Whole Grain Spelt Pan Loaf

This post might include affiliate links. Please see my policy.

Spelt found its way into my baking rotation ages ago and has since become a regular in many of my recipes. It has an unmistakable flavor that permeates and pervades a loaf of bread, much like warming butter on the stove seems to occupy a house all at once. And while I’ve been keen on the nutritious grain for years, I’ve never ventured down the path of a 100% whole grain spelt pan loaf. Let’s change that.

Keeping with my recent predisposition towards baking in pans—see my recent pain de mie and my barley pan loaf—I just knew spelt would lend itself nicely to the confines of a rectangular pan, especially since I like to push pan loaves to high hydration. So my first trials with this recipe were structured around increasing the water at each attempt, but after several iterations, I found myself preferring previous results with lower hydrations: more doesn’t always mean better.

High hydration sourdough spelt bread
Whole-grain spelt pan loaf at 80% hydration.

As you can see in the image above, the interior on this loaf with hydration at 80% resulted in a crumb that was very tender and custard-like. While this is typically what I’m after with a hearth loaf, I found the texture to be a little off even if the flavor was quite good. In later tests, I reduced the hydration down from 80% to 75% (stopping at each digit along the way), finally achieving a loaf that was fluffier, lighter, and more delicate—just the result I had envisioned. The difference in results is subtle but noticeable.

As always, be sure to  adjust the hydration  of this recipe to suit your flour, starting low and working up.

Fiddling with the hydration in any recipe is always a back-and-forth play. There’s a fine line between just hydrated enough, and gone too far. And while this recipe clocks in at 75% hydration, keep in mind there is also honey and olive oil added to the dough, two more forms of liquid. Be sure to adjust the hydration of this recipe to suit your flour, perhaps starting at 70% hydration if you’re working with new flour.

Fully proofed whole grain spelt pan loaf
Fully proofed whole-grain spelt pan loaf.

So why 100% spelt flour? A recipe such as this has been mulling around in my head for a while, but additional motivation came in the form of several emails I received on the nutritional benefits of spelt flour when used in a whole grain sourdough bread1.

Spelt and a Low FODMAP Diet

Certain foods high in FODMAPs (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols), which are carbohydrates, can be responsible for discomfort in those who have trouble digesting/absorbing them in their small intestine, particularly those who have IBS or other gastrointestinal disorders. While I don’t personally have IBS or suffer from a food-based allergy or illness, I can sympathize with those in that situation.

Traditional sourdough bread made with whole grain spelt flour can classify as a low FODMAP food, conforming to the diet2. This isn’t to say spelt itself is low FODMAP, but when the grain is used in a traditional sourdough bread (with is lengthy natural fermentation), it looks to be better tolerated3. This is promising for those who strictly adhere to a low FODMAP diet, potentially allowing them to eat bread—something on the do-not-eat list—in moderation.

And in addition, spelt has higher levels of protein than modern wheat, is a good source of dietary fiber, vitamins, and minerals4. Plus, it just tastes great—when you take a bit of this bread your body just knows it’s healthy.

Honey, extra virgin olive oil, and dough mix

Whole Grain Spelt Pan Loaf Recipe

The quantity of extra virgin olive oil and honey in this recipe is right in balance: you will taste a hint of sweetness from the honey and a slightly fruity flavor and a soft texture from the olive oil. I toyed with lower percentages of each (little impact) and higher percentages (too overpowering) and settled on just the right amount. Additionally, I increased the salt percentage from my typical flat 2% to 2.2% to help draw out more of the whole grain flavor.

Note that honey is not a low FODMAP food, but the honey used in this recipe can easily be replaced, 1-for-1, by pure maple syrup.

Depending on the size of your baking pan, you might need to adjust the total weight of this dough, or split it into two loaves. See my guide to shaping a pan loaf for various pan sizes and dough weights.

I used my 8.85″ x 4.7″ x 4.7″ bread pan for this bake.

