No Need To Knead Spelt Loaf – Revolution In Bread Making

“Q: Why do bakers work so hard?
A: Because they need the dough!”

Christmas cracker riddle

I first came upon spelt in Alba where I had a very good spelt and black truffle salad (more on that in November). It was a good introduction because I was eating in a restaurant which was everything to do with good food and nothing to do with health. Afterwards wherever I read ‘spelt’ the description ‘health food’ was never far behind and that might have put me off.

Then, not long ago, I was lucky enough to find myself staying not far from the prize-winning Hambleton bakery. Of course I had to investigate. Among the myriad loaves, pies and tarts (more on those in future posts as well) was some spelt bread. Reader, I tried it and I was smitten. It’s a pretty dense, but full of flavour, hair on your chest, type of bread.

Unfortunately I don’t live anywhere near the Hambleton bakery, so in order to be able to continue to enjoy these loaves I would have to make the bread myself. However, true to Saucy Dressings’ founding Life-is-too-Short philosophy I wasn’t going to fiddle about with any pulling and pounding, with any time-consuming kneading.

I wasn’t overly concerned about this since, during a tour of another wonderful bakery, the Ullapool bakery , proprietor, Alan Doherty, who also runs bread making courses, explained to me that in bread making not only was kneading not essential, but also that bread making is an art in which almost every rule can be broken. Since this is my preferred approach to life in general I was even more motivated.

As a result of some research I found a recipe for no-need-to-knead bread which seems first to have been developed some years ago by Jim Lahey, proprietor of the Sullivan Street Bakery in New York. It is indeed minimal effort – but on the other hand you need to bear in mind it requires maximum time, allow 20 hours for the dough to slowly ferment and rise. This slow fermentation is the reason why so little yeast is needed and why the flavour of the original, standard flour bread was deep – with spelt it’s even fuller. This method uses a very wet dough, so wet in fact that even if you wanted to knead it you would struggle. Just to keep you calm listen to Dutch oven, with a lid.

Because the bread contains no preservatives it goes stale quickly – it’s best eaten fresh, all in one sitting, with lashings of chicken liver pâté; or some strong creamy cheese – a vacherin would be heavenly…. or a Torta de la Serena.

The recipe below adapts his original concept to use spelt – Sharpham Park Bakers’ Blend combines wholemeal with lighter spelt flour – a good mix.

In an ideal life I would serve this bread as the centrepiece of a lunch-for-many comprising: chicken liver pâté, vegetable pâté, smoked mackerel pâté, purple sprouting broccolibrownies, flapjacks

no need to knead bread
The dough is so wet you couldn’t knead it even if you wanted to

Recipe for no-knead spelt bread

For one loaf


  • 600ml/2½ cups warm water
  • ¼ tsp dried yeast
  • 1 tsp honey or maple syrup
  • 2 tsp smoked salt
  • 700g/4¾ cups Sharpham Park Bakers’ Blend spelt flour
  • 1 tbsp herbes de Provence


  1. Combine the flour, yeast and salt in a big mixing bowl.
  2. Add the water and stir – mix together to make a shaggy, sticky dough.
  3. Add the honey and the herbs – mix in again.
  4. Cover with cling film and leave in a warm room (near the aga) for about 18 hours (you can get away with less, but the minimum is 12 hours – as explained the length of time for fermentation is key to the success of this bread). Small bubbles should appear on the surface of the bread.
  5. Flour a cool work surface, place the dough on it formed into a very vague square shape, and sprinkle more flour over. Fold the dough onto itself twice over (first to join in the middle from the two sides, then again to join in the middle, above the first fold just made, from the top and bottom– there will be a ‘seam’ where the top and bottom meets. Put the dough down on this seam on your floured surface, then cover again with a clean tea towel and leave for a quarter of an hour.
  6. Meanwhile, generously flour another tea towel (the smooth type, not the fluffy towelling or waffle-textured type).
  7. Put that on a board, put the dough down on it, seam side down again. Sprinkle with more flour, and cover with the first cloth.
  8. Leave for two or three hours. When you come back the dough should be double the size. When you prod it should retain the shape of your finger.
  9. Meanwhile, about half an hour before you plan your dough to be ready, put your empty, ungreased, casserole in your oven and heat the oven to 250°C.
  10. When your dough is ready take your now-super-hot casserole (this heat will give your loaf a better crust) out of the oven.
  11. Slide your hand under the towel in order to confidently cradle the dough, and quickly and authoritatively turn the dough over and into the waiting casserole, held steady by your oven-gloved hand.
  12. Jiggle around if necessary to better distribute the dough but don’t worry too much – it will spread out while baking.
  13. Cover securely and put in the oven for half an hour.
  14. Take off the lid, reduce the temperature to 230°C and bake for a further fifteen minutes or so, until browned with a good crust.
  15. Leave it for a few minutes. It may be a bit difficult to get out to begin with. Loosen with a spatula to lever out gently and shake with gusto.
  16. Leave to cool a little more, but it is wonderful served still slightly warm.
spelt loaf
spelt loaf – it’s dense – excellent with chicken liver pate
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