Monday, December 10, 2012

Sprouted Spelt Bread At Home: a Baking Saga

Remember my visit to Larry from Tree-Top Baking and his demo of baking with sprouted spelt? Well, once I got home, I couldn't wait to get started and I immediately set some spelt berries to soak. But since I can never leave well alone, I also read up on the notes I took at WheatStalk during Frank Sally's* Baking with Ancient Grains workshop. Frank said (and I quote): "Spelt sprouts real fast (one day). When sprouting, keep them submerged for ten hours, then drain and let them rest. Do that again two or three times, then they are ready to grind in the meat grinder." He added: "The grain is often very wet. If that's the case, hold back half of the water when mixing. On the contrary, if it's dry, you need to add more water."
Frank also recommended adding the oil and honey towards the end of the mixing (holding off with the water even if the dough looked a bit stiff because the oil and honey would help loosen it up) and he said to add gluten as spelt didn't have much of a push and the resulting dough wouldn't have a lot of strength.
Food for thought there! I had seen Larry's sprouted spelt and it had been soaking wet. So, in accordance with SFBI's original formula, he had used very little water in the mixing. But mindful of Frank's advice, I had drained the grain for twelve hours, it ended up much drier than Larry's. Therefore I knew I would need to add water.
As far as gluten was concerned, I really didn't care to add any. Since I have seen what gluten strands look like once all other matter has been rinsed out of a dough (basically like an used chewing gum such as those you see stuck on the sidewalks in New York City), I have not been too keen on gluten as an additive. So I decided to follow Larry's example (he had not used any the day I visited although he sometimes does) and skip it. So far so good.
I made the dough, added as much water as I thought it needed, followed all the advice on mixing duration and speed, and ended up with a dough I really liked only to realize I didn't have the proper pans to bake it in (I had thrown out my old pans when we moved - they had been very cheap to begin with and had become gross - and never gotten around to buying others!) I had no choice but free-shape the loaves and hope for the best.
We actually liked the resulting bread very much (nice nutty taste and pleasant texture) but the dough had spread a bit too much during the proofing and I still wanted good sandwich bread for slicing.
So I bought two pans and tried again. This time though, I didn't bother to re-read the recipe (why would I do that?) and just winged it all the way. I made the sponge, thawed the ground-up sprouted spelt (leftover from the first batch) overnight and proceeded with the mixing. Of course I didn't remember not to add all the liquids upfront and since the dough did indeed seem stiff, I was generous with water too. Also, as I didn't recall that gluten had to be fully developed (improved mix) before the dough was set to ferment, I did my usual short mix (usual when mixing by machine, that is, as I normally hand-mix) and called it a day (see Modern Baking  magazine for more info on the various mixing methods).
To add insult to injury, I baked with steam. Which means that the breads were not only gummy from over-hydration and under-mixing but they also burst open in the oven!  Some people have bad hair days, others bad bread days! Others still (like me) have both...
Despite the gummy crumb, the bread is actually okay toasted and we are half-way through the second loaf. But still...
Not to be deterred, I tried again last week: I soaked a humongous amount of spelt berries (enough for three two-loaves bakes) and decided to follow Larry's example and not to drain the grain at the twelve-hour mark. But a baker's life is full of surprises: at the twenty-four hour mark, the berries had barely moved. So much for spelt being a quick sprouter! I guess it all depends where you live and what the season is. I live in the American Northwest and temperatures in my house aren't exactly balmy in early December. It took all of 48 hours before the berries were tender enough for the endosperm (the white stuff) to start coming out (it had been way faster in early October when I had made my first attempt and of course even faster in Chicago in late June).
I knew the sponge would keep well in the fridge, so I wasn't worried on that score. But the 24-hour delay had thrown off my baking schedule so that the berries reached their peak on the morning I was due to watch my fifteen-month old grand-daughter while her mom was running errands and keeping doctors' appointments and so forth. I don't know if you have ever baked with a toddler around but believe me, it has its own constraints. Lily being the ninth grand-child, I knew it from experience. So I waited and hoped that the berries would too. I was concerned though because when I took SFBI's Whole Grains workshop in San Francisco back in 2009, Keith Giusto had forcefully underlined the fact that if you saw even the beginning of a germ on the sprouted grain, then the enzyme activity was too far along and you might just as well throw everything out and start again. Accordingly I didn't dare leave the berries in the water a minute longer than necessary and I drained and rinsed them before the baby arrived.
A few hours later when my baking day actually started, the berries still looked pretty much the same and I was relieved. We ground them (a team effort in my house), I packed two one-kilo ziploc bags which I put in the freezer and started the mixing process with the remainder. This time I did everything by the book. I still had to add a bit more water than the first time to get the proper consistency but I was careful to hold it off until after the addition of oil and honey. I mixed to improved and got a nice gluten window. The dough fermented for about 90 minutes at 80°F/27°C in the little countertop proofer (truly a welcome tool in my part of the world in the winter) then, once divided in the two pans, proofed for one hour at room temperature (I had the oven on so the room had warmed up a bit). I remembered not to steam. The bread came out just as I hoped it would and the best part is that Lily loves it! Baking with her will have to wait a bit but baking for her sure carries its own reward: she is already a true bread head.

