Multigrain Spelt Sourdough

This is the second spelt recipe I’ve posted here, mostly because I am transfixed with the flavor of spelt, but also because I developed this formula for a short article I wrote that will appear in the Bread Baker’s Guild of America Bread Lines magazine early next year.  The article has some background information on me, my process, and my motivation for baking sourdough — most of which if you’ve read my entries for a while you already know. I went into how I started baking, how both the scientific and artisanal processes captivate me each and every bake and how baking not only reminds me of my childhood growing up in an Italian restaurant but also because good, healthy food really just requires time.

So why another spelt recipe? When thinking about the article I went back and forth on what recipe to include, swaying between a few sourdough recipes I’ve been experimenting with and some of my old tried-and-true favorites. I knew I wanted to use one that had fresh milled flour and without a doubt my previous spelt sourdough recipe is among my most favorite; but I wanted to take it a bit further. I began to think about what things I’d change if I was looking to try and improve it and I decided to start with that formula as a base and rove from there, to explore and find something that really struck my palette as different or something that produced a substantial structural difference — or perhaps both.

Multigrain spelt sourdough crumbWhen exploring different grains to include in a formula there are plenty of options, many you can sort of sneak in without their flavor showing up too much, or if they do they are so subtle they are hardly noticeable. I’ve found that rye is one of those grains that, even at a small overall percentage, brings an unexpected depth of flavor to the overall taste profile — there’s a reason why all of a sudden you’ll see rye at every turn: rye cookies, rye cakes, rye brownies, rye bundt cakes and so on. However, due to the inherent nature of rye, as the percentage of it in the final mix increases the end result will become more and more dense, compact and less open. To help avoid a dense interior I paired the rye flour with a blend of wheat flour to help alleviate the issue (more later).

In addition to flour modifications I changed my method for each stretch and fold set during bulk fermentation. During the typical bulk rise I’ve always started out the sets with very strong North, South, East and West folds that gradually get more gentle as bulk progresses, but for this bake I placed more emphasis on this and even though the folds were vigorous for the first set, they were not overly rough in any way. There was no tearing, squeezing or slapping and they were done quickly and efficiently. The last set of stretch and folds was incredibly gentle and was mostly performed to redistribute the dough for temperature equality reasons, perhaps with a small amount of additional strengthening imparted.

The main reason for the gentle hands at the end of bulk is to avoid pressing out any of the gasses trapped in your dough. Each interaction you have with the dough at that point will disturb these little pockets, whether it be smashing them or simply creating connections within them, reducing the overall size of the pocket. Because pre-shaping and shaping is usually enough to even out the size of these pockets I found it best to simply be gentle with all stretch and fold sets but even more so  with the last set. You can read about how bakers recommend gentleness at the end of bulk in many books but sometimes something doesn’t really stick until you realize and (re)experience it for yourself.

So to sum up, the basis for change and improvement with this formula over my last spelt sourdough (and also just my baking in general) were:

  1. The flour blend for this formula was changed to promote a lighter and more open loaf without chewiness
  2. The fresh flour was milled at a very fine coarseness (more on this in the next section)
  3. Stretches during bulk fermentation were effective yet much more gentle
  4. Final shaping was as gentle as possible

Let’s talk about flour.

Flour Selection

I milled the spelt fresh in the morning, first thing. I set my GrainMaker manual mill to the finest setting it will go (well almost — you see that “Fine / Coarse” dial below? Just turn it right, and right, and right…) and got cranking as everyone else was still sleeping, dreaming of who knows what while I was watching the spelt float down into my mixing bowl. I’ve said it before but milling my own grain is such a satisfying process — I value these solitary moments, time to think about and prepare for the day’s mixing, folding and shaping. Good music helps, too.milling fresh speltI’ve been experimenting and honing in on the right grind level with my manual mill, testing how the flour performs at varying coarseness1. It seems, at least with my recent results, milling the flour increasingly fine helps attain a more open crumb (assuming everything else is in place, of course), especially at this percentage of fresh milled whole grains. This aligns with what we know about how large, sharp bran/germ particles can lead to a more dense crumb due to their cutting action on gluten when strengthening dough. With the burrs on my mill set very close it takes me 20-30% longer to mill the required flour for this formula. As I set the burrs closer and closer together I have to follow suit and reduce the grain feed rate on my GrainMaker to the slowest possible, reducing the number of berries fed between the burrs at any one time — turning the crank gets more and more difficult and at this level it is definitely a bonafide gym substitute.

In the photos below you can see how fine I was able to mill and keep in mind the flour used here is 100% whole grain spelt — no sifting was done on the flour.fresh milled whole grain spelt, super fineI used a combination of flours to compliment the spelt in an attempt to maintain a light and airy loaf despite the relatively high percentage of fresh milled whole grain spelt. In my last spelt adventure I didn’t use quite the mélange of flours I’m using here, but I’ve found this blend to really be the sweet spot that avoids a chewy crumb (from too much high protein flour) but still enough strength to rise high with an open interior.

