Anna@GreenTapestry pointed out that it has been a while since I posted about bread and bread making. I didn’t stop making bread, even in during my year of baking in an undersized and rather inferior non fan assisted oven with an exposed element at the top which gave everything a lovely brown surface whether wanted or not! But I did tend to stick to the plain white or mixed seed loaves that were the mainstays. I say “were”, because although I do still make both, I bought a new baking book a while back, and it has introduced me to loads of lovely recipes – including my favourite coffee cake recipe and a gorgeous fruity “you can almost convince yourself its healthy” cake – and a rather different approach to bread making.

Dan Lepard's Short and Sweet

Dan Lepard had a column in ‘The Guardian‘newspaper for ages, which is how I first came across him, and I’d made quite a few of his recipes before and enjoyed them. It was enough to convince me to buy ‘Short and Sweet‘, which is packed full of recipes for cakes, biscuits, pastries, sweets – and bread. As you can tell from the state of the cover, I have used the book a lot, and two of my three sisters-in-law plus mil now also all own copies. If you enjoy baking, even just occasionally, I can thoroughly recommend it, such a broad range of recipes and so far no duds.

Anyway, Dan has a slightly different approach to the kneading stage of bread making, which makes his bread recipes possible for anyone who finds conventional bread making too hard because of problems with their fingers or wrists, say through arthritis. Or in my case, ME. His approach is based on two or three very short sessions of very gentle kneading, to introduce flour to water and let them get on with the business of allowing the gluten to turn the gloppy mess into silky dough without all that hard work. It means you have to be around to pop back to your dough every 15-20 minutes during the first hour, so it is best suited for times when you are poddling around anyway and are able to just nip back and give it a little attention before carrying on with something else, but it really works.

The basic idea is to mix together all the ingredients well enough that there are no great lumps of dry stuff, cover it and leave it for about 10 minutes, or perhaps a little more. Then lightly oil the work surface – I use olive oil – and gently turn out the gloopy mass. Then, in Dan’s words “take the edge of the dough furthest away from you with one hand and fold it towards you, to meet the edge of the dough nearest you. Then with the heel of the other hand, push down lightly onto and into the dough and very slightly push and stretch the dough away from you by about 5-10cm. Make your movements gentle, don’t pound or tear the dough. Give the dough a clockwise quarter turn, and once again fold the dough towards you and then push it gently away; and repeat this ‘turn, fold, stretch’ no more than eight to ten times. Then return the dough to the bowl and leave it to rest, and repeat this simple kneading probably twice more at intervals, depending on the recipe.” It sounds quite alien, but it really does work, and is much less physical. I have to admit that I still make bread the old way sometimes as I just really enjoy the kneading process, and his recipes still work if you do a more traditional knead and leave, but there is something very calm and gentle about making bread Dan’s way, so that the dough is more friend than opponent to be dominated. Or maybe that’s just me!

making spelt and ale bread

Anyway, the recipe. This is the bread I showed in my previous post, made from 100% spelt flour, which usually makes quite a dense, almost heavy, loaf, albeit with a deliciously nutty taste. The use of the beer produces a much lighter but still very tasty loaf which works brilliantly with sharp cheese or good quality ham and pickle. The beer also means that the whole process takes less time, something to do with the effect of the malt from the beer on the dough, so you get it faster than a normal spelt-based bread which can take a while to rise well. The quantities make a single loaf, but I usually double it up and make two. A typical bottle of beer will give you slightly less liquid than you need, at 500ml, but I just make up the difference with water and it works fine.

300ml dark ale

2 tsp fast action yeast

half a 500mg plain vitamin C tablet crushed to a powder

450g spelt flour plus a little extra for dusting

1tsp fine sea salt

50g unsalted butter, melted, plus a little extra for greasing the tin

oil for kneading, something neutral in taste

  1. Bring the ale to the boil in a pan and simmer it for a minute or two to drive off some of the alcohol, which could slow down or even stop the yeast.
  2. Pour this back into the measuring jug and leave until just warm, then top up to the full quantity with warm water if necessary.
  3. Pour the liquid into a mixing bowl, add the yeast and stir well.
  4. Add the vitamin C, spelt flour and salt, and stir well again.
  5. Pour in the melted butter and squidge together (his words, not mine!) until even, cover and leave for 10 minutes.
  6. Knead the dough, and repeat after 15 and 30 minutes, and then cover and leave for 15 minutes.
  7. Line a tray with nonstick baking paper, lightly buttered, and lightly flour the work surface. Roll the dough into a rectangle, then roll it up tightly and place it seam side down on the tray, and leave, covered, until increased in size by a half. Don’t leave it too long, as the malt acting on the dough means the whole thing could collapse! Depending on how warm your kitchen is, this can be anything from 30 minutes to an hour.
  8. Heat the oven to 220C, 200C fan assisted, 425F, gas mark 7. Dust the surface of the loaf with flour and make quite a deep slit down the center of the loaf with a very sharp knife.
  9. Bake for 20 minutes, then turn the oven down to 200C/180C fan assisted/390F/gas mark 6 and bake for a further 20-25 minutes until the crust looks like you want it to.

spelt and ale loaf

The only thing left to do is allow it to cool just enough to be able to eat with butter and a chunk of cheese. It won’t become my every day loaf, the beer makes it too expensive for that, but it really is a tasty bread, and delightfully easy too. Particularly if you have a decent oven!!