Vitals

Total Dough Weight1,400 grams
Pre-fermented Flour5.50%
Hydration75%
YieldOne 1,400 g pan loaf

Total Formula

WeightIngredientBaker’s Percentage
745gWhole grain spelt flour (Central Milling Whole Spelt Flour)100.00%
558gWater75.00%
37gHoney (substitute for pure maple syrup for a low FODMAP option)5.00%
37gExtra virgin olive oil5.00%
16gSalt2.20%
6gSourdough starter (100% hydration)0.83%

Levain Build

Note that only a small amount of sourdough starter is needed for this recipe. Overnight, this small bit of starter, fresh flour, and water, grows to an 80g levain mixed into the final dough. See my guide to the differences between a levain and sourdough starter for more information.

Update: I had an error with this levain build initially (it read 2% mature starter inoculation where it should have read 15%). The post is now corrected, sorry about that!

WeightIngredientBaker’s Percentage
6gRipe sourdough starter (100% hydration)15.00%
41gWhole grain spelt flour (Central Milling Whole Spelt Flour)100.00%
41gWater100.00%

Dough Formula

The target final dough temperature (FDT) is 78°F (25°C).

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

WeightIngredient
704gWhole grain spelt flour (Central Milling Whole Spelt Flour)
518gWater
37gHoney (substitute for pure maple syrup for a low FODMAP option)
37gExtra virgin olive oil
16gSalt
88gRipe liquid levain (see above)
Sifting bran and fully baked crust
Left: sifting out bran of freshly milled spelt to use as a topping; Right: fully baked whole grain spelt pan loaf with sifted bran topping.

Method

1. Liquid Levain – Night before mixing, 9:00 p.m.

Add the called for mature sourdough starterwater, and flour listed in the Levain Build section above to a clean jar. Mix well and cover overnight.

2. Mix – 9:00 a.m.

When your levain is mature and ready to be used, add the flourlevainhoney, extra virgin olive oil, salt, and water to a mixing bowl5. Using your hands, mix everything until it comes together into a shaggy mass. Continue to stretch and fold the dough over itself in the bowl to build strength, it will transform from sticky and shaggy to smooth and elastic over the course of 4-5 minutes.

Transfer the dough to a container for bulk fermentation and cover.

3. Bulk Fermentation – 9:15 a.m. to 12:45 p.m.

During the three and a half hour bulk fermentation, give the dough four sets of stretch and folds. The first set will be 15 minutes after the start of bulk fermentation, then every 30 minutes thereafter. Let the dough rest after the last set of stretch and folds for the remainder of bulk fermentation.

4. Preshape – 12:45 p.m.

Dough at end of bulk fermentation
The dough at end of bulk fermentation. Bowl with water used for preshaping.

I find it easier to preshape this dough using water on the bench and hand instead of flour. Fill a bowl with a little water and place near your work surface. Gently scrape out your dough from the bulk container onto your dry counter. Using a wet hand and bench knife, preshape the amorphous blob into a very taut round.

Be sure to  preshape this dough rather tight  to give it extra strength and to prevent excessive spreading on the counter.

Preshaped dough
The dough is preshaped rather tight to impart extra strength.

Let the dough rest, uncovered, for 20 minutes.

5. Shape – 1:05 p.m.

If your baking pan is not non-stick, lightly grease the interior of the pan with oil.

Depending on how slack your dough is, this can be a slightly challenging dough to shape. Liberally flour your work surface and the top of the preshaped round with whole-grain spelt flour, and shape quickly, tightly, and confidently.

I shaped this dough following my guide to shaping pan loaves.

Shaped whole grain spelt pan loaf

As you can see above, I milled some fresh spelt flour and sifted out the large bran pieces to use a topper to this dough after shaping. Not only does this added bran give the loaf extra texture, but it also brings extra nutrition. Feel free to use instant/rolled oats (as I often do), seeds, or simply use nothing.

