Bread making has been around for centuries, even thousands of years, so one would imagine that there isn’t all that much left in the craft to innovate with – in all that time, surely everything has been tried and tested already.
Surprisingly, that’s not true. New ideas (and even more often than that, old ideas long forgotten) pop up and enter the discussion. Then with the help of the Internet and a global community of bread enthusiasts, the discussion spreads fast, leading to even more new ideas. Ideas such as using flour made from sprouted grains.
The counter-intuitive idea of deliberately sprouting grains to make flour of them has been building up in the kitchens of the more adventurous bakers, mostly in the United States, for the past few years until last October, Peter Reinhart brought the concept to a larger public’s attention with the publication of his new book, Bread Revolution.
It’s a book about the new waves in the world of artisan bread baking, from using heirloom grains and exotic flours and ingredients to novel techniques, but mostly about sprouted flour, an idea Reinhart thinks is the next big thing in bread making. Big enough to be called a revolution.
Curious but not totally convinced, I wanted to find out more and bought myself a copy of the book. Then, I contacted Peter Reinhart himself for an interview which was published in the Winter 2014 issue of Bread Magazine, along with some general information about making bread using sprouted flour.
After emailing Peter Reinhart, I contacted Peggy Sutton from To Your Health Sprouted Flour, one of the pioneers in using sprouted grains to make flour – and one of the people who inspired Reinhart to try this flour in the first place. Clearly enthusiastic about her product, she answered my questions about the flour and its properties. Then, because flour of this kind is not available in Finland, she offered to send me some to experiment with.
In mid-January, the package of flour arrived and it was time to begin my experiments.
When you open the package and analyze the flour, the first thing you notice is the smell: sweet, a little grassy, in all, much stronger than your regular wholegrain bread flour. The smell reminds me of the malted flour I made in February 2013 while the overall feel is much more that of a regular flour.
100% Sprouted Wheat Whole Grain Bread
As I was deciding what to bake first, it felt only natural to begin by following Reinhart’s basic sprouted flour bread recipe as presented in the book.
Thanks to the book’s publisher, we have also republished the article in our Winter 2014 issue. It’s a basic straight dough, made using only sprouted flour – an idea that made me slightly nervous, to be honest. After all, sprouting is usually something millers try to avoid as it leads to a weaker flour. According to Reinhart and Sutton, the falling number in sprouted flour is lower than in regular flour but still within such limits that the bread will be fine.
As I got to work, the first thing that surprised me was that the dough built structure very quickly. After just a couple of stretch and fold movements on the table, the dough seemed already to be holding its shape. The dough felt smooth and elastic, if a little fragile because of all the bran in it.
I’m still not sure what causes this effect – maybe the enzymatic action that is activated by the sprouting – but the dough does develop quickly. It also ferments quite fast, and in the end is very easily over-proofed.
Probably because of the sprouting, when over proofed, the bread collapses easily – as you can see in the photo on the right. So, as a note for the future, when working with this flour, it’s a good idea to err on the side of under-proofing rather than over proofing.
Doing the final fermentation in the refrigerator might also be a good idea.
But over proofed or not, the resulting bread tasted wonderful.
As usual with new products, the producers make many health claims about sprouted flour. They sound plausible to me, and I’m sure scientists will investigate them in the future. While they do, we can happily enjoy the bread simply because its flavor. In his book, Peter Reinhart describes this as his favorite whole grain bread, and I have to agree.
Using Sprouted Wheat Together with White Flour
As much as I like the whole grain version made with nothing but sprouted wheat flour, I’m not really that much a whole grain guy. While I believe these denser wholegrain loaves are good for me – in principle – emotionally, that type of bread just doesn’t do to me what a white loaf with an open crumb and big oven spring does.
So, while I do suggest starting with the whole grain version to get a good feel of what sprouted wheat tastes like, for my own daily use, I’m going with a combination, using sprouted flour like I would use whole grain flour – to add flavor and activity to my bread.
In the past few weeks, I have experimented with different amounts of sprouted red wheat flour from To Your Health Sprouted Flour combined with regular organic white flour from Liperin mylly -- my current favorite white flour. In the photo on the left, you can see a successful experiment with 30% of the white flour replaced with sprouted wheat.
