We don’t buy bread anymore. That’s because we live in Tuscany. I love Tuscany. But I’m really not keen on white, conventional, unsalted, pretty much flavourless bread. So, we make all of our own breads – yeasted wholemeal spelt and sourdough rye.
I used to be terrified of making bread. It all sounded so mysterious and complicated – and there were so many things that could go wrong. To top it off, I knew people who had tried to make bread and had come into work the next day, describing in detail the horrors of their disasters, wondering if they had the courage to try again. To be honest, I can’t imagine what on earth they did wrong, because now I know that baking bread is a cinch.
I know this because my ten-year old daughter Jess bakes most of our bread – and it never flops. And I can pretty much make it in my sleep. I’ve also heard people say things like you MUST flour the counter and you MUST cover the dough with a damp cloth and you MUST NOT let it form a crust. Well, I’ve made it a few times a week now for 3 years and don’t follow many of these rules. And it has not made a difference.
My point is that bread is not difficult to make and even if you do a few things ‘wrong’, you should still end up with a lovely homemade loaf. Another point is that I don’t see the point in going through the process of making something so beautiful – and using white flour. White flour is nutritionally bereft. So, I only ever bake with wholemeal flour. And I prefer spelt to wheat because spelt is an ancient relative of wheat. It is wheat before wheat was manipulated and hybridised.
Also, we eat so much wheat today. It’s in breakfast cereals, bread, biscuits, cakes, crackers, cookies, pasta, pie, pretzels and so many foods we often eat, that I think it’s nice to use something else. And with so many people allergic to wheat these days, it’s good to use something different. Indeed, many people who are allergic to or sensitive to wheat can tolerate spelt.
In the recipe below, which I have perfected over many many years, I will let you know what you really need to do. And then don’t worry about the rest. The only variable really is the water, which will vary a bit depending on the type of flour you use. If you line up three spelt wholemeal flours, they will all be a bit different Also, you need a little more or less water depending on how humid it is.
This recipe proves that baking bread is easy. I always make two loaves because it is no extra work and you can slice one and stick it in the freezer, or bake one and use the other half to make two pizza bases. If you really only want to make one, however, just reduce the ingredients by half. You can see Jess and me making this bread on youtube.
MAKES: 2 loaves
PREPARATION TIME: 15 minutes plus 2½ – 3 hours rising
BAKING TIME: 30 minutes
1 kilo/2lb 4oz organic wholemeal spelt or wheat flour
1½ tbsp fine sea salt
1 tbsp dried yeast
455ml/16 fl oz/2 cups warm water
4 tbsp organic extra virgin olive oil, plus oil for greasing
organic butter, for greasing
1 In a large bowl, mix the flour and salt. Make a well in the middle, add the yeast, and then pour the warm water on to dissolve the yeast. Add the olive oil and mix with a wooden spoon until you have pulled the ingredients together.
2 Turn the mixture out onto the counter and start to pull it together with your hands. Knead the dough by stretching it away from you, then gathering it back, turning it 90 degrees and repeating, working in all of the flour.
(Don’t worry if it feels a bit dry at this point – it will come together. If the dough is wet so that it sticks to your hands and leaves dough, then sprinkle a little flour on the counter and on top of the dough until the dough sticks to your hands, but releases with no residue. If it is too dry and isn’t absorbing the flour, sprinkle a little water on – although this is harder than adding flour.)
3 Knead for 8-10 minutes until smooth and elastic and then put into an oiled bowl, turning the dough over in the oil and ensuring that it is lightly coated with olive oil. Put the bowl in a cold oven or cover with a tea towel. Let it rise for 1½ – 2 hours until about doubled in size. This may only take an hour in the hot summer, but over rising the first time is fine.
4 Either grease two 23x13cm/9x5in bread tins or a large baking tray with butter. Turn the dough out onto the counter, divide into two equal pieces and punch it down until all of the air is gone. Knead each piece for 1 minute, then shape the dough into two oblongs and place each in a tin or on the baking sheet with space between them.
5 Let rise for another 1½-2 hours or so until doubled in size. (Again, in hot weather, this may only take 1 hour and the dough should not over rise on the second rising.) If you poke it gently with your finger and it doesn’t spring back, it is ready.
6 Heat the oven to 220 degrees C/425 degrees F. When the oven is hot, bake for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to 190 degrees C/375 degrees F and bake for another 20 minutes. Remove from the tins or baking sheet and cool on wire racks. Enjoy hot, warm or at room temperature.