Monday, February 23, 2009

Toothy Sprouted Wheat Bread

I am a bread lover. I pretty much love every kind of bread except for cheap, mass produced bread. I toggle between various favorites: Irish brown bread, meaty, tender French bread (it's not whole grain, but is irresistible), crusty, tangy, whole grain sourdough, sweet, multi-grain, seeded, artisan breads. We're pretty lucky actually, the selection of breads in Boulder is amazing. Udi's, BreadWorks, Whole Foods. Yet somehow I'm still always looking for the perfect loaf to make myself.

I don't even know exactly what I want. Actually, I guess I want it all. A thick, crunchy crust. A soft, chewy (what I call meaty) interior. The extra bite and nutrition of whole grain. Sometimes I like the tangy taste of sourdough, sometimes I want something milder.

Taking the whole grain idea to the extreme are the makers of sprouted wheat baked goods. And as I said in my last post, I LOVE sprouted wheat bagels and want to try to make them. Given that I had never worked with sprouted wheat before (or made bagels, for that matter), I thought I should start with an easy bread recipe.

Sandwich breads, which don't require an overnight starter, seem to be one of the easier yeast-leavened breads to make at home, and as all of the sprouted wheat bread recipes I found were of this variety, I thought this was a good place to start.

I had a few recipes to choose, from two different cookbooks: King Arthur's Whole Grain Baking and Bernard Clayton's New Complete Book of Breads. I chose the recipe from the latter because the King Arthur's recipes had a larger set of ingredients - I thought the simpler the better. I also liked the Book of Breads' recipe because it uses 100% whole wheat flour. I don't often find completely whole grain recipes, so I was eager to try it.

I sprouted the grains for a total of three days - the recipe recommended 3-4, stopping when the sprout was the same length as the berry. I was a little confused as to how to decide this. From almost the first day, there was a very thin sprout (or two) emerging from the berry. By the third day, this sprout was longer than the berry on almost all berries. I also noticed that there was a thicker sprout coming out of some of the berries, which wasn't nearly as long as the berry yet. I wondered whether this wasn't actually the sprout that the recipe meant. I decided to ignore this and just use them after three days.

The recipe I used was a simple recipe consisting of mixing regular yeast with warm water, honey, brewer's yeast, oil and whole wheat flour. After letting this mixture double in size, the sprouts and the remainder of the flour are added and kneaded until the dough is smooth, stretchy and slightly sticky (as apparently whole wheat breads always remain stickier than white bread).

One thing I always find tricky about making bread is that I can never decide exactly when the dough has doubled in size (it'd be so much easier in a cylindrical bowl). I once took a cooking class in which they recommended that you are careful never to let bread risings go too long, as this can make the the air bubbles in the cooked bread irregular. Apparently this is especially a problem in Colorado because bread rises faster than at lower altitudes. Anyway, I thought that I had erred on the side of punching it down too early, but the texture ended up being fine.

I would say that the final product was a bit of a disappointment, but this could be because I'm expecting everything from one loaf...

The crust was pretty good for a sandwich loaf, and the whole grains added a nice flavor. The crumb (or texture of the air bubbles) was regular and soft.

I think I was disappointed for a few reasons. First, I guess I just don't like sandwich bread that much. It was crumbly and a bit dry after just a day or two, which often happens with homemade, obviously preservative free, bread. The more serious problem though was the star of the show - the sprouts. They were a tooth killer. I don't know if I should have waited for the thicker sprout to grow longer or what I could have done differently, but these sprouts were not right. Some of them were so hard they could have taken out a tooth.

Interestingly, both King Arthur's recipes called for grinding the sprouted berries in a food processor with some water and adding these at the beginning of the recipe rather than adding whole berries later in the process. I did a little more poking around, and it looks like most recipes call for grinding the sprouted berries. And my worry about the berries being hard because of not having sprouted long enough seems to be unfounded - all of the images I found show that my sprouts had grown enough, if not too much.

All in all, I'm still intrigued by the prospect of making sprouted wheat bagels, but I think I need to do a little more experimentation with sprouted wheat itself before I can hope to achieve the Alvarado pinnacle.

Incidentally, Alvarado Street has an FAQ in which they discuss the ingredients in their baked goods. Basically they sprout berries in water, drain and and grind them, adding fresh yeast, salt and honey or some other sweet ingredient. That sounds pretty simple, but almost too simple. I may have to try experimenting with this method next, although I have a feeling it will take a lot of attempts to go completely recipe free with success.

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