As a Starter, Spelt Rocks!
In this website, I've gone into quite a bit of detail about how to get a starter established (go back to 'sourdough starter' - there are a bunch of posts on the subject, and you'll need to scan them all to make sense of this one).
I've been experimenting with spelt flour in starter, and it's actually a very viable grain to use. Spelt contains a lot of wild yeasts, and that's why it's so good in starter.
Quite often I'll use different grains in starters and methods of handling them - mainly because I'm endlessly curious, but also because there are different strokes for different folks...
Meaning that if you're looking for a particular 'zone' in your breadmaking, it pays to try different approaches in getting there. For example, right now I'm going for a soft, sweet, wholemeal but light kind of zone. I've also been trying to work out a relatively wheat free diet for myself and my family.
I'm not sold on the idea that wheat is the devil at all, but having said that, for some people, wheat is better avoided. For others, wheat is just too dominant in their diet - it turns out that they are basing all three meals around it. Thus, if this can be reduced, it's got to be a good thing to use spelt. So here we are.
Spelt flour ferments well - it has a lot of natural enzymes and yeasts in there, and it holds for a while without turning acid. This is good for our purposes.
If you have a starter established already using regular wheat flour, it can be fed with Spelt quite successfully. Because of the way spelt is milled, you will find that it absorbs quite a bit of water, so you may have to up the water ratio slightly - see 'sourdough starter method' in this blog. Generally, I use one part water to one part flour as a default ratio in all my liquid starters, but the more wholemeal the flour, the more water in the ratio.
You could try one part flour to about 1.2 parts water to get a quicker result. If you have been using my method, and you have managed to get a starter established, then just start feeding it with spelt, and maybe adding a bit of extra water.
Bear in mind, though, that different grades of spelt flour exist. Essentially, millers remove more or less of the bran, to create different grades of flour. Spelt has more bran than wheat, and this is one of the reasons why it costs more, too. Millers simply lose more of the value of the grain in bran, and so they have to make this value back on the flour. So the whiter the flour, the more you'll pay. You can get about four grades of spelt flour - 'white spelt' (virtually no bran), 'unbleached spelt' (about 95% of the bran removed), 80/20 spelt (which has about 80% of the bran removed ) and wholemeal spelt, which has no bran removed, just a bit of husk.
Because of the fact that only small to medium scale millers are all that are geared up to handle spelt in Australia, the price for spelt flour is still quite high. There are other reasons for the high price, which I'll post more on later. Having said that, if you're making bread at home, it's till possible to make a loaf for less than the cost of regular bread at the supermarket. It's important to keep these things in pespective!
But for using in starter, there is good news. Wholemeal spelt, which is by far the cheapest grade, is probably the best for use as starter. It will get things really active, really fast. As I mentioned earlier, for wholemeal, use a bit more water. I won't repeat the method here, just look in this blog for details. It's exactly the same method, even from scratch.
Tomorrow I'll post a bit more about using Spelt in actual recipes. There are a few tricks, and you'll be making great bread in no time if you use them.