- Soak the grain.
- Sprout the grain.
- Grind the grain.
- Bake the grain.
- Condition the loaf.
Here are the steps in detail:
1. Soak the grain.
- Rinse 2 cups of grain. I use organic hard red wheat berries. Lately I've replaced 1/4 of the wheat with barley (it's called "hulled", not pearled). The barley gives a moister consistency and more of a caramelly or malty flavor. But it's not necessary.
- Place grain in a large bowl, large enough for the grain to double in size. Cover the grain with water. Let grain soak under water for 8 or 9 hours.
- At the end of the 8-hour soak, strain the grain and return it to the bowl.
- Cover the bowl with a wet towel. Cover the towel with a sheet of plastic wrap.
- Place bowl in an undisturbed place away from direct heat.
- Sprout for about 36 hours. Rinse the grain once or twice during the course of sprouting to prevent it from drying out. Do this by filling the bowl with water, straining it, and returning it to the (rinsed) bowl.
- Sprouting times will vary based on how hot the room is. It is better to undersprout than oversprout. If the sprouts get too hairy or start to turn green, your loaf will be edible but mushy.
A few more photos. The first one is after an 8-hour soak plus 8 hours sprouting. The next two are ready to grind at 36 hours of sprouting.
3. Grind the grain.
- First, place a covered dutch oven or other heavy covered pot into a 270 degree F oven to preheat.
- Grinding is the most labor-intensive part of the job. I sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon salt over the sprouts, mix it in, then feed it all through a food grinder.
- I've tried a blender and a food processor. I'd go back to the blender if I didn't have this food grinder attachment on my mixer. The food processor left a lot of intact grain stuck to the sides. You can buy a hand-cranked food grinder that might also do the job. Whatever you employ, use a light touch. You only have to crack open the grains, not whiz it to a mash.
- After the grain is ground it will be very sticky. Add about 3 tablespoons of water to the mash* and do your best to knead it, about 20 times, just to consolidate it and form it into a cohesive shape. Kneading to develop gluten structure is not necessary with this type of bread.
- Place the shaped loaf onto a piece of parchment paper.
Here's the food grinder working its magic.
Here's my go with the blender. Lots of scraping down the sides but it works. Be careful not to overprocess it.
I shape it like this, although this was only 1.5 cups of wheat so it's not as long as the baked loaf below. The bread will flatten as it bakes. If it's too wet it will look like a pancake no matter how you shape it. Don't shape it too high or it will develop deep fissures as it flattens in the oven.
4. Bake the grain.
- Using heat-resistant mitts (or folded towels), open the oven, remove the hot lid, place the loaf-plus-parchment into the pot, replace the lid, close the oven.
- Bake for 2 hours at 270 degrees F.
- After 2 hours, turn the oven off, take the pot out, remove the lid, carefully pick out the browned loaf holding the parchment, place the loaf-plus-parchment back into the oven on a rack. Let sit in the warm oven for 2 or 3 more hours. (This, I found, helps hold the loaf together and develops a more caramelly flavor.)
- Remove the loaf from the oven, discard the parchment, and let sit at room temperature until it is no longer warm to the touch, another hour or two. (This sounds like a lot of work but it's more about being around to move things than actually doing work.)
5. Condition the loaf.
- Place the cooled loaf into a plastic bag and put into the refrigerator for 1 or 2 days - at least!
- It was not understanding the importance of this last step that had me throwing out so many loaves in the beginning. The bread, after it cools, will be very hard on the outside and very wet on the inside. Conditioning it in the fridge will allow the exterior to soften and the interior to firm up.
The entire process takes about 5 days, from start to edible product. I live up to the name Fanatic Cook with this, don't I. I start on Thursday morning with soaking the grain. I strain it that night to start sprouting, rinse it Friday morning and again Friday night, and finally grind and bake it on Saturday. It's ready to eat on Tuesday. Saturday is the only day I have to really be doing anything to it.
If you attempt it, I'd really like to know how it goes, what you change, how it turns out, and if you like it or not. I'm trying rye grain for the first time this weekend.