Spelt Sourdough Recipe

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The River Cottage Bread HandbookEnriched with hemp seeds, this sourdough is deeply flavoured, savoury and nutty. As with any bread made with spelt, a little extra kneading and some proving baskets to hold the shape of the loaves work wonders. I love to eat this bread with hearty winter soups.

  • Yield: 3 loaves


For the sponge
  • 500 g spelt flour
  • 600 ml warm water
  • A ladleful of sourdough starter
For the dough
  • 50 g hemp seeds
  • 600 g spelt flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 25 g salt
  • A good slug of hemp oil
How to Make It
  1. Before you go to bed, beat all the sponge ingredients together in a large bowl, cover and leave somewhere fairly warm overnight.
  2. In the morning, toast the hemp seeds in a dry frying pan over a medium heat, tossing them often, for about 2 minutes until they smell strong and nutty. Grind them, using a pestle and mortar if you have one; otherwise use a spice grinder or small blender. I like to leave them quite coarse, for a bit of texture. Add the seeds to the sponge with the flour and salt, mix to a dough, then incorporate the oil. Use more water or flour as necessary to give a kneadable dough.
  3. Turn the dough out on to a clean work surface and knead for about 10 minutes, until smooth and springy. Form the dough into a tight round, flour it all over and place in a clean bowl. Cover with a plastic bag and leave to rise. After an hour, tip it out on to your work surface (it may not have risen much at this point). Form it into a tight round again, return to the bowl, cover and leave to rise for another hour. Repeat this process once, or even twice more you will notice the dough becoming increasingly airy.
  4. After the final rising period, tip the dough out and deflate it by pressing all over with your hands. Divide into two or three, and shape into loaves. Coat with flour, then transfer to well-floured wooden boards, linen cloths, tea towels or proving baskets. Lay a plastic bag over the whole batch, to stop it drying out, and leave to prove until almost doubled in size; this could be anywhere from 1–4 hours, depending on the temperature of the dough and the vigour of your starter.
  5. When the loaves are almost ready, switch the oven to 250°C/Gas Mark 10 or its highest setting, put a baking stone or a heavy baking tray inside, and place a roasting tin on the bottom shelf. Put the kettle on.
  6. Have a water spray bottle, a serrated knife and an oven cloth ready, as well as a peel or rimless baking sheet, if you are using a baking stone. Clear the area around the oven.
  7. When the loaves are ready, either transfer them to the hot tray (removed from the oven), or one at a time to the peel. Slash the tops with the serrated knife. Spray the bread all over with water. Put the tray into the oven, or slide each loaf on to the baking stone, pour some boiling water into the roasting tin and close the door as quickly as you can.
  8. Turn the heat down after about 10 minutes to 200°C/Gas Mark 6 if the crust is still very pale; 180°C/Gas Mark 4 if the crust is noticeably browning; or 170°C/Gas Mark 3 if the crust seems to be browning quickly. Bake until the loaves are well browned and crusty, and feel hollow when you tap them: in total allow 30–40 minutes for small loaves; 40–50 minutes for large loaves. If in doubt, bake for a few minutes longer. Leave to cool on a wire rack.

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