It was the best loaf of whole-wheat bread master baker and author Peter Reinhart had ever tasted. Creamy—almost custard-like, in baker’s speak—soft, and sweet. And it’s fair to say, having written a shelf’s worth of baking books, three of which have won James Beard Awards, that the man knows good bread. This one, however, started a revolution.
“It’s changed the whole paradigm,” Reinhart said on the phone, his voice animated. His new book is called Bread Revolution.
If there’s a sliced loaf from Ezekiel Bread or Alvarado Street Bakery, the revolutionary element of Reinhart’s new book, sprouted wheat, may seem like old news. The process—and the end product—is different from the familiar loaves. Sprouted grain breads are baked from a kind of mash, in which the sprouted grain is ground into a wet pulp before ingredients such as yeast, salt, sweetener, and pure wheat gluten are added. That last ingredient is key: Pure wheat gluten (or vital wheat gluten) has long been thought essential, as it serves to replace the gluten that’s wrecked by making the mash.
But the flour Reinhart was experimenting with when he made his revelatory loaf, sent to him by Joe Lindley at Lindley Mills, was different. The wheat had been sprouted, then dried and then milled into flour, leaving the bread-rising power of the gluten intact. He could make a traditional dough with the flour, and didn’t need to add additional gluten. The sprouting process released the grain’s natural sweetness, so no honey or sweetener was added either, and the dough required no oil. It baked into a beautiful loaf of whole grain bread. Less was suddenly more.
“This is actually easier to make than the artisan breads we’ve been teaching people for 15 years,” Reinhart said. “Bakers have learned over thousands and thousands of years how to maximize the flavor trapped in the grain. We use a lot of tricks: slow, cold fermentation, pre-ferments, starters, and things like that. In sprouted grain, some of the things the baker does to release those flavors take place in the sprouting process itself. You don’t have to do all those extra steps. The work is done by Mother Nature.”
Then there’s the nutritional boon. Many studies show the nutritional value of a grain is increased by sprouting (though how much survives the baking process still needs study). The process of sprouting kicks off a biological process in which a seed starts to grow into a plant. The potential of that seed—its raw energy, vitamins, minerals—is unlocked in the sprouting process, and the grain takes on a lower glycemic load and becomes easier to digest, Reinhart explained.
If you’re trying to avoid gluten but can’t bear to give up bread, this really is a revolution. “[Sprouted grain] would be a good choice for someone with a sensitive gut,” Elisabetta Politi, RD, nutrition director at the Duke Diet & Fitness Center in Durham, N.C., explained to WebMD. “For people with problems digesting certain foods, sprouted germs might seem better for them, and they are less allergenic to people with grain protein sensitivities.”
For Reinhart, this is only the beginning of new developments in the baking world—developments that, as you’ll see below, are good for pancakes too—that could increase not only the pleasures and meditative enjoyment of baking and breaking good bread (“Flavor first” is a maxim he bakes by) but its changing nutritional profile as well. The burgeoning study of the health benefits of wild yeast starters (as opposed to commercial yeast), flours made from grape skins, grape seeds, and coffee bean cherries all breathe new life into a field he occasionally thinks is exhausted. “It almost seems as if there’s hardly anything left to say. But just when we get to that point, we see there’s a new frontier.” Bread isn’t dead.
“Even after 6,000 years, we’re still learning things about bread and new ways to make it better. It seems like the learning just never ends.”
Sprouted flour is available at health food stores and increasingly on supermarket shelves. It can also be sourced directly from mills such as Lindley Mills, To Your Health Sprouted Flour Co., and Arrowhead Mills.
Sprouted Wheat Pancakes
Makes 5 large pancakes
“Once someone tastes these pancakes, they will never go back to regular pancakes,” Reinhart says. “These are the best pancakes I’ve ever eaten, period.”
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon sprouted whole wheat flour
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon sugar, honey, or agave nectar
1½ cups buttermilk
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, salt, baking soda, and sugar (if using honey or agave nectar, add it to the buttermilk in the next step). In a separate bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, egg, and melted butter, then pour into the flour mixture. Stir with a large spoon just until the flour is hydrated; don’t overmix. The result will be a fairly thin, pourable batter; it will thicken slightly as it sits, so don’t add more flour. Transfer the batter to a measuring cup with a pouring spout (or leave it in the bowl and portion it with a ladle).
Preheat a nonstick skillet or griddle over medium heat.
Put about 1 teaspoon of butter or oil in the hot pan, just enough to thinly coat the surface. Lower the heat to just below medium. Pour in batter to make pancakes of the desired size. You may need to tilt the pan to spread the batter into an even circle. Cook until the bottom is rich golden brown and bubbles form on the top, 2½ to 3 minutes for larger pancakes, less time for smaller pancakes. Flip and cook until the other side is golden brown, about 2½ minutes.
Serve hot, or keep in a warm oven at about 200°F while cooking the remaining pancakes.
This September, Pivot TV will feature an entire month of “Food for Thought” programming to explore what’s really happening in the American agriculture system. For more information, head over to the “Food for Thought” page to find out when the next program airs and take action.