Oat porridge bread
In keeping with the idiom, "everything old is new again", there's been a strong resurgence in the popularity of including sprouts and whole grains in our food, as more and more come to embrace the fad that is "clean eating". Once limited to the salad bowls of free spirits embracing an alternative lifestyle, these sprouts and grains are now a common sight on tables at some of the world's best restaurants and bakeries, and are being given a big push by those bestowing the virtues of grains and ferments towards the betterment of human health. But what (at least in the context of breadmaking) do we mean when we talk about soakers, sprouts and porridges; and are the nutritional benefits really as impressive as we're led to believe?
Sprouted rye, sprouted spelt
Being the first stage of the whole pimp-my-grain process, a soaker is simply some whole or cracked grain that has been soaked in (an at least equivalent volume of) water for a number of hours. Beyond adding whole grains to your loaf there's no particular nutritional benefit to this process; soaking is done simply to prevent sequestration of moisture from the dough and to soften the grain, thereby making it more palatable.
How to make a soaker:
While the absorbing potential varies from grain to grain the general rule of thumb is to combine equal parts grain and water, mix well and then leave at cool room temperature (15-19℃) for at least a few hours, or up to overnight. Hot water, or the inclusion of salt, can be used to inhibit enzyme activity (discussed below) and prevent any sourness developing.
Smoke beer, fennel & sprouted rye bread
After soaking, the next stage in a grain's development is sprouting. Since grains are simply a seed filled with the potential to transform into a new plant sprouting is, to be more specific, germination. The provision of water and oxygen is all that's needed to kick-start the enzymatic processes that convert starch stored in the endosperm of the grain into the simple sugars needed as food for the plant to grow. And while this process is well understood with regards to biology, the nutritional benefits of sprouting grains is often debated. Most will agree that sprouting makes grains more edible and digestible (both by softening them and initiating the breakdown of proteins and complex carbohydrates), however, the importance placed on changes to the enzymatic processes involved is more variable. Sprouting does change the chemical composition of the grain: trace minerals such as zinc are made more readily accessible, while the B and C vitamin, and amino acid content is also increased. Likewise, soaking also helps to deactivate phytic acid, a compound that prevents the likes of calcium and iron being absorbed by the human gut. As such, sprouting does help make the nutrients, vitamins and minerals inherent within the grain more accessible and easier to digest, but in countries where deficiencies in such elements are rare most experts suggest that, from a nutritional standpoint, these changes are inconsequential. What it does do, however, is modify both texture and flavour and, from a culinary point of view, it's qualities like these that are just as, if not more interesting.
Any grain can be sprouted so long as the germ and endosperm are intact. Among the grains commonly used in breadmaking wheat and rye will sprout readily, while barley and spelt prove more difficult as these softer grains are often damaged during processing, where a reasonable amount of force is needed to remove the husk. Pearled or cracked/kibbled grains will not sprout.
How to sprout grains:
Soak grains in cold water for 4-6 hrs, to activate germination. Thoroughly drain and aerate by leaving at cool room temperature in a jar or on a tray covered with cheesecloth, stirring/turning from time to time. Rinse, drain and aerate the grains twice daily to ensure they stay moist. Most grains will take between 2-4 days to germinate. Sprouted grains are ready to use when the length of the growing white shoot is the same length as the grain itself.
Sprouted spelt bread
Beyond sprouting comes the opportunity to malt; the process of drying sprouted grains to concentrate and further increase the complexity of flavours. Used more-so in brewing, when malting grain the conditions for germination must be tightly controlled, and the drying performed in relation to whether an enzyme-active (diastatic), or highly flavourful malt is desired. Malts kilned at 55℃ retain enzyme activity, while those kilned at higher temperatures (anything from 60℃ to 220℃) form the 'speciality' malts used for their distinct range of colours and flavours. While the use of diastatic malts in breadmaking can influence the activity and development of naturally-fermented loaves, malts are mostly used to compensate for the depletion of sugar that occurs in slow-fermented doughs, enhancing loaf colour and sweetness of flavour.
