Saturday, March 12, 2011
For some time I have been trying to come up with a bread recipe that uses whole sprouted grains instead of flour. There is good evidence to believe that eating whole grains (such as wheat berries, rye berries, rice etc) is better than eating things made of flour, even 'whole grain' flours.
If you take a whole grain, such as wheat berries, soak them overnight, and drain them the next day, they will begin to come to life and sprout. This is a good time to use them in a recipe, when they are alive, like freshly cut vegetables. Contrast this with typical store-bought flour: the grains have undergone processes that remove nutrients to improve shelf life and been ground to a powder while in a dormant state.
According to wikipedia,
"An important problem of the industrial revolution was the preservation of flour. Transportation distances and a relatively slow distribution system collided with natural shelf life. The reason for the limited shelf life is the fatty acids of the germ, which react from the moment they are exposed to oxygen. This occurs when grain is milled; the fatty acids oxidize and flour starts to become rancid. Depending on climate and grain quality, this process takes six to nine months. In the late 19th century, this process was too short for an industrial production and distribution cycle. As vitamins, micro nutrients and amino acids were completely or relatively unknown in the late 19th century, removing the germ was a brilliant solution. Without the germ, flour cannot become rancid. Degermed flour became standard."
As we have seen, what is convenient for industry is often not what is best for health and flavor. Making flour out of grain is a lot of extra trouble, and actually diminishes the grain's original nutritional value. There is no need to mill the grain to begin with, and so then there is no need to remove the germ either.
But if you try to make a loaf of bread out of whole grains or whole grain flour, the result will most likely be very dense and heavy, and your family and friends may not appreciate it. Then you will have to eat it all yourself. I made a few brick-like loaves that were actually pretty tasty, but I wanted to find a recipe for something that most people would like.
After a number of experiments, I found that one solution to this problem of density was to give up on making 'loaves', and instead make the bread flat. At first my dough recipes were complex, including sprouted wheat and rye berries, nuts, and dried fruits, but eventually, through trial and error, I discovered a very simple recipe that was much more successful than anything previous: delicious pita pockets from sprouted whole wheat berries with a little salt and honey to enhance the flavor.
The recipe goes like this:
1. Soak wheat berries in water overnight or for about 8-12 hours in a bowl covered with a plate or cloth. Then drain the water completely.
2. Allow the wheat to sprout and grow a 'tail' less than about a quarter inch in length. This may take a day or so. Rinse and drain the wheat when necessary to keep it moist but without standing water.
3. Grind, blend, and completely pulverize the sprouted wheat berries. I use a food processor for this, maybe there are some other ways this can be acheived. Because the grains have water in them, you should not have to add any water. Add salt and honey to taste. I use about one generous spoonful of honey for each cup of dry wheat berries. Honey and wheat are a very harmonious combination of flavors/smells. As they are ground up and blended together the wheat berries will gradually turn into a ball of dough right in the food processor. Grind the wheat thoroughly.
4. Remove the dough from the machine and knead it until it becomes elastic, shiny, and smooth. If the dough is too wet and sticky, add whole wheat flour on your hands, the kneading surface, and the dough gradually, in small amounts, until it does not stick. Letting the grain dry out a bit before grinding it can help to avoid an excessively moist dough.
5. If you want to save the dough for a later meal, coat the dough ball with some olive oil or ghee, put it in a covered bowl in the refrigerator, and do not let it dry out.
6. When ready to use the dough, use a sharp knife (serrated works well) to cut slices off the ball. Flatten and shape each slice into a circular pancake with your hands and then use a rolling pin to flatten the pancake into as thin a sheet of dough that you can make. What I do is rapidly alternate between rolling the dough out a little and then flipping it over to prevent getting it stuck and then tearing it. When you have a thin sheet, fold it into thirds, producing a long flat tube. Then fold the tube into thirds, producing a fat little square. Roll it out once more, but not quite as thinly. I find that the folding step helps the pita puff up and form a good pocket. You can fold into halves instead of thirds also, but your pita pockets will be less round.
7. I have been cooking them in the toaster oven, 3 or 4 at a time at about 350-400 F. They usually inflate and cook in a short time. I think they are best when they are still nice and soft, but you could make them crispy if you wanted.
This simple idea of using whole wheat berries to make unleavened flat breads could be adapted for toasting wheat tortillas or chapatis on a griddle as well. Keep in mind that the gluten in wheat is responsible for the great elastic quality of the dough, so using other grains will not have the same effect. I experimented with half millet and half wheat for example, and the resulting dough was not elastic at all, did not puff up into pita bread, and yielded a dense, unpleasantly dry and grainy bread. To remedy the situation I turned that unsuccessful dough into a batter by adding milk and an egg to make sprouted millet and wheat pancakes.
Keep experimenting; I'd be interested to hear about any other sprouted grain bread ideas.