A touch of Central Milling High Mountain, and it’s high protein percentage, can be substituted with any “bread flour” that has a protein percentage around 13% (King Arthur Bread Flour in the blue bag will work well here). As I’ve mentioned before, Central Milling’s Type 85 can be concocted in your kitchen by mixing 50% bread flour and 50% whole wheat flour.

Type 85 flour can be approximated with 50% bread flour and 50% whole wheat flour

Medium rye is not 100% whole grain dark rye, it’s lighter in color and doesn’t have quite the hearty flavor of it’s darker sibling, that said I think dark rye would extremely well if medium rye is not available.

Multigrain Spelt Formula

This bread, having a good portion of whole grains and fresh milled spelt, has a wonderful sweet and nutty flavor. The spelt was milled extremely fine and at a low temperature the morning it was used in the mix, which preserved as much of the flavor, oils and nutrients as possible.

Depending on the spelt flour you are using you will likely have to adjust the hydration listed below to suit your flour. Typically overall hydration has to be reduced when using spelt but because I milled the flour fresh it really could take on quite a bit of water — so I kept adding till it felt right and ended up at the hydration below. Please keep an eye on how the dough feels at the beginning stages, if the dough feels overly wet and soupy avoid adding in all of the reserved water. The dough should be “wet”, no doubt, but it should not feel like it’s falling apart easily or more like soup instead of dough.


Total dough weight: 1900g
Pre-fermented flour: 3.50%
Hydration: 88%
Yield: 2 x 950g loaves

Levain Build

Weight Ingredient Baker’s Percentage
30g Mature liquid starter (100% hydration) 50%
30g Central Milling Malted Type 85 Flour 50%
30g Giusto’s Artisan Bread Flour 50%
60g H2O @ ~75ºF (room temperature) 100%

raw spelt berriesdough midway through bulk fermentationDough Formula

Target final dough temperature (FDT) is 79ºF.

Note that the baker’s percentages listed below are with respect to the final dough ingredients and do not take into account the levain.

Weight Ingredient Baker’s Percentage
423g Giusto’s Artisan Bread Flour 44.82%
245 Fresh Milled Whole Grain Spelt Flour 25.91%
147g Central Milling High Mountain Flour 15.54%
81g Central Milling Malted Type 85 Flour 8.55%
49g Central Milling Medium Rye Flour 5.18%
806g H2O @ 90ºF 87.56%
10g Diastatic Malt (see note below) 1.07%
23g Fine sea salt 2.49%
86g Mature, liquid levain 9.07%

Using diastatic malt is optional, and I use it in this formula because a good chunk of the flour is not malted. I love the way malt adds color to the crust, and as long as it’s not overused, it will not have any adverse affect on flavor and only helps to boost enzymatic activity.


1. Levain – 12:00 p.m.

Build the liquid levain (everything listed in the Levain Build section above) in the morning or afternoon and store somewhere around 80ºF ambient for 5 hours to ripen. It should be well fermented, expanded and have a smell that’s slightly sour, perhaps with a hint of sweetness.

2. Autolyse – 4:00 p.m.

Mix flour, malt and water (reserve 100g water for mix, later) in a bowl until all dry bits are hydrated. Cover bowl and store somewhere nice and warm (around 80ºF) for 1 hour. Somewhere near your levain is convenient.

3. Mix – 5:00 p.m.

Add the called for ripe levain to the autolysed dough and using about half of the reserved 100g of water mix thoroughly by hand. The levain should be well mixed through the dough and the added water completely absorbed.

I chose to do slap and fold for about 5 minutes, just until the dough started to show signs of a smooth surface and it was catching some air. If you aren’t comfortable with slap/fold method, or don’t like it, you can do stretch and folds in the bowl until your dough tightens up and becomes slightly hard to stretch out and fold over.

Let the dough rest for 20 minutes before adding salt.

When finished mixing and resting, sprinkle the salt on top of the dough and the remaining water to help dissolve. Pinch through the dough thoroughly and fold the dough over itself to help incorporate and absorb the remaining water. Keep pinching and folding until all the water is absorbed and the dough comes back together.

When finished transfer the dough to a tub or thick-walled bowl for the first rise: bulk fermentation.

4. Bulk Fermentation – 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

At 78-80ºF ambient temperature bulk fermentation should go for about 4 hours. Perform 3 sets of gentle stretch and folds during bulk, spaced out by 30 minutes. After the third set of stretch and folds let the dough rest for the remainder of bulk.

You can see my dough below, almost at the end of bulk fermentation — the photo shows it around 3.5 hours with half an hour left. Notice the bubbles on top and the shadow at the edge of the bowl, indicating the dough is starting to dome down at the edges (convex). These are signs I look for to ensure bulk fermentation has gone long enough.almost end of bulk fermentation

After four hours get ready to divide the mass and pre-shape.

5. Divide & Pre-shape – 9:30 p.m.

Gently dump out the dough from your bulk container onto an un-floured work surface. Divide in half and pre-shape the dough into two round boules, let the rounds rest 20 minutes uncovered.

When pre-shaping this dough try to get each mass into a round with as little movements as possible, just enough to create tension in the dough so it holds its shape but not overly tight which could cause inadvertent degassing of the dough.

