Breaking spelt bread
We discover the secret to baking the perfect loaf of spelt bread. Hint: it’s “all about the love”.
The ancient grain spelt was one of the first species of wheat ever used to make bread. Also known as farro, dinkel or hulled wheat, spelt is a sub-species of wheat that is native to parts of Europe such as Germany, Switzerland and Austria, as well as Iran.
Spelt is low in gluten and rich in fibre, protein, vitamins and minerals such as magnesium, calcium, selenium, iron, manganese and zinc, along with vitamins E and B complex, and its tough outer husk helps in retaining its nutrients. The husk is also said to protect the whole grain from pollutants and insects, which allows growers to use little or no pesticides. The grain is gaining popularity in artisanal bakeries across Australia thanks to its bounty of aforementioned health benefits, in addition to being easy to digest.
Slightly sweet and nutty in taste, not dissimilar to barley, spelt is likened to the taste of whole wheat but without any bitterness. Given it’s a light grain, it can be used to bake goodies such as pastries, cakes and biscuits, but one of its most popular uses is in bread making.
A born and bred baker
Geelong-based Ben Gower is a third-generation baker and the owner of Born & Bread Bakehouse with his wife, Natasha. The artisan bakery produces handcrafted sourdough and one of its specialties is spelt sourdough bread.
“We started making our wholegrain spelt and rye sourdough for health reasons,” says Gower. “We love the fact that it is better for your gut but, most importantly, it has a unique nutty flavour that is delicious.”
Born & Bread Bakehouse’s wholegrain spelt bread is made from a blend of certified organic stoneground whole spelt flour and stoneground white spelt flour from a wholegrain milling company based in Gunnedah, New South Wales. “We mix these flours with our natural sourdough rye leaven [starter] and let the natural characteristics of the dough develop over a long slow fermentation of approximately 30 hours,” explains Gower. The dough is then divided, moulded and shaped lovingly by hand, before being baked on the bakery’s stone hearth oven.
“It was the first bread that we gave to our children when they started on solids and it is still their favourite!”
He explains that their spelt bread making process and recipe are both simple, as this allows for “the natural flavour and textures of the flours to be present.” He reveals that their natural whole rye sourdough starter has been nurtured for the past five years.
Gower says that people love the wholesome flavour of Born & Bread Bakehouse’s spelt bread, and many wholesale customers have even started to purchase it due to this feedback. “It was the first bread that we gave to our children when they started on solids and it is still their favourite!” he adds.
A regenerative mindset is at the core of this artisan bakery’s environmentally friendly practices. “We choose high-quality flours that are either organic or sustainable. It is important to us because we are thinking of the future not just for our business, but for our family,” explains Gower.
Handmade with love
For Jo Zdybel from Pennyroyal Bush Bread in Victoria’s Otway region, a loving touch is just as crucial to baking spelt bread as good ingredients are. Like Gower, Zdybel has bread making in her bones. She has also followed in the footsteps of three generations of bakers in her family and has been baking bread for the past decade.
“I started making spelt seven or eight years ago as the demand from customers at the Torquay Farmers’ Market increased,” explains Zdybel. “More people were seeking lower-gluten or gluten-free options. People love it, it has a unique taste, kinda nutty.”
While some aspects of the spelt bread making process are transferable across other bread types, Zdybel reveals that spelt is sensitive to variants in temperature, moisture and humidity. “This makes it trickier to bake with,” she explains, adding that “it likes a good knead as well”. As it is a type of sourdough, her spelt loaves can be quite dense and crumbly, which she offsets by adding rye flour to the mixture.
When I ask Zdybel what makes her spelt bread so special, she reveals, “Well it’s all about the love.” She says this as a joke, but I do think her comment holds some weight in the process of creating something from scratch with her bare hands.
Zdybel also prioritises sourcing local ingredients and reducing food miles where possible. “The spelt flour and grains I use are grown and milled from Lidgerwood Seeds [which are located] 15 minutes up the road,” she says. “I use local extra-virgin olive oil from 2 kilometres away, local bush honey from Otway Aperies, local walnuts … whatever I can grow in the garden. I think that makes a loaf of bread special.”
Zdybel’s focus on sustainable bread making is a by-product of her eco-friendly lifestyle. “We live on 60 acres [24 hectares] of bush in the Otways. This is where Pennyroyal Bush Bread had its beginnings,” she says. “We are solar-powered, [and] grow our own eggs and vegies. I now shop at the local wholefoods store, using a lot of my paper packaging, and I do this with as many suppliers as possible. Sustainability has always been a big part of our lives and I continue this through my business.”
Zdybel also believes that it’s important to be educating the community on regenerative bread making. “There are a lot of bakers out there making beautiful breads that are very special. I try to make a great product that people can enjoy, while teaching them about what is available in the area and using those ingredients.”
Given her strong passion for sharing the sacred art of baking bread, Zdybel also offers bread baking workshops that include a local produce feast with hot loaves of bread straight from the oven. When I ask her what her secret is to the perfect spelt bread, she responds with, “You’ll have to come and do a class!” Consider myself booked in.
Is spelt bread gluten-free?
In contrast to standard wheat, bread made from the spelt grain is lower in gluten, which makes it easier to digest and therefore a good alternative for people who experience mild gut issues or food intolerances related to gluten. However, given spelt bread does contain gluten, it is not a suitable bread choice for people with coeliac disease.
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