How to malt grain:
Soak the grain at room temperature for 6 hrs, then drain thoroughly and leave to dry for 4 hrs. Spread onto a tray lined with cheesecloth and cover with a second piece of cloth. Leave at room temperature for 4-5 days, rinsing and draining twice daily to keep the grain moist. Once sprouted, dry at room temperature for 12 hrs then place in an oven on the lowest setting (50-70℃) and leave for 2-3 hrs, until golden/chocolate brown in colour. Leave to cool then grind/mill and add to your flour.
Oat porridge bread
Much like what occurs during sprouting, the cooking of grains to make porridge renders them more easy to digest by the human gut. Using porridge in breads is also a simple way to add grains with no/low gluten content without losing the moistness of the crumb, while still retaining their nuanced flavours by maintaining the wholeness of the grain. Nutritionally, porridge breads are on par with those produced using whole grains, and while some patience is required to allow enough time for the crumb to set, the added moisture increases shelf life such that loaves can be kept for up to a week before staling. To take it an extra step, grains can also be prefermented before being made into porridge, adding even further complexity to the flavours and textures available.
How to make porridge:
Using a ratio of 2:1 water to grain, cook the grains, stirring occasionally, for around 15 minutes, until soft and creamy. Season with salt before spreading out on a baking tray and leaving to cool. Porridge can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 1 week (return to room temperature before using). To preferment your porridge grains, dissolve 1 tsp leaven or live culture yoghurt in water, before adding the grain and mixing thoroughly. Cover and leave at room temperature overnight, before cooking as described above.
Oat porridge bread
WHEN TO ADD SPROUTED GRAINS/PORRIDGE?
There are two schools of thought when it comes to adding grains &/or porridge to your dough, and each has logic to its reasoning. The first is to throw everything together at the start, during autolyse. While the inclusion of no/low-gluten elements will interfere with the dough's development, adding the soaked or sprouted grains early allows the baker to monitor the dough's hydration and make any adjustments before it's too late. The second is to fold them through at the end of the mixing process, allowing for full development of the dough and minimising the opportunities for the added grains to damage the strengthening gluten network. As with most other aspects of baking try both, and see which works best for you*. While you can add as much or as little as you like, a good starting point is to add 25% sprouted grain, or 50% porridge to your naturally-leavened dough (percent weight where flour weight equals 100% i.e. baker's percentages).
Oat porridge bread
THE TAKE HOME POINTS
- Using sprouted grains in your baking is first and foremost an opportunity to play around with different textures and flavours.
- From a nutritional standpoint, sprouting, fermenting and cooking grains before incorporating them into our breads simply starts the breakdown process before we even get to them, making them more palatable and easier to digest. Changes in the accessibility of vitamins and minerals are relatively inconsequential.
- Do it, it's delicious.
- CONIS, E. (Oct 12, 2009) Sprouted-grain breads: the facts. LA Times online, http://articles.latimes.com/2009/oct/12/health/he-nutrition12
- HAMELMAN, J. (2013) Bread: A baker’s book of techniques and recipes. John Wiley & Sons, Hoboken NJ. ISBN 978-1-118-13271-5
- HAN, E. (Jun 5, 2014) What you should know about sprouted grains. The Kitchn. http://www.thekitchn.com/what-you-should-know-about-sprouted-grains-204262
- KATZ, SE. (2012) The art of fermentation. Chelsea Green Publishing, White River Junction VT 05001. ISBN 978-1-60358-286-5
- LEPARD, D. (2013) The Handmade Loaf. Mitchell Beazley/Octopus Publishing, London UK WC2H 8JY. ISBN 978-1-84533-828-2
- McGEE, H. (2004) On food and cooking: the science and lore of the kitchen. Scribner, New York NY 10020. ISBN-13 978-0-684-80001-2
- ROBERTSON, C. (2013) Tartine Book No.3. Chronicle Books LLC, San Francisco California 94107. ISBN 978-1-4521-1430-9
** While I've only dabbled with these loaves once or twice, for the record I mix porridge through with the autolyse, and fold sprouted grains in at the end.