Monday, March 22, 2010


I've been on a serious baking kick since the new year. "Baking" has unfortunate and unfair connotations of Betty Crocker and checkered aprons, but a) my apron is a hot black-and-white abstract print with a red and pink trim, and b) not a brownie nor mix has crossed my spatula. What I am obsessed with is whole-grain breads.

The first whole-wheat loaves I baked were when I was eighteen and stepped into it as a co-op job. This particular eating collective eschewed anything refined (no sugar, no white flour) (yet there was someone who believed that cinnamon had a rightful and prominent place in spaghetti sauce, and made it that way regularly), so I dutifully churned out big whole wheat logs with the Hobart, sweetened with soy milk and brown rice syrup. They came out chewy and dense, and cooled into blunt instruments.

This is not the case with today's bread. This hardcore Peter Reinhart book (a gift from my clever enabler/beneficiary) tipped me over the edge, and now I'm all, autolyse, biga, soaker, enzyme strands, and does it pass the windowpane test? The making of a single loaf spans days. I have made 100% whole-wheat, endless combinations of multigrains, naan, paratha (plain and aloo-stuffed), wheat thins both herbed and plain, focaccia, and scores--literally--of pizza crusts.

(On the right there I'm brushing garlic-chili oil over a brand-new naan; below, stuffing paratha with potatoes before rolling it flat again and cooking it on a griddle.)

But the winning loaf, the most exciting yet, was the SPROUTED WHEAT LOAF I made this week, which took longer than anything yet, and involved
1) soaking wheat berries for 24 hours
2) rinsing them and leaving them for another half-day until
3) they started to sprout tiny white tails and then
4) grinding them to a pulp, which tasted amazing, the texture of steel-cut oatmeal but cool and sweet and with a fresh faintly grassy flavor,
5) and finally baking that into a bread, which came out like this
and tastes beautiful.

I'm seriously one step away from getting a grain mill to grind my own flour. Then all I will have to do is start up a little wheat patch in the yard, and it's Willa Cather time.