39 thoughts on “Bread of the Day: Spelt and Ale Loaf

    1. Ah, but spelt based bread is so much better for you than white or even wholemeal, easier to digest, rich in omega 3… No? Save it for the New year then!! Or Boxing Day with stiltonn and a really good chutney!

  1. Great looking loaves Janet. I always use fresh yeast, I’m not sure why I prefer it, but I seem to get better results. You mentioned about a fan oven, I’ve read and been told by chefs that you never cook recipes using yeast using the fan. Most of the time I use the wood fired oven outside, that has a fan but I never use it when baking bread. I will try your method next time; always good to try new things.

    1. Hi Christina, I’d use fresh yeast too if I could get hold of it, but I did spot an interesting way to use dried (not fast acting) yeast instead of live and may try that. As to the fan assisted oven thing, how interesting! I’ve not come across the idea that using one is bad, quite the reverse in fact, at least if you are “steaming” the oven to get a crustier, well, crust. The fan distributes the steam all around the loaf. Mind you, most people would also swear that it was essential to knead bread for at least 10 minutes before leaving to rise, and manifestly that isn’t true. I suspect that baking is like gardening, in that everyone has their “rules”, and the trick is to work out which ones work for you, and which ones you really can get away without following.

      1. I definately would have to agree with that! I also read, I think in the River Cottage bread book (which I bought after reading your post on Ciabatta) that flours that have little gluten shouldn’t be kneaded anywhere near as much! But it was in the small print somewhere and not actually in the recipe for the spelt bread. I love making bread and when we were in Cornwall I bought a couple of rising baskets which worked well the first time I used them. Bread in the bakers here is always very flat because they don’t use tins; I think the bread would be much better if they did.

        1. I know what you mean about flat loaves, some of my shaped rather than tin-baked loaves wind up too flat to be very useful even though the texture us generally good. And really irritating in the toaster! I love the idea of proving baskets but still use bowls and bin bags, not nearly as attractive!

          1. I’ve used bowls too with a floury tea towel inside, it worked very well. I use bin bags for rising especially for baguettes. My MIL gave me silicon formers for the baguettes (Lakeland) that work like a dream.

  2. it sounds yummy Janet, especially with stilton, I haven’t made bread for years, like Laura I’m trying to cut down, but you have given ‘food for thought’ ;) Frances

    1. You could always freeze it in slices and get out in small portions?! Or are you doing one of those carb-free things?

      1. Janet your reply has me giggling, that requires self-control, something I don’t seem to have much of with food as I grow older :(
        I’m not doing any kind of diet just know I should not eat so much, and it’s one of those catch 22, the more I eat the more I want, it’s another reason I don’t like the weather as being stuck inside I eat more, Frances

  3. Hi Janet,

    Sounds yummy, and indeed looks yummy! For some reason I just never bake. Not sure why, as children we always baked buns and such but as an adult I don’t think I’ve baked a single cake. I sometimes bake buns from packs with it all measured out for me – handy since I don’t own a weighing scale or most of the stuff I need. I’ve bought fancy bread mixes before, then read the instructions and decided it’s way too difficult for me.

    I don’t like rules. That’s my problem. When I cook, I shove everything in that I want, no measuring out for me unless you could ‘that’s about right’ as measuring :)

    But, I would love to have real, fresh bread.

    Preferably baked for me. :D
    gluten free though.

    1. Hi Liz, that made me smile! My mil actually finds spelt bread OK even though she is gluten intolerant, but the problem with baking is that it really does rely on being reasonably exact with the ingredients, at least until you get expert – which I am definitely not! I didn’t start baking again (having done it as a child) until I got ill, and therefore had more time. Even then it only really took off when we were living with TNG’s parents, the larger audience was happy for me to experiment and it meant that it wasn’t just the two of us eating whatever I made. But it is a pain if you haven’t collected at least a good set of measuring spoons, a couple of mixing bowls, and a decent set of scales. A good stew or curry is far more forgiving, though then it can be hard to repeat a successful cooking session!!

  4. Hi Janet, can you please let me know what the vitamin C does for the bread? I’d love to know–
    Delicious looking recipe! The texture of your bread looks fabulous too, I remember noting it in your previous post. Thanks for more detail, you are the real thing–a serious bread baker.

    susie at life-change-compost

    1. Hi Susan, the vitamin C contains ascorbic acid, which counteracts the glutathione found in wholemeal and other lower gluten flours including spelt, giving the bread a lighter crumb. There’s a good article about making bread that includes something about this at the Guardian website. Hope this helps!

  5. We’ve just had a few days break and one visit was to a restored watermill that sells the flour produced. Unfortunately we coukdn’t buy any as we would have had too far to carry it.

