I'm reporting to you with the final stage in my initial bread mission: sprouted grain flour! This step more or less completes the original dream with which my bread mission started: whole wheat sourdough bread made with fresh stone ground flour from sprouted grains. I really wasn't sure I would get here, so I played it down a bit at the beginning. But I'm very pleased with both the journey and the results. I've been at it for about five months now. I took my time. I didn't bake every day, just once a week, sometimes twice. But slow and steady wins the race I guess - the bread has continually improved, and of course there's still room for more improvement. There are so many beautiful variables in artisan bread baking - the idea of consistent bread (as in Wonderbread or any commercial bread that's always exactly the same) seems ridiculous. So many factors influence the outcome. It's like improvised music in that way - everything about the day, week, person, weather, etc. has an effect. It's like nature! Who wants to bake or eat the same bread everyday anyway?!
So let me tell you about the sprouting process. It's pretty simple. I used Palouse Brand Hard Spring Red Wheat Berries, the same ones that I was having the most success with in home milling. I put them in a jar and cover with plenty of water and let them soak for ten to twelve hours, usually overnight. Then the wheat berries are drained, rinsed, and the jars are set at an angle so air can circulate - see the photo below. During this period, I rinse them every six to eight hours, until I notice little sprouts forming. When the sprouts are just a few millimeters long, I load the berries into our food dehydrator and dehydrate them for about eight to ten hours, until they are thoroughly dry.
Like the rest of the bread baking process, this basically involves a lot of waiting. My process for making one loaf is now taking almost an entire week!, but the amount of time I'm actually handling the ingredients is about an hour, including the hand milling, which has been taking about 30 to 35 minutes. It works well for a musician - rinse the grains, go practice, put them in the dehydrator, go practice...actually it's more like go send emails these days.
So the sprouting process is pretty simple, one of the easiest steps. But I was really unsure of how it would change the bread. Some people say it changes the wheat berries so much that the body handles them more like a vegetable than a grain. Some people, including Richard Bourdon (the master baker of Berkshire Mountain Bakery), believe it makes the nutrients more bio available and helps neutralize the phytic acid. I've heard these claims are debated, but what I do know is that sprouting made my bread more delicious!
The sprouted berries seemed to grind a little easier, or perhaps I'm just getting stronger! But they definitely had a wonderful earthy aroma. My grandfather used to run the Waconia Milling Co. in Waconia, MN. They mainly milled feed for farm animals there. The mill closed when I was a kid, but the smell of that place - freshly milled grains combined with my Grandpa's pipe tobacco - is super vivid in my memory. My sprouted wheat berries give off a similar aroma during milling (minus the tobacco of course). And that flavor makes it into the bread. The Palouse Brand wheat is coming out much tastier after sprouting. Aside from that difference, it's been acting very similar, which is great! If anything though, it seems like I could add a little more water. The dough seemed a little stiff when shaping. I'm a little hesitant to mess with that, but I guess experimentation is what it's all about here, so I'll probably try mixing in just a touch more water at the risk of losing the lovely shape of these loaves. The loaves I baked Sunday have the nicest ears ever!
Although there is much improvement and tweaking to be done, I feel like I've completed the initial bread mission. I'm making my version of Berkshire Mountain Bakery Whole Wheat Sourdough bread at home, and a pretty darn good version of it, if you'll allow me to toot my own whistle for a minute. Bourdon's loaves, at least the ones that make it to NYC, are sandwich style, not hearth loaves. Hearth loaves are just so satisfyingly beautiful, so I had to do it. But Bourdon sprouts and grinds his own wheat, and does a long fermentation, just as I am doing. Any further comparison of the process would involve me actually going there to study with the man - something I might like to do someday. Actually there is a baker out it Chico, CA that might be even more my style, a guy named Dave Miller. He came out of the macrobiotic movement also, and he's devoted fully to whole grains, right up my alley, you see?!
Now, about those improvements and tweaking. Aside from tweaking my bread, working to get more air, and more water into the loaves, getting optimum oven spring and flavor and texture and everything, the main thing I'm interested in doing now is sourcing some local wheat that works well. The Palouse Brand wheat is from Washington state, all the way on the other side of the old U.S. of A.. My bread guru Joe recommended Cayuga Pure Organics from Brooktondale, NY, but they had recently had a fire and didn't have any wheat available. When they have another crop ready, I'll be first in line, assuming they'll be selling whole wheat berries. But also, with perfect timing, I found out about the Greenmarket/Grow NYC Regional Grains Project, and man am I jumping with excitement about it. They will be setting up a booth at the Cortelyou Greenmarket once a month, and they're somewhere in the city every week. They've got a bunch of amazing stuff including some ancient grains, all grown in the region. I picked up a bag of Red Fife wheat berries last Sunday, which is an heirloom wheat that could work well for bread. It was amazing that this man with his regional grains project showed up in my life (and a block away over on Cortelyou Rd.) at just the right moment with a four pound bag of Red Fife! I've got it soaking as I write this pretty damn long blog post. I am a little concerned about how it will work, given the fact that the different brands of wheat that I've tried have behaved so differently. But I'm excited about the possibility of discovering an awesome local wheat that makes good sourdough.
Besides that, I'll probably attempt Josey Baker's Dark Mountain Rye bread at some point. I keep hearing so many good things about it. And I'll probably experiment with adding seeds and stuff to the whole wheat sourdough.
So it's not at all the end of the journey, but it's definitely a mile marker. Onward and upward form here. Thanks for following me on this journey. Come on over and try a slice of bread sometime.
For my second attempt of making a sprouted flour loaf, I wanted to show you the sprouting process:
Sprouting the grains in jars.
You can see some of the sprouts
Grinding - my workout regimen!
Second bake with sprouted flour. Satisfying oven spring, nice ears, and great flavor!