The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Whole Spelt for cold weather starter - works every time

K.C.'s picture

Whole Spelt for cold weather starter - works every time

It's been raining for days in Southern California and that means my place is cold and damp. The kitchen cools to 58F at night and hits 65F during the day. The best solution is to bake every day. The gas oven is cheap to run and doubly efficient when it's taking the chill off and baking.

After a few chocolate cakes and several loaves of banana bread I decided it was time for a new starter and sourdough. I hadn't kept a starter for a couple of months but that's because I know I can get one up to speed in a week. In my 25+ years of baking I've never found a better cold weather starter flour than whole grain spelt.

I used orange juice, squeezed right from the orange, for the first 4 days and then switched to water. 1 tablespoon of whole grain spelt flour at 100% hydration on day 1, adding the same for each of the next 3 days. I had a viable starter in 7 days. I then split it out to 4 containers and added whole wheat to one, whole white wheat to one, all purpose to one and fed momma spelt before putting her in the fridge.

Here are my new friends. Momma spelt at the top, now 10 days old, about an hour after doubling and peaking, and her siblings below.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

And with Orange juice!  You must be the baker of my Campari dreams!

Lovely lovely starters!

AnnaInMD's picture

whole grain spelt I accidentally ordered and bought. I even had to buy a KA grain mill attachment to grind it (very expensive flour it turned out, grin).


Thaichef's picture

Good Morning K.C.

  Your starter looks awsome!  Can you share with us your exact recipe? When you said that you squeeze orange juice directly into your flour....Here is my questions:

  Do you start with 1 c. of spelt flour and add how many  TBSP, C? of orange juice?

  Could you please give some more info so novice like me can try to do it also?

My starters are hit and miss and many time more miss than hit. I am sure your directions will be a "God sent" to many of us.

Thank you,


K.C.'s picture

Thaichef I make, and feed, all my starters at 100% hydration. That's equal parts liquid to flour.

In this case it was 1 tbs. of whole grain spelt flour and 1 tbs. of fresh squeezed orange juice. Days 2 and 3 I do exactly the same thing. On day 4 I double the amounts, 2 tbs. flour and 2 tbs. orange juice. Unsweetened pineapple juice will accomplish the same thing if you don't have an orange tree in your yard like I do.

I then switch to room temp water, in my case it's water from an RO filter. I also double the amount that I feed and start using my digital scale for a little more accuracy.

The starter is quite lively by day 4. It smells sweet and sour. By the end of the first week it's viable though mild. Bread made with it will rise slowly but not have a strong sour flavor.

By day 10 it's quite sour and has plenty of leavening power. That's when I split it 4 ways. The photos of the other starters above are 12 hours after they were given their first feeding. They all double on the first feeding and are useable as soon as the next day.

Thaichef's picture

Thank you K.C for your details information. You made many of the novice bakers like me very happy.

This web site is a gold mine of  useful information, friendship and sincere advices. I am so happy to be a part of it.

Have a happy holidays and God bless, K.C


DonC's picture

My wife brought home some organic whole spelt that I've trying to find a good use for,plus I've also been increasingly intruiged with the idea of cultivating my own starter.I mixed a Tb each of spelt flour and orange juice this morning and set it on top of the TV for my first starter attempt after being inspired by this thread,thanks!!

 I did just have a thought occur to me tho.When I cultivate my starter from spelt,won't the resultant strain of yeast be more adapted to spelt and not necessarily as good for wheat(bread/AP/etc)compared to a yeast that's been started from a wheat flour starter? Forgive my ignorance(I talked my H.S.counselour into accepting "Landscaping"for my science graduation requirement,LOL) If I understand it correctly,aren't there 100's or 1000's of wild yeast strains and when you feed them,the strain that survives and thrives in your starter what you're after?Is there the potential for the optimum"spelt yeast"to not be as desirable for wheat flours?I'll just use this starter with spelt or spelt/wheat blends if someone confirms my theory.

 There's probably a glaringly obvious flaw in my reasoning anyway!!LOL,Thanks!!


K.C.'s picture


Historically spelt was grown primarily in Eastern Europe but it's popularity has increased since the 80s and today it is widely farmed across the central U.S.

You'll find spelt growing by the acre right next to wheat and you can be assured both grains are hosting the same strains of yeast. Yeast are not that discerning. Give them carbs and they grow.

Once your starter is showing good signs of life you can easily create a new starter from it using whole wheat or all purpose flour. When it's time to feed the spelt starter just take the extra you'd normally toss out and put it in a new container. Add a comparable weight of the grain of your choice and water. Within a day or two you'll have a healthy starter with a different flavor. 

Baking with spelt you'll find that the gluten development is not as 'strong' and you'll need to consider that in your bread recipes.

whosinthekitchen's picture

Do I use your spelt starter as measured in a sourdough recipe as in Bread Bakers Apprentice or Helthy Bread in 5 Minutes an Day?

I like the idea of having starter with different flours.  Which of yours produces the best sourdough flavor in the baked bread?


I have had experience with starters but have had trouble maintaining one since my move to Florida.  Have spelt, will start!  Thanks for sharing even though my temps are not as low as yours... we are running 60 to 80 this week with high humidity and some rain showers.  


K.C.'s picture

Once a spelt starter is cultured and active it's equivalent to any other sourdough starter. So yes, use the same amount in your recipes.

Each type of flour does give some variation in flavor, but it's subtle. The more whole grain you use in a starter, as in whole wheat or whole spelt, the less sour it will be initially. After a month they'll all be very similar.

The warmer temps of Florida will just help it mature faster. 

DonC's picture

This is my spelt starter I began on Monday,!st pic is before,second pic is 1 hr after adding 2 tbs of spelt flour and 2 tbs of well water today,friday.It's got a very strong sour smell that reminds me of fruit processing plants I've done outside-contractor work in several times .Yesterday(thursday)it suddenly really came to life with lots of bubbling and strong smell.

 I do have another question,at some point should I start dividing and throwing away the extra? Or will it get strong enough to start using before over-abundance becomes a problem? Would it be of any benefit to feed 1/2 as much every 12 hrs now that there's good activity? Thanks!!!