Unlike some of the rather bland alternative grains on the health-food store shelf, spelt tastes like a nuttier version of fluffy wheat. And yes, it’s good for you, too! Unlike much wheat, where the nutritional benefits of bran and germ are largely removed during milling, the good stuff in spelt is found in the inner kernel of the grain, and so survives the milling process unscathed.
Spelt really is a cook’s best friend. It’s great for making bread and cakes, and it can also make pastry and biscuits with a wonderful, crisp texture. The nutty flavour of spelt makes everything taste good, and the flour behaves in much the same way as wheat, if not better, so you don’t really have to learn any new techniques.
I think it’s always best to think of recipes as a guide, rather than strict instructions to be rigidly adhered to, so it’s important to practice using spelt in a variety of ways. It won’t take long for you to get used to using it – and once you do, you’ll never look back.
As there is generally a higher protein content and a more delicate gluten structure in spelt flour, you don’t need to knead it for as long as when making wheat bread. Remember, though, that it is more hygroscopic than refined flour, which means the dough will require a little more liquid, as you work the ingredients together, to prevent it from drying out. If your bread dough is feeling a little dry when you’re kneading, make sure you don’t just push on; instead, add more liquid. As bakers will tell you, the wetter the dough, the better the bread will be.
Never shy away from adding more water, milk or other appropriate liquid to keep the dough soft and supple. A dough that is dry and tough after 10 minutes of kneading isn’t going to improve after proving and baking.
Some great advice when it comes to making bread with spelt:
• Bake it in a tin or basket. The gluten structure in spelt is different to that in wheat flour and it’s the network of fine gluten strands that gives the dough its structure, so a spelt loaf will benefit from being supported as it cooks.
• Spelt dough can be quite dense. To make it softer, add a tablespoon of clear honey to give a pliable texture and to bring out the flavour.
• To loosen the bread, add some fat – a little unsalted butter will do the job, and it’s better than oil.
To know more, you can read Spelt by Roger Saul.
Sign up for our newsletter to get our new articles straight to your inbox every month.