Do the Sour Dough

I am very proud of my spelt sourdough. I nursed it along for weeks of daily feedings and have kept it thriving for something like five years now. Our farm friend Laura shares the spelt berries she buys in bulk. Spelt flours is a nutty wonder, underappreciated yet one of the healthiest and heartiest flours you can find.

I stumbled into spelt as the base for a sourdough. Turns out it’s the best choice you can make. If you have a white-flour sourdough, adding heavier flours could kill it. But spelt sucks up everything you throw at it, at the primordial ooze in Joseph Payne’s short story “Slime.” I’ve also gone on weeks-long vacations and found my spelt sourdough easy to revive upon my return (though it did say it had gotten lonely in that dark refrigerator).

This is not to say that I have not had some difficult periods with the sourdough. Let it “rise” too long (especially on a second “rise”) and it gets gray and clammy. Sometimes it looks just right, yet won’t bake up. I put this down to seasonal climate, and in winter I’ve been adding a little yeast just to be sure.

This past month, however, I guilted myself into forgoing yeast and making careful tests of what worked and what didn’t, prep-wise.

And I think I’ve nailed it:

  1. Before bedtime, mix one cup of sourdough starter in a ceramic bowl (no metal!) with one cup of water (no chlorine! Use one of those water filters, or better yet just leave it out for a day before using) and enough white (unbleached!) flour to make a very soft dough, so sticky that some will remain on your fingers. Add nothing else. Don’t butter a pan. Beware salt and metal. Cover with a heavy dishtowel.
  2. In the morning, mix in another half-cup of the water and enough flour to make it a slightly stiffer dough than before. Put in a loaf pan—I use covered clay ones. No metal! Let sit for 45 minutes to an hour, no longer.
  3. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Put the pan in the hot oven and bake for at least 45 minutes. You’ll smell the baked sourdough smell well before you need to remove the bread from the oven. If you don’t let it cook that long, it will have soft gummy spots.
  4. The sourdough loaf will come out golden and crusty. Excellent with cheese, but also with butter and jam.