Are sprouted-grain breads really better than their non-sprouted counterparts? Sprouted flour goes through a special process. Starting with soaking whole grains, leaving them to germinate, then dry and ground into flour. I want to explore the various aspects of sprouted breads: nutrition, economics, taste and the bread-making process.
The argument for sprouted grains and flours are quite compelling. The increase in bioavailability for the digestive system. Higher in protein because some carbohydrates are lost in the process of sprouting. On the other hand, milling sprouted flour is a rather time-consuming process. It takes at least four to five days, therefore more expensive to produce.
When I baked the 100% sprouted struan bread a few weeks ago, using Peter Reinhart’s recipe from Bread Revolution, I was impressed how easy it was to make it. No preferment. No high-gluten flour. The sweet earthy taste of the resulting bread, purely the flavor of sprouted wheat, is deliciously appealing. It validates the notion that the sprouting process preconditions the sprouted grains to give up its full flavor, including the bitterness, making the bread sweeter tasting .
I am ready to experiment with my favorite bread recipe, the Vermont sourdough, which is a very different type of bread from the 100% struan loaf bread. The idea is to see whether using sprouted flour has a negative impact on the desirable eating quality and the open crumb structure of the Vermont sourdough. I have to admit I got the inspiration and some helpful suggestions from an experienced baker at the Fresh Loaf, an online group of artisan bread bakers. It’s very encouraging to see the wonderful sprouted breads they have routinely turned out. I’m itching to try my hands on, push the envelop a little and replace whole wheat flour with sprouted wheat flour, hopefully, without compromising the desirable characteristics of the Vermont sourdough. If all goes well, my intention is to increase the amount of whole grains to 30%, making it more healthy.
The formula I used: 20% liquid levain build with only bread flour. Mixed the dough with 50% bread flour, 30% sprouted wheat flour and 2% salt. Hydration level was an upward of 70%. The final dough looked like it needed some water. I kept my hands very wet as I performed series of stretch-and-fold. After three hours of bulk fermentation, I shaped the dough and left them to proof in the fridge overnight. See the cheat sheet below for details.
By and large, I did not change the levain (built entirely from bread flour) or the fermentation schedule of the original recipe that much. I guess with only 30% of flour weight in sprouted wheat (the other 70% in bread flour), the nature of this (primarily white) bread has not been materially altered.
The oven was preheated at 500°F. I baked the dough in Dutch ovens at 450°F for 30 minutes total, 15 minutes with steam and another 15 minutes without. I checked the internal temperature to make sure it reached approximately 210°F.
As I took the lids off the dutch ovens, the breads showed fantastic oven spring. I was overjoyed. They just looked like what the Vermont sourdough would have behaved. It was a relief! You never know when it comes to levain breads. No surprise there, the sprouted bread tasted earthy, tender and sweet. See the side-by-side comparison of the crumb structure between 10% whole wheat (on the left) and 30% sprouted wheat (on the right and below).
Wait. But there were some surprises, at closer inspection, that I did not expect.
Close to the base of the bread, there were areas of dense and compressed custardy clumps. Was the bread underbaked? Did that have something to do with the shaping of this particular loaf? The bread had a soft and slightly moist underbelly. Not what you’d expect in a perfect loaf. What can be done differently to make them better? Feel free to comment.
Next time around, increase the sprouted flour amount to 40%?
I posted the same question at Fresh Loaf, wanting to get some answers and suggestions from fellow bakers there. My hunch is this bread may benefit from a longer autolyse so that the flour has an opportunity to absorb more water. Higher hydration may be beneficial. Shortening steaming time to 15 minutes in the Dutch oven and extending the baking time to fully and completely dry out the interior of the bread would also help.