The following recipe is based on SFBI's and Larry's formula, slightly adapted.

Ingredients (for two 800 g-loaves)
  • 93 g whole spelt flour (I used freshly milled)
  • 79 g water
  • 1.9 g salt
  • 1.9 g malt
  • 0.5 g yeast
Final dough
  • 877 g sprouted spelt berries, ground in a meat grinder or a food processor
  • 292 g whole spelt flour (I used freshly milled)
  • 77 g water, divided
  • 93 g raisins, briefly soaked and pureed to a slurry
  • 19 g salt
  • 12 g instant yeast
  • 47 g honey
  • 23 g vegetable oil
  • 175 g sponge (all of the sponge)
This time, except for the fact that I drained my berries earlier than he did his and consequently had to add more water and I held off with the oil and honey,  I followed Larry's directions to a tee.
The Sprouted Spelt Bread is going to Susan for Yeastspotting.

*Frank Sally who teaches at SFBI and with whom I had the pleasure and privilege of taking not only Baking with Ancient Grains at WheatStalk but also Artisan I and Artisan II in San Francisco is all set to open his own bakery, La Fournée, in Berkeley, CA, at the beginning of the year. Take a look at the photos already posted on the website and even if you don't personally know Frank for the amazing artisan baker he is, you'll understand why I can't wait to go and visit!


  1. Oh, my gosh!!!!! That was priceless, sorry, but I had to laugh at parts, because you sound SO MUCH like me!

    "why would I bother re-reading the recipe?" CHECK. THAT"S ME to a T

    You were soooo persistent, I am amazed, not sure I could have done it three times in a row like this, but it was worth it. Now, the second attemt, the ones with that big crack in the center, I thought turned out great, I would not have a problem serving that for guests!

    I had my own baking adventure this past week, and even baked a sweet, pumpkin loaf. Did not have too many problems, so perhaps the stars were aligned correctly ;-)

    1. A sweet pumpkin loaf! Now that sounds wonderful... I just steamed the next to last of our kabocha squashes last night, so maybe I too should embark on a last pumpkin bread adventure before Christmas gets so close that all everybody thinks about is fruitcake. ;)
      I wouldn't mind serving a bread with a big crack to guests but I draw the line at gummy! Also I wasn't about to let rebellious sprouts get the better of me. :)

  2. Hi MC,
    sorry not to comment all of your last posts - i have been traveling a lot - which made bread baking difficult.
    Great story and experiences - i am convinced that those stories tell you more then always success stories. But: i believe, that even you worst bread tastes 1000 times better then those which you (can) buy (except some bakeries...).
    Will still follow you (already finished some of your recipes - just need time for the post :-)

    Happy Bread Baking!

    1. Thank you, bernd! Don't worry about commenting. I know you are a baker with a very busy non-baking schedule. You are so right, one learns much more from failures than successes and many bakers I know actually welcome their failed attempts for exactly that reason. I hope you have a great holiday season and find time to bake. I'll be looking for your posts whenever you have a chance.



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