The Fresh Loaf

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Spelt Flour is killing me here, help!

Crumb Control's picture
Crumb Control

Spelt Flour is killing me here, help!

So as a part of my learning process I decided to try working with different flours as I progress, I started with white flour and found my safe zone, many thanks to you guys here and spelt flour bread was my next goal, I love spelt bread, even the plastic-wrapped, store-bought, regular yeast ones are good in mo opinion.

Up until now I added some whole spelt flour to my white flour and I loved it but I used 370g of white flour with 80g of spelt per loaf so... I tried to work with spelt alone just to see the difference and today I tried 50% each so my formula was 1-2-3, that's:

100g started (!00% hydration)
200g water
300g flour (150g white+150 whole spelt)
7g salt
2tsp honey

(My white flour has 12.1% protein and the spelt has 13%)

Same method as always, autolyse for 1 hour, mix in starter, salt and honey, 5 stretch and folds in 30 minutes intervals, I did a windowpane test and it was all good, got a nice thin membrane, very elastic, so I bulk fermented, pre-shaped, shaped, retarded in the fridge and baked in a dutch oven.

The dough was soft as a pillow, it felt like an 85% hydration to me, I tried to pre-shape it and shape it twice and it wouldn't hold any tension, 3 minutes and it was flat again, even after I did shape it and place it in a banneton overnight in the fridge, I flipped it and it turned into a pancake in seconds, I baked it with ope to get some oven spring, I got some but most of the loaf was flat and deformed, I hope you can see it here (I'll post more images later)

Last week I got similar results and thought my dough was under-proofed, so this time I gave it some more time so I don't know if it's still under-proofed, or maybe this one over-proofed, I'm confused,,,

So my questions are:
Do I need to lower the hydration when working with spelt?
If so, wouldn't this result in a heavier, denser bread?
Does the honey have something to do with the problem? 

Thanks and have a great weekend!

idaveindy's picture

TL; DR:  waaaaaay overproofed.

You did two things at once which compounded each other:

1. Went to a significant amount of spelt, which is wheat-like, and may "technically" be wheat, but is far enough _away_ from "regular" wheat to pose a serious challenge when used at 50%.  Spelt has protein, but that protein makes very, very poor gluten structure.  That is why, generally speaking, modern bakers abandoned it long ago. It is now a specialty grain that needs to be handled quite differently than regular red or white wheat when making bread.

2.  Went to _whole_ spelt, so now you are working with 50% whole-grain using a formula which is specifically not  for whole grain.   

(Compared to 100% white flour, a formula for 50% whole grain would use much less starter or yeast.  The enzymes in whole grain boost the fermentation too much.  There are other changes too, when going from white flour to whole grain.)

Then, your dough kept on fermenting during the retard in the fridge due to all the enzymes of the whole grain and the honey(sugar).  And I think, but not sure, that spelt makes sugars a lot faster than regular wheat, even regular whole wheat, does when the enzymes act upon it.

My experience is that spelt makes for a very quick ferment and proof.  

I've gone through a lot of spelt over the years, and decided the extra cost and extra effort wasn't worth it, even though I like the flavor.


The easy way to solve this is to find a formula specifically for 50% _whole spelt_, and use it.  The 1-2-3 formula is just not for whole grains, let alone the "specialty" grain of spelt and its poor gluten.

Finding an existing formula for a combo of whole spelt and white flour will get you in the ball-park, and then you can tweak it from there.  Going from the 1-2-3 to spelt would be the same as starting over from scratch.

Keep in mind: whole spelt, with all the bran and germ, is as different from white spelt as whole wheat flour is from white AP and white bread flour.   

Spelt may technically be wheat, triticum speltum, but I don't think of it as wheat because it behaves so differently.  (Durum flour would have been easier. heh heh.)

Anyway, you are to be commended for branching out and experimenting, and willing to try specialty grains. 

Bon appétit, amigo.

Kerry's picture

Hello idaveindy.  You wrote, "The 1-2-3 formula is not for whole grains..."  I believe you.  Bread baking is all new to me.  Are you saying that with experience one could look at a this, (or maybe any) formula and see, perhaps from the percentages, that a whole grain flour, such as, (in this instance), spelt, just will not work?  If I am asking the right question, can you elaborate just why whole grains did not work?  Thanks a lot.

Kerry's picture

Perhaps I looked at and did not see the answer.  I do understand why the spelt did not work.  I want to be able to just 'read' the formulation and know that, "Oh, yeah, don't use a whole grain with this one".  Thanks.

idaveindy's picture

Kerry: Whole grain flour (that has bran and germ) behaves very differently than "white" (branless and germless AP or bread) flour.

That's all you need to realize in order to know that substituting one for the other, and keeping everything else the same, will result in something not in line with the original recipe's result.

Different types of flours are, generally speaking, not interchangeable.  Some are "close enough", but "white" versus "whole grain" are pretty far apart.

_How_ they are different, and how they are treated differently and used differently is a much lengthier subject.  But here are three short-and-quick things:  water absorption, gluten-forming/building ability, and whole grain has enzymes that significantly speed up fermentation, which has a knock-on effect on timing and other ingredients.

Kerry's picture

Thank you.  Especially the "three short and quick".

MTloaf's picture

In my experience, if the amount of spelt is above 25% the loaf is difficult to shape and wants to spread out. Extremely extensible no matter how much folding. I use fresh milled and it ferments fast, so I seldom add more than 15% to any dough and that makes it easier to deal with. Maybe using a loaf pan would work best for high percentage spelt.

SheGar's picture
SheGar (not verified)


Wholywheat's picture

Yep, I use 80% fresh milled whole spelt and 20% fresh milled whole Glenn for elasticity, and is my absolute favorite bread!

mwilson's picture

I can only offer some inspiration..

