spelt sourdough and how stretching builds strength

This post is a part of my 2017 Lenten Bread Series. Click here to see the series in its entirety.

Spelt (Triticum spelta) is one of the oldest varieties of wheat still available today. At nearly 9000 years old, this grain has changed relatively little throughout history. It fell out of use in the past hundred years because its thick husk made it difficult to harvest with modern farming equipment.

But because of its low gluten content, it is building in popularity among those who react negatively to common wheat (Triticum aestivum). The increasing availability of spelt is perhaps one of the most positive aspects of the gluten-free fad.

It is similar in flavor to a white whole wheat, though slightly more nutty and complex.

The low gluten content makes it difficult to make bread entirely out of spelt. I’ve found that a 2-1 ratio of all-purpose to spelt flour is about the maximum amount of spelt I can use to make a well-structured loaf of bread.

This recipe follows a very similar process to the whole wheat sourdough from two weeks ago, using a preferment to develop the flavor of the spelt before adding in all-purpose flour for the final dough.

It does, however, require more focus on stretching and folding to develop proper structure.


High hydration (very wet) dough can’t be kneaded like a typical yeasted dough. The difference in texture between a high-hydration naturally leavened dough and a commercially yeasted dough is perhaps the most difficult aspect for a baker to overcome when beginning to work with sourdough.

Stretching and folding is a technique used with dough too wet to knead. Once the dough is mixed and left to autolyse for 20-30 minutes, a handful of the dough can be picked up and stretched then folded over. The autolyse helps to soften the starches and unravel the gluten strands, turning the dough from a sloppy batter into a mass with enough structure to hold together as it is stretched. The process of folding interlocks the amino acids into one another to create the gluten net.

As this process is repeated, you will feel the dough build in strength.

All-wheat dough has enough gluten that only a few stretch-and-folds are necessary during the fermentation process. When working with spelt, however, stretch-and-folds are vital to the structure of the loaf. The lower gluten content requires more work to build the strength and tension in the dough.

The spelt also benefits from a slightly higher baking temperature. Again, the lower ratio of gluten limits the tension that can help the loaf hold its shape. Thus a good oven spring is important to avoiding a shallow, dense loaf.

spelt sourdough

1/2 cup starter
1/2 cup water
3/4 cup spelt flour

3/4 cup water
1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt


1. 6-8 hours after feeding your starter, mix 1/2 cup of the starter with 1/2 cup of water and the spelt flour. Let sit at room temperature for 1-2 hours.

2. Add the rest of the water, all-purpose flour, and salt, and mix together until it forms a shaggy dough. Let sit for 30 minutes.

3. While the dough is still in the mixing bowl, stretch and fold the dough in half. Rotate the bowl 90° and repeat. Do this 10 times to thoroughly mix the dough and build the strength of the gluten.

4. Cover the dough loosely with plastic wrap and let sit 6-8 hours.

5. Flour your counter or table, turn the dough out of the bowl, and pre-shape into a round (refer back to these videos for guidance in shaping and pre-shaping). Let rest for 10 minutes.

6. Shape your dough into a tight round, again referring to the videos for guidance.

7. Place the shaped round into banneton or in a bowl with a well-floured towel. Let sit for 2-3 hours at room temperature.

8. Place your baking sheet in the oven and pre-heat to 475°F.

9. Take the sheet out of the oven, turn the loaf onto the hot pan. Score the top of the loaf to allow the steam to escape. Brush the loaf water, or spray the loaf and the oven with water to create steam and return the pan to the oven. Lower the heat to 450°F.

10. Bake for 30-40 minutes. If using a Dutch oven, remove the lid after 25 minutes to allow a nice crust to form.

11. Remove from the oven and let cool before eating!


As you bake today, pray for the areas of your life that might require a bit more stretching in order to build sufficient strength. Thank God for the people and experiences in your life who help stretch and strengthen you and for the beauty that is to come out of the process, as difficult as it might be.