In its simplest form, a loaf of bread is only a bit of flour mixed with water. Other ingredients–yeast, salt, sugar, eggs, fruits, nuts, and various grains–add flavor and variety, but the real secret behind a truly tasty loaf is the loving care that goes into it. According to a British chef, this ingredient is not only the most important, it is also the only one that really matters.
Creativity and experience are also important to this labor of love in which various grains are combined, kneaded, and shaped by hand; the choice of grains and the amount of each used will ultimately determine the bread’s texture. Whole wheat offers a coarse, hearty loaf. Rye makes a heavy, flavorful bread, and oat bran, amaranth, and Ezekiel flour impart their own distinctive flavors.
Most yeast breads require at least a small amount of sugar to feed the yeast and to form a thick, brown crust. Bakeries, however, use diastolic malt instead of sugar for the process. This malt, available at specialty markets and co-op grocery stores, can be made from barley or whole wheat berries. The barley or wheat berries are sprouted, dried, and ground into meal in a blender.
Diastolic malt, rich in enzymes that improve the flavor, the texture, and the appearance of homemade bread, helps to keep the bread fresh longer. Substituted for sugar, the malt adds extra nutrients to bread–in particular, B vitamins. A tablespoon of diastolic malt is enough to produce extra volume for two to four loaves. If more malt is added, the dough will become too sticky and sweet.
Sprouts are easy to make from wheat berries or other seeds. Soak the grains in water overnight in a glass jar; drain. Cover the glass jar with cheesecloth, secured with a rubber band. Turn the jar upside down and set it at an angle to allow air to circulate in and out of the jar. Rinse the sprouts twice a day for several days. Sprouts grown in a warm place will be ready in just a few days. Sprouts sitting in a cool area will take a couple of days longer. As soon as sprouts have started opening up, they can be added to breads. When they start getting their first set of leaves, they are ready to put on sandwiches and on salads.
Proofing Bread in the Microwave
Sometimes if I need a loaf of bread for dinner and did not get it started soon enough, I have a little trick that always speeds up the process. After kneading the dough, place it in a 2-quart glass bowl and microwave for 10 seconds on high. The dough should be just warm to the touch. This will shorten the rising time by about 15 minutes. The bread may not have quite the same yeasty flavor as dough that is rises a little longer at a cooler temperature, but bread straight from the oven is a wonderful thing.
Sprouted Wheat Bread
1 cup milk, scalded and cooled to lukewarm
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup honey or 1 T diastolic malt
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
2 cups bread flour
2 1/2 teaspoons yeast
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
½ cup sprouted wheat berries, coarsely chopped
1) In a large bowl, combine all of the ingredients except sprouts and stir until the dough starts to leave the sides of the bowl. Transfer the dough to a lightly greased surface, oil your hands, and knead it for 6 to 8 minutes, or until it begins to become smooth and supple. (You may also knead this dough in an electric mixer or food processor, or in a bread machine programmed for “dough” or “manual.”)
2) Transfer the dough to a lightly greased bowl or large measuring cup, cover it, and allow the dough to rise till puffy though not necessarily doubled in bulk, about 1 to 2 hours, depending on the warmth of your kitchen.
3) Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled work surface, gently knead in sprouted wheat berries. Shape dough into an 8″ log. Place the log in a lightly greased 8 1/2″ x 4 1/2″ loaf pan, cover the pan loosely with lightly greased plastic wrap, and allow the bread to rise for about 1 to 2 hours, or till almost double.
4) Bake the bread in a preheated 350 degree oven for 35 to 40 minutes, tenting it lightly with aluminum foil after 20 minutes to prevent over-browning. The finished loaf will register 190°F on an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center. Cool 10 minutes and remove from pan. Cool completely before storing in a plastic bag or airtight container.
Makes 1 loaf