Spelt Levain Loaf
Made 10 days in advance with a hearty whole spelt flour starter, this loaf has rich caramel undertones and a pleasant sourness. Top slices of this bread with creamy, funky cheeses and cured or smoked meats and fish. This recipe first appeared in our May 2012 issue along with William Alexander’s story American Bread.
- 6 3⁄4 cups plus ⅓ cup (2 lb. 4 ⅔ oz.) whole spelt flour
- 2 1⁄4 cups plus ⅓ cup (1 lb. 4 ⅔ oz.) tap water, heated to 115°
- 1⁄4 tsp. active dry yeast
- 3 tbsp. (1 ¾ oz.) honey
- 1 1⁄2 tsp. (3/8 oz.) kosher salt
- Canola oil, for greasing bowl
- All-purpose flour, for dusting
- 1⁄2 cup ice cubes
- In a large container or bowl, stir together ⅔ cup spelt flour, ⅓ cup water, and yeast until a smooth paste forms; cover with plastic wrap, and let sit for 24 hours. Repeat this process for the next eight days, adding ⅓ cup plus 1 tbsp. spelt flour and 2 tbsp. water each day to make the starter (which you can keep alive, in the fridge, by adding the same amounts once weekly).
- On the 10th day, place ¼ cup starter in a large bowl and stir in ½ cup water (_Figure A_); add 1 cup spelt flour and stir until smooth to create the sourdough culture; let sit for 8-24 hours, until ready to bake.
- Uncover sourdough culture and add remaining 2 ¾ cups spelt flour and ½ cup plus 2 tbsp. water, along with honey and salt (_Figure B_), and stir with a fork until dough forms and all flour is absorbed. Transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface, and knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. Transfer dough ball to a lightly greased bowl; cover bowl with plastic wrap, and place bowl in a cold oven. Let dough rest until doubled in size, about 3 hours.
- Transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface, and flatten slightly. Fold the top and bottom edges toward the middle (_Figure D_), as if you were folding a letter; this action evenly distributes the air pockets so the bread will rise evenly. Place dough, seam side down, into a greased 8″ x 5″ x 2 ½″ loaf pan (_Figure D_); cover with plastic again, and return to oven. Let sit until doubled in size and dough reaches the top of the loaf pan, 2-3 hours. One hour before baking, remove loaf pan with dough from oven and place a cast-iron skillet on bottom rack. Position another rack above skillet and place a baking stone on it. Heat oven to 400°.
- Lightly dust the top of loaf with all-purpose flour, and using a sharp razor or paring knife, slash the top of the loaf at a 30° angle in four spots; each slash should be about 4″ long. Place loaf on baking stone; place ice cubes in skillet. Bake until dark brown and crisp, about 40 minutes; let cool before serving.