See here, my 50+ % whole spelt

It is definitely whole spelt you are using? The appearance of your loaf doesn't suggest much bran.

Spelt is very extensible so you'll definitely benefit from lowering your hydration. As always make sure your starter is in good shape beforehand.

Rhody_Rye's picture

That spelt loaf of yours is impressive!

Rhody_Rye's picture

...with whole spelt. In the last year I've made half a dozen or more 100% whole spelt (and whole sprouted spelt) loaves, all of which turned out well. Beginner's luck is a factor in my success, I think, since I attempted these long before trying (or even reading about) some of the more complicated, high-hydration recipes I've seen posted here at TFL. Thus I wasn't aiming for any particular hydration level, and didn't have a "go-to" white loaf recipe or process to work from. So I approached spelt as a total newbie.

The recipe I've used is from Breadtopia (click link) and includes a helpful video tutorial. The hydration of the dough is around 66-68%, so pretty low compared to other whole wheat recipes. It involves a few rounds of pretty minimal stretch and folds. The dough is really extensible, and feels nice to work with. The bread is delicious, one of our favorites. I've recently adapted it for whole emmer (70 to 80 percent whole emmer) with success.

Best of luck to you - I hope you succeed, since spelt is awesome!


Note: For the loaf in the photo below, I had upped the hydration to around 72% - nothing crazy, but higher than the original recipe called for.

idaveindy's picture

Rhody: Wow!  That pic is 100% spelt from the Breadtopia formula?   I'm impressed with it. Along with mwilson's loaf too.

I don't remember my spelt being that dark.  Did you add anything to make it darker, such as molasses?

Are you using store-bought whole spelt, or home-milled?  What's the country of origin, if you know?


Rhody_Rye's picture

I'm pretty sure the loaf pictured above is made with Bob's Red Mill spelt flour; the picture is from more than six months ago, before I got my Mock Mill. I add either two Tbsp of agave or three Tbsp of barley malt syrup to the dough when I make a majority whole wheat; I think this loaf was made with barley malt syrup, which would explain the darker color (the lighting is probably also a factor).

The pic below is of an 80% whole sprouted spelt (One Degree Organic), 20% bread flour loaf - it's considerably lighter in color, and included 2 T of agave.


MTloaf's picture

Trevor Wilson has a video/recipe for a cranberry spelt loaf that is 25% spelt that I have had good luck with. It is 75% hydration and uses bread flour for added strength. I like to add pepitas  with cranberries. It makes great toast with a little Nutella. 

idaveindy's picture

You successful spelt-bakers are inspiring me to revisit spelt.

Crumb Control: Here is another 50% spelt formula from a TFL-er, using instsnt yeast:

Crumb Control's picture
Crumb Control

I'll try to address them all here, first off I'll start by saying I wanted to use spent because my dad's doctor told him to cut down on white flour and recommended Spelt, we bought good yeasted spelt loaves and since I like challenges I wanted to see if do something with Spelt.


idaveindy, thank you for the detailed explanation, I read some recipes and formulas for 100% Spelt and thought "Yeah I got the hang of it", since most used 66%-70% hydration I figured 1-2-3 would work... but... well... clearly it didn't.

So if I understand right, I need to take down the amount of starter as a first step, and I need to watch the dough for over-proofing faster than regular white flour dough.

Reading what you and MTloaf said, perhaps I should use less water and work with 60%-65% hydration.
I came out with this formula (the quantities are low because I use a small banneton for experiment purposes), less starter, less honey, less water, less BF... less...

300g Flour (150g white + 150g spelt)
181g Water 
80g Starter
7g Salt
1tsp Honey

Will it work better?

mwilson, it is whole spelt, I'm no expert so I can't tell just by looking at it, I can only believe what that package says so, yeah.

My starter is very active, I posted a picture of it before, here.
Your 50% spelt looks great, my goal is to go 100% spelt (for my dad, I'm a white flour guy).

Rhody_Rye, thank for the link, I see that he's adding flour every time he's doing a stretch and fold, it's not much but still, it will lower the hydration of the dough, other than that the formula I made is almost the same so I will give it a go, for sure.


idaveindy's picture

>300g Flour (150g white + 150g spelt)
>181g Water 
>80g Starter
>7g Salt
>1tsp Honey

>Will it work better?

Well, let me check my crystal ball...  ;-)

That's still 11.7% prefermented flour.  40 / 340.  (assuming 100% hydration starter.)  Kind of high for a 50% whole grain, which would necessitate a very short bulk ferment and proof.

Remember that temperature and time are ingredients too.   I assume you have already picked up on how amount of starter, and temperature of ingredients/ambient-air, are related to length of bulk ferment and length of final proof. 

But, don't trust my crystal ball on this.  I never mastered spelt, so I kept it small, 10% or less, just to use up my supply.

I think one or more of the formulas linked above were for 50% whole spelt. So I must defer to those bakers, who did it successfully.  That's where I will start if I get back into spelt.


For some reason I got enamored of specialty/heirloom grains. Supposedly they are healtheir than the modern highly-hybridized varieties.  So I admire others' efforts to use them and promote their use.  Bon chance, amigo.

Crumb Control's picture
Crumb Control

Right now I use a magic 8 ball but it's not accurate and answers sarcastically.

I see what you mean about the amount of starter, maybe I'll use even less, my problem recently is time, since I'm a beginner and I started working with sourdough during the very hot summer here (and got some great results), now that the temperature dropped I've been struggling with proofing times.

I baked some under-proofed loaves so I tried giving the dough some extra time and over-proofed it, it's a mess. I'm still trying to figure out how to tell when I bulk ferment too long, when I over-proof... it's a hard learning curve, but I'm not giving up and I will get that crystal ball from Amazon!