After shaping your dough tightly, quickly roll the smooth (top) side on a pile of the sifted bran resting on a towel, then place the shaped dough in the pan.

6. Proof – 1:15 p.m. to 2:45 p.m. (or until ready)

Cover the pan with a reusable plastic bag and proof for 1-2 hours, temperature depending. For me, at my kitchen temperature of 76°F (24°C), it took one and a half hours for this dough to fully proof.

Give the dough a poke periodically with a wet finger. This dough should pass the “poke test” when it’s ready to bake: a firm poke should show an impression in the dough that springs back very slowly, perhaps not quite filling the indentation.

7. Bake – 2:45 p.m. (pre-heat oven at 2:15 p.m.)

Preheat your empty oven (there’s no need for a baking stone for this bread) to 450°F (232°C).

I used my typical oven steaming method for this loaf, but I did not use the pan with lava rocks. I boiled water and poured it over rolled-up towels in a pan and placed the pan at the bottom of my oven before loading the dough. Additionally, I sprayed the top of the dough with a handheld mister a few times after loading into the oven.

When your dough is fully proofed, place the steaming pan into the oven and your dough pan on a rack above. Spray several times into the oven chamber with a handheld spray bottle and close the oven door.

Drop the oven temp to 425°F (218°C) and bake for 20 minutes with steam. After 20 minutes, remove the steaming pan and bake for an additional 25-30 minutes at 425°F (218°C). After that, when the dough looks well colored on top and the interior temp registers around 205°F (96°C), remove the loaf from its pan and finish baking in the oven directly on the oven rack for 5 minutes for more color.

Finally, remove the loaf from the oven and let it cool on a wire rack for at least 3-4 hours before slicing.

Conclusion

This whole grain spelt pan loaf with honey and olive oil fills the kitchen with the deepest, richest aroma as it bakes. The aroma lingers hours after baking as its diffusive aroma pulls you ever closer, like sirens from an island. And in much the same way, there’s little you can do on approach, you’ll just have to have a slice — maybe two.

Further, a good slather of salted butter seems to draw out more nuance, melding with the fruity olive oil and sweet honey in a concert of mouth-watering flavor. I think this bread might be one of the most versatile and flavorful whole grain sourdough recipes I’ve ever baked.

Crust

Crust of the whole grain sourdough spelt pan loaf

The crust bakes up golden brown, is beautifully thin (especially for a 100% whole grain bread), and brings forth just a hint of honey. As usual, I’ve been milling lots of fresh flour here in my kitchen and sifting off some of the bran to use as a topper was a useful way to add texture and nutrition to this pan loaf.

Crumb

Crumb of the whole grain sourdough spelt pan loaf

The crumb is superbly light and fluffy, soft and pliant. However, uncut the loaf feels rather heavy in hand but slicing in reveals the truth: each slice is airy and just-tight-enough for toast and sandwiches.

The extra virgin olive oil helps bring a measure of softness to the crumb, and at 5%, it is just right—any more might be too soft.

Taste

The slight fruitiness from the olive oil pairs well with the sweetness from the honey—but more than this, the spelt itself brings so much flavor this bread is a smash hit here in my house. When your family gets close to devouring a 1400g loaf in two days, you know you’re on to something.

I think this bread might be my new favorite whole grain pan loaf. There, I said it. Buon appetito!

If you use this recipe, tag @maurizio on Instagram and use the hashtag #theperfectloaf so I can take a look!


  1. And thank you to Jori for suggesting I explore this!

  2. Monash University – Sourdough Processing & FODMAPS

  3. Monash University – Are All Spelt Products Low in FODMAPs?

  4. SELFNutritionData

  5. Usually I hold back enrichments (EVOO, honey) from a dough until after strengthening, but this dough came together without issue when everything was added at the onset.

Support The Perfect Loaf

The Perfect Loaf is supported in part by the  generosity of its readers.  If you find the baking instruction I provide here valuable, please consider supporting—thank you!

Contents