Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Oldest-fashioned Bread

I put a bunch of enzymes to work three days ago. They've been slaving away for me in my kitchen, spinning starch into sugar and unlocking secret stores of nutrients.

I first made sprouted wheat bread last fall, when I needed something besides cranberries to sustain H. Rose and me on a cranberry-picking backpacking trip. Its dense texture -- caramelized crust and moist interior -- utterly enchanted us, especially paired with the oily melting sharp cheddar we'd packed along.

The process is simple. Soak hard wheat berries (red wheat really shines, but white works, too) one morning in plenty of filtered water. At nightfall, drain them, and depending on the temperature of your kitchen, they might have little sprouts the next morning or evening, or even later. The white sprout should be about 1/3 the length of the grain, but don't be fooled by the skinny little rootlets which are longer and wigglier than the true sprout. If the berries sprout too much, the enzymes will eat all the starch and turn it into sugar -- and good luck making bread from pure sugar. If they don't sprout enough, the bread will not be magic.

Once they are perfect, put them through a meat grinder with some dates -- about half a cup per pint of sprouts. You'll have to grind the whole mess several times over, and the more consistent the texture, the better your bread shall be. Unfortunately, I left my old meat grinder in Virginia, and the one I found here is not nearly as thorough.

Knead the sticky mess, and let it sit for a while. Of course it isn't going to rise, but because it's so full of magic germinating energy, and might catch some wild yeasts from the air, that I do let it rest. Anyhow. gluten always likes to take beauty rests to stay strong & elastic.

I shape the dough into little oblong loaves, maybe two inches tall and the size of my hand with my thumb tucked under, and let the loaves sit a bit before slashing them thrice with a sharp knife and putting them in a slow oven for a couple of hours. When your whole house smells like honey and hay. and the loaves are crusty and deeply colored, you may pull them from the oven. They soften up if you wrap them and store them somewhere cool for several days, but I don't know anybody who can resist fresh bread.

H. Rose adds that she likes her loaves crusty, and once when her oven was too hot, they were really hard, and really good.

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