Cold-Fermented Wheat and Spelt Bread aka “Bread in Five Minutes a Day” and a Really Really Great Squash Soup Recipe

Last two days’ and nights’ wind (I hesitate to call it a storm, it was just a really windy night) tore most of the remaining leaves off the trees around town, and the municipal street cleaners and maintenance have been scrambling to try to pick the piles of soggy wet leaves off the lawns, playgrounds and streets.  The weather has turned from sunny, dry, and cold to cold and wet, which tends to inspire me to bake.  And since it’s conveniently still cold as opposed to deep-frozen (that comes later in the year hereabouts), it has occurred to me that I can use my balcony as a refrigerator annex to house a large (5-liter) bucket of cold-fermented dough.

What is cold-fermented dough?  If you have been reading foodie blogs over the past few years, you may have heard of “artisan bread in five minutes a day“.  The website and the book are both very good resources, although the authors have not (nor do they claim to, that I know of) invented the method – it has been used by pizza and other bread makers for a good long while to handle very wet dough, and the results are generally remarkably good.  I suspect that the reason this method hadn’t been popularized sooner is that few people have enough space in their fridges to permanently house 5L buckets of dough, and also because, while the effort really isn’t much more than five minutes a day, this isn’t an instant-gratification method of baking bread.  For best results with this method, you need to think at least 24 hours ahead.  However, if you do have that much foresight (and balcony, cellar or fridge that can take a large plastic box or bucket), this method is entirely worth trying.  It is very forgiving, it’s hard to mess it up, and it requires very little equipment (no stand mixer – or any mixer, actually).

The basic idea behind this bread is very slightly more advanced than the basic no-knead bread.  This one is no-knead, too, but it does work better for two reasons.  Reason one – unless you are baking with actual sourdough starter, a few more days of fermentation using regular yeast really improve the flavor of bread, so refrigerating the dough after a short rise and letting it ferment slowly works great.  Reason two – dough this wet (we are talking 75% hydration here, which is to say – 75g water to 100g flour ratio) is really hard to handle at room temperature.  However, refrigeration stiffens it significantly, resulting in a dough that has all the advantages of wet dough (open structure, good crust), but handles like a dough with much lower hydration, i.e. far easier.

The procedure for this is simple – you mix all the ingredients (recipe follows) in a large bucket or bowl with a wooden spoon or whatever.  You let the dough rise for 2 hours at room temperature, then snap the lid of the bucket or cover the bowl, leaving just a tiny (pinprick is enough) space for gases to escape, and you refrigerate the dough for 1-6 days.  At any point after the first day of refrigeration, dough can be taken out of the bucket (all or part, depending on how large a batch you made), shaped into a loaf (or flatbread or whatever), allowed to rest, and baked.  No kneading, no judging size doubling, nothing like that.  Yes, it’s easy.

My own recipe for this type of bread varies, but recently the one I’ve been using is this:

  • 1kg total flour, out of which 100-200g wholemeal spelt flour and the rest white bread flour.  You can use a whole kilogram of bread flour of your choice – I just think spelt adds a lovely nuttiness to the flavor.
  • 750ml of water.  This can be cold or lukewarm.
  • 2tbsp (~30g) salt
  • 1tbsp (~10-15g) dry yeast

You can also halve the entire recipe (this makes two good-sized loaves), or double it if you have the space.  Mix the flour, salt and yeast, add water, and mix until all flour is incorporated.  Dough will be shaggy.  Let rise 2 hours, refrigerate overnight  When you go to grab some dough, sprinkle some flour on the surface of the dough, and grab and stretch the amount you like.  The dough will stretch in long gluten strands.  I tend to snip as much as I want with scissors.

Dump the dough onto a well-floured surface, and give it several folds with 5 minute rests in-between those.  Flour a banetton or prepare a sheet of baking parchment.  I use a banetton because I have one and it makes the bread prettier, but either is fine.

Cold Ferment Proofing

Pick the dough up with well-floured hands, fold it again and shape into a rough ball.  Place in banetton or on the baking parchment.  Add some flour on top, and let rest for a while.  General concensus is that 40 minutes is enough, I tend to let mine rest up to 80-90 minutes, but anything in-between will work.  The dough will expand very slighly while it rests – it will not rise significantly during that period.

Cold Ferment Slashed

About 30 minutes before you intend to bake, preheat your oven to about 230C, with your pizza stone, dutch oven, or whatever baking implement you are using in it.

Once oven is preheated, if you are using a banetton, you’ll need to turn the bread out onto baking parchment.  I do this by covering the top with parchment and a board and quickly flipping it.  If your bread is already sitting on parchment, well, there it is.  With a sharp serrated knife, slash your bread as you prefer.  My slashing today was haphazard because I was angry (not at the bread), but it can be made as neat and pretty as you like.

Cold Ferment Baking sm

Carefully slide your bread onto or place it into your baking vessel and cover if able.  Bake for 25 minutes covered, then remove the cover and bake for additional 25-35 minutes until rich nut-brown in color (in the photo above I have just removed the steel bowl under which I started the bake).  Cool on rack.  Try to not burn your mouth and squash your hot bread by attempting to eat it right away.  It’s easily 100C inside, you know.

Cold Ferment Bread

Instead, while your bread is crackling as it cools and the aroma is driving all your neighbors up the wall, you can make the happily-nearly-fluorescent-orange winter squash soup.