    1. Ah well! Some day I want to do an experiment, a blind test, baking the same recipe with two or three different flours and see which, if any, people prefer. Just because I always assume that organic and/or locally milled etc will taste better, but know from experience with organic and non organic veg that this isn’t always the case!

  6. Oh thanks muchly Janet !That loaf looks seriously delicious. Great to catch a glimpse of your well thumbed baking ‘bible’ – will have to look out for it. I’m trying to cut down on my food intake full stop but sometimes you have to make exceptions and I’m sure that home – made bread is much better for you than supermarket purchased :)

    1. You’re welcome! And it is, very delicious. I’m getting a bit worried about how many people are seeming to say they can’t eat bread because they want to lose weight, or not put any on. It’s just bread! A slice for lunch, even two, won’t hurt, surely? And I speak as one who has wasted inordinate amounts of time and energy worrying about my weight. If it was the fruit cake, I would understand, but I feel a bit sad that a good loaf of bread seems to provoke so many weight-related issues. Sorry, not a criticism at all, of you or anyone else, just a sort of cry of “what on earth is going on in this world”. Because you are quite right, there is nothing suspect, no sugar (bar a little from the beer I guess), no preservatives, plenty of omega 3 and fibre because of the spelt. So unless somone needs to cut bread out altogether, this is a good loaf of bread to eat.

  7. I was fascinated by this and I’ve made a note of your recipe and the book. Thanks for sharing! I love trying out new bread recipes and this is the time of year for me to start gathering them as I’ll soon be indoors more. I must admit I always use fresh yeast, too – I can get this free from my local supermarket (which bakes on the premises) so I usually ‘convert’ recipes to fresh yeast. And I always use a fan oven with good results – as you say, it is interesting that people bake differently and still produce gorgeous bread!

    1. Thanks Wendy, me too, it is fascinating trying different recipes out. Add in the inherent variability of baking bread and voila, endless variety and lots of mystery! I am wondering if the village bakery would donate some fresh yeast, I’ll have to ask.

  8. Looks lovely. We have a Dan Lepard bread book but have yet to make anything from it, the recipes seem a lot more involved than the usual sourdoughs I tend to do most weeks, whether wheat, rye or spelt – which is indeed quite a heavy loaf, adding ale to lighten it sounds intriguing. I think I have been a little put off by the complicated ferments he uses in the recipes we have – using fresh yeast, which I haven’t tracked down.

    1. Hi Sara, I’m glad I didn’t start with the same book you did, sounds way too complex. he ony uses dry yeast in this book, and although some of the recipes can be a little involved – and therefore definitiely not for every-day use – most are very simple. Hard to beat a good sourdough loaf though, and I have just started off a new starter (!) myself, now that the kitchen is all sorted and I have the space and more time for the feeding etc.

  9. Doh! A day too late to save the remains of the brown ale left over from making the Christmas puddings and which the Golfer was going to drink but didn’t! Presumably it could be added to other bread flours too and not just spelt? Having tried spelt and tried to convince myself I was enjoying it I am still not sure! The Dan Lepard books certainly sound worth looking at, so thanks for this post ;)

    1. Hi Cathy, that made me smile! Yes, I’m sure you could substitute any wholemeal flour you liked in this recipe, no point in having to hold your nose when eating a loaf you have just slaved over. I can thoroughly recommend the book, something for just about anybody’s tastes.

    1. It’s nice to be finally using it, every day, and it “just” being the kitchen ratehr than a project! There again, I am betting your are both REALLy looking forward to your house “just” being your home again rather than a building site, though I imagine it will be rather “wow” too.

    1. Hi Donna, oh do go for it, it is surprisingly easy, even TNG finds he can follow one of Dan Lepard’s bread recipes, and the smell of a freshly baked loaf emerging from your own oven is hard to beat. Would go wonderfully well with some cheese and some of your newly made pickles!

    1. I’m tempted to ask for your address, but fear you would not give the results a good review ;-)

  10. I want some of that bread! Thanks for the reminder to get going with the autumn baking! I’ll bet your house smelled so wonderful with the bread in the oven and just afterward?! Time to hunker down for the cold months…

    1. I’m not quite ready to hunker, so I am hoping we get a sunny Autumn so that I can reclaim the garden from the weeds a little more, but yes, the bread does flood the house with delicious smells, probably why it doesn’t last long!

  11. I dont know anything of bread making Janet, neither does Myra. However I am reminded of the time when we met the mother of our daughters husband to be. We all met up in a pub for a drink and a meal also with his elder brother and girlfriend. Well it all got jolly and out of the blue my future son in laws mother said, tell Alistair about your bread making machine, he said, mother do you mind !!! He got some ribbing for the rest of the evening, just as well he is thick skinned.

    1. Hah! Do they live near where you are moving to? Perhaps you could get him trying spelt bread?!

      1. Yes, less than half mile. Better not pull his leg about that any more or he will have a right go at me blogging aboot flooers.

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