any recipe that calls for wheat although you may have to use a bit more. For example, 1/4c more for every cup called for in the recipe.