The soup turns out best if you can get your hands on a Hokkaido (Red Kuri), buttercup (not same as butternut!) or kabocha squash.  Why?  I think it has to do with their texture, which is somewhat drier than that of butternut, but butternut is still a perfectly good substitute.  As is Acorn squash (but this one is a pain in the things to peel).  You’ll need a goblet or immersion blender for this.  Or if you are really hardcore hands-on, I suppose it can also be done with a metal sieve and a spoon, or one of those ancient food mills that I don’t own, but you might.

Here’s what you are going to need:

  • Enough winter squash (washed, deseeded, peeled and chopped into 2-3cm pieces) to fill your desired soup pot to within 5-10 cm of the top.
  • 2-4 potatoes (I use 2-3 for a 3L soup pot), peeled, chopped and added in with the squash.
  • 1 large onion, peeled, chopped, sauteed in some oil or butter, added to the same soup pot.
  • 2-4 cloves of garlic and/or a small chunk (2cm) of ginger, chopped and sauteed and added to pot. (entirely optional but nice)
  • Enough cold water to just-nearly cover the vegetables in the pot.
  • 1-2dl heavy cream (optional)
  • Some olive oil to drizzle, and fried bacon or onion bits for garnish.  Or some sambal oelek or other chili paste.
  • 1-2 tsp curry powder, or cumin powder, and/or hot chili powder and/or smoked paprika powder – whatever you feel like at the moment.
  • Salt to taste.  For a 3L pot of soup, I use a scant tablespoon, but I like salt.

What you do:

  • Put everything except cream in the pot and turn the burner on high to bring it all to boil.
  • Reduce heat and simmer until squash and potatoes are entirely tender, 10-30 minutes depending on how small you chopped them.
  • Take off heat, and puree using your chosen method.  Return to pot.
  • Add cream.  Thin the soup out with a bit of water or more cream if you think it’s too thick.  Reheat.
  • The soup can be left covered on lowest heat setting to be kept warm for several hours or served immediately.

Cold Ferment Bread with Soup

By the time you are done with soup, your bread should be cool enough to cut, or nearly so.  Serve all of this to your hungry and rained-upon guests (they braved this @£$€@! to come see you!), or just eat it all on your own.  Either way, it’s a glorious antidote to the cold, wet and dark.  Happy October!

Submitted to Yeastspotting.

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4 thoughts on “Cold-Fermented Wheat and Spelt Bread aka “Bread in Five Minutes a Day” and a Really Really Great Squash Soup Recipe

  1. OK, I am DEFINITELY going to try this bread. Two questions: if I can’t find spelt flour (I admit I had to look that up) what would be a good substitute? Whole wheat? Rye? And do I have to use bread flour, as opposed to “all purpose” flour? Thanks!

    PS / I also had to look up “banneton.”

    1. Ed, good evening!

      First of all, since you are in the good ole US of A, you do need bread flour, because most all-purpose flour there just doesn’t hit the right protein % (11% or higher) to work well in an artisanal-style bread. The flours I used here were 15% protein (spelt wholegrain) and 12% protein (white flour). You should also get unbleached and unbromated flour, just because if you are going to bother baking fancy bread, don’t ruin it with that garbage. However, if you can get King Arthur brand all-purpose flour, that one actually is 11.7% protein and will work just fine. Barring that, get thee to a supermarket and buy thyself a box of Vital Wheat Gluten (you can get this scourge of the pretentious hipsters in a box for pretty cheap). Add a tablespoon of that to your lower-protein flour, and whisk it through – problem solved!

      About spelt – rye would probably be a good and delicious addition to this recipe (I wouldn’t use more than 80-100g of it though, and I’d get the fine, not coarse rye for it, and definitely add a teaspoon of wheat gluten to the mix to compensate), but – rye tastes nothing like spelt. Spelt has a nutty, richly wheaty taste, so if you want to replicate this, and can’t get hands on it, just get the best bread flour (I recommend King Arthur not because they pay me – they don’t! – but because I used to really like it when I lived in the States) you can get, and use a kilogram of just that, without any mix-ins. Or if it makes more sense, just treat the kilogram as 2lbs (I think that’s 980ish gram) and 1.5lbs of water. Yeast and salt will stay about the same – maybe drop salt to 1.5tbsp if you are unsure. By the way, I’m not being snooty here with the spelt at all – spelt is pretty common as a ‘fancier ingredient’ flour in the Nordic states, so most supermarket have it around. I didn’t even think about it not being much of a thing in USA.

      Third thing you didn’t ask, but I’ll tell you anyway – if you are baking this on a pizza stone, then a large steel mixing bowl is your friend for covering the bread for the first 25-30 minutes. If you aren’t, and you are planning to use cast iron dutch oven or shallow casserole to bake this (I have since the writing of original post, swapped to preheating the bottom of a wide shallow enameled cast iron casserole in the oven, putting bread on parchment into it, and covering it with an inverted steel bowl, but any cast iron dutch oven, shallow or wide, will work here), and you haven’t done that before – please, please read this post about precautions and don’t burn yourself. I am not insulting your intelligence, so in case you already know how to do this, feel free to disregard the warning!

      1. Thanks for that wealth of information. I followed the “bloody hot dutch oven” link and I think the best bet is to leave the thing in the oven till it cools (as noted in the comments) and where it can’t hurt any nearby humans, furry pets or furniture. I made the mistake once of lifting (with one oven-mitted hand on the handle) a large, very heavy, full-of-molten-deep-dish-pizza, 450-degree cast iron skillet from the oven. I made it one step before emergency crash-landing it to the floor as my hand sizzled through the mitten and started blistering. But I did save the pizza, and got the skillet off the floor before it melted through to the cellar.

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