6. Shape – 9:50 p.m.

Prepare two baskets that will hold your dough during its cold proof in the refrigerator overnight. This dough works really well shaped as a boule or batard, whatever your preference may be. I always tend to shape as a batard and this bake was no different.

To gently shape as a batard, first moderately flour the top of the dough and flour the work surface. Flip one resting round over so the floured side is down on the work surface. Fold the top of the dough up and over to the middle and repeat for the bottom (you’ll now have a long slender rectangle in front of you). Pickup the rectangle and rotate it 90ºF so it’s now lengthwise facing you. Grab the dough at the very top and fold over a little ways, press to seal with the main mass of the dough. Now grab this rolled over top and gently continue to roll it down towards the bottom, tucking in the dough as you go (imagine rolling down a beach towel). At the end of this you’ll have a tube that has essentially been rolled downward. Once shaped, transfer each to their floured shaping basket with the seam side facing up.

You can see a video of me shaping a batard this way on Instagram.

7. Rest & Proof – 9:50 p.m.

Cover your baskets with plastic and then place in the refrigerator at 38ºF for about 10 hours. Even at such cool temperatures this dough can quickly overproof so keep an eye on it in the fridge in the morning.

8. Bake – Next Morning: Preheat oven at 6:45 a.m., Bake at 7:50 a.m.

I steamed my oven in my usual way, described here in my post on how to steam your home oven for baking.

Place your Baking Steel or baking stones in your oven and preheat for one hour at 500ºF (or 525ºF if your oven can go that high). Once preheated, take out both of the baskets from the fridge and remove the plastic wrap.

Bake at 500ºF for 20 minutes, then remove the steaming pans from inside the oven. Bake the loaves for an additional 5 minutes at 500ºF, then turn the oven down to 450ºF and bake for an additional 22-25 minutes until done to your liking.

Keep an eye on these loaves in the last 10 minutes of baking, they color very quickly. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack for at least 1-2 hours.


multigrain spelt sourdough

Spelt is flat out one of my favorite grains to work with. Flavor, performance, incredible health benefits and versatility — all part of its repertoire. When I find myself planning a spelt sourdough bake (which has been custom lately) I’ll usually mill some extra spelt flour to use in other pastry or breakfast items and let me just say spelt pancakes, waffles and tea cakes are to die for. My initial 25 pound order of organic spelt berries is dangerously low, but there’s no question I’ll be reordering soon.

I’ve baked this bread many, many times now. I’ve tested and tweaked times, percentages and techniques and this formula has consistently produced my best loaves thus far — each has had a beautifully colored crust, high rise and wonderfully open interior. This is darn close to being a perfect loaf for me2. There is so much flavor and so many health benefits locked away in this loaf of bread, it’s wicked.


multigrain spelt sourdough crustDramatic. Sharp. Moody. Volcanic.

All adjectives I’d use to sum up this beauty. It’s hard to put words to this sensational crust, and the picture kind of tells it all, really, but the flavor and texture is left to the imagination. Because the crust is so, so important to me I strive to hit that mark, the high mark on the wall I’m always reaching for — I think this one nailed it. Even though the crust looks intense it was actually very thin (see crumb shot below) and shattered when cut. Exactly how I like it.

I need a huge beating-heart emoji right here, please.


Multigrain spelt sourdough title crumbThis formula has a high percentage of whole grains and yet the interior stayed quite moist and tender, creamy even. I pushed fermentation with this loaf and that helped3, but also the higher hydration kept things on the moist side. Even with the high percentage of whole grains the interior was as open as I’d want it to be. Light, airy and fairly uniform — spot on. The gentle handling during bulk and final shaping also avoided excessively knocking out any of the gasses built up during the entire process.


Spelt sourdough crumbThe fresh milled spelt brought its classic slightly-nutty flavor profile to this bread and when paired up with the rye flour it had quite a deep overall flavor profile. Between the whole grain spelt, the rye and the type 85 flour this bread has the deep flavors of a whole grain loaf but the open and airy nature of a white loaf — a really nice balance between the two.

I love the addition of rye flour in this recipe, even at such a small percentage. One thing you could play with is changing this grain out entirely: use kamut, einkorn, white whole wheat or even buckwheat. It would also be interesting to try increasing from 5% to 10% (or potentially higher) to see if the flavor of the chosen grain compliments spelt even more so. Like I said, it’s a very versatile grain.

In the end I love the changes I’ve made with my original spelt sourdough formula and I feel I’ve achieved exactly what I was after in the first place: a fresh new flavor profile and a substantial structural improvement. The flour blend changes, extremely fine fresh spelt flour, gentle strengthening during bulk and light handling during final shape all contributed to the wonderful final result.

I hope you give this one a try and I’d love to hear your thoughts on the changes!


Buon appetito!

A version of this post also appears in the Bread Baker’s Guild of America Bread Lines,  Volume 25, Issue 1, Spring 2017.

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  1. I’ve had my mill for a long while now, perhaps my ability to correlate a particular flour coarseness to its result is finally getting more attuned

  2. I said close 🙂

  3. When I push the proof time I find the interior to be much more flavorful and of a softer, creamy texture