The recipe I’m presenting today was made with 20% sprouted wheat at a medium hydration. Sprouted flour is quite thirsty, so as you increase the amount of sprouted wheat, you should also slowly keep adding more water. To be sure you don’t add too much, start with the water in the recipe below, and only when you are sure it’s not enough, add more, 25-50 grams at a time. It’s surprising how the dough starts to feel wetter when it’s fully mixed.
This is a sourdough bread, so the night (or 8-10 hours) before you want to mix your dough, create a levain or mother dough by refreshing your sourdough starter.
These days, I keep my starter in the fridge and as long as I bake at least every week or two, it’s enough to do just refresh before mixing the dough. No two starters are totally alike, so yours might take a little more refreshing – but this approach is worth testing as it will help you save some flour and reduce the amount of dough you throw to waste.
The starter / levain is included in the BreadStorm formula below, but I like to create a little more of it so that I have some to store for the future. Working with a cold sourdough starter, here’s what I do: the night before you mix the dough, take about 50 g of your sourdough starter and mix it with 200 g white flour and 200 g water. Stir well and leave at room temperature to develop.
Then, the next morning, you are ready for some bread making:
To make the dough:
- Mix the flour, salt, and water and work the mixture until they are well combined and no dry flour remains. If the dough feels too dry, add a little more water – but be patient with your mixing before doing that. Usually, I don’t include salt in the autolyse, but inspired by my ealier research on the history of the autolyse and a discussion with my friend and fellow home baker, Jukka Kotkanen, I decided to try it this time. The results were good and mixing the salt into the flour much easier than mixing it into the final dough, so I’d say the experiment was a success.
- Leave the mixture to rest for 30 minutes. This is the autolyse step – which according to Peter Reinhart becomes less important the more sprouted flour you add, apparently because the same enzymatic reactions have already started in the sprouting process.
- After the autolyse period, add the levain and mix well.
- At this point, the choice is yours: knead a little, or just stretch and fold a couple of times, then cover the dough and leave to rest for 30 minutes.
- After that 30 minutes, the dough will already start to feel smooth and elastic. It’s early to say, but I think this is the same effect I noticed when working with the 100% sprouted wheat dough: sprouted wheat flour does something to make the dough develop faster…
- Repeat the stretch and fold sequence (wait 30 minutes, then stretch and fold the dough) four times, or until the dough has the right structure. Then leave it to rest for another 30 minutes or more – at this point, it’s usually better to wait a little too long than a little too little.
- When the dough is ready, divide it into two (or if you want smaller loaves, three) pieces. Shape each and place into proving baskets or on a floured cloth for the final proof. Cover the breads to prevent the top from drying.
- About two hours later, the breads are ready to be baked (this depends on the room temperature: in winter time, my kitchen is at about 20 degrees Celsius (68°F).
- Pre-heat your oven to 250°C (482°F) with your favorite baking “equipment” in place: For the 30% sprouted flour bread pictured above, I used a cast iron dutch oven. The bread in this recipe, however, was baked using a simpler (?) setup: I pre-heated a cast iron pan at the bottom of the oven and an upside-down baking pan in the middle of the oven, then placed some boiling water in the cast iron pan just after sliding the bread on the pan to create steam. If you have a baking stone, that’s a good option as well.
- Score your loaf and place it in the oven. Lower the heat to 230°C (446°F), then bake for about 45 to 50 minutes. If you use a Dutch oven, remove the lid after 25 minutes so you’ll get a nice, crispy crust.
- Cool the bread, and enjoy.
In all, I am very happy with how well the sprouted flour behaves in bread making. The taste is great, and even in a bread like the 20% Sprouted Wheat Bread described above, you can taste the sweet sprouted aroma – with the good looks of a white wheat bread intact.
What puzzles me about the flour is how it develops the dough structure so quickly yet still collapses easily when proofed even a little bit too long (issues you won’t face in the mixed flours version but that will become apparent in the 100% sprouted flour bread). I will continue experimenting: There is big potential for a beautiful whole grain bread when you time the final proof just right and get the dough into the oven when it’s still on the rise. Doing the final proof in the fridge will probably help there as well.
Now, I’m curious about your thoughts: have you tried sprouted grain flours in your own breads? What have you learned about them in your experiments so far and what techniques seem to work for you?
If you haven’t tried sprouted flours yet, I suggest you give them a go. This is another interesting experiment that will lead to delicious bread for you, your family and your friends.