Grain Brains Challenge
A recipe challenge to help you get whole grains into your mouth, not just your kitchen.
Early in March, I met a baker who hates flour. Michael Perakovich makes sprouted wheat breads at Columbia County Bread and Granola and his hatred comes from what flour does to people’s bodies. He’s spent two years perfecting the company’s formula for sprouted wheat dough, applying the principles of artisan baking to a flour-free environment. His ingredients include sprouts, water, salt and sourdough starters that he cultures on sprouts. He won’t touch the pitas because he hasn’t been able to master that recipe minus flour – it still needs a little of the stuff.
Even though I am totally in love with flour, I got curious about his passion. I am a sucker for enthusiasm, and I have my own doubts about flour. How nutritionally useful is flour compared to eating a cooked or sprouted whole grain? Do the phytic acids in whole grain flours inhibit our ability to absorb their nutrients, and nutrients from other foods? I knew that Sally Fallon advocates sprouting in her cookbook Nourishing Traditions.
Coincidentally, when I saw Michael speak at a workshop for processing local grains (he followed a woman who operates a Dutch windmill in Holland, Michigan), I had some wheat sprouting at home. I am trying to turn my cupboard into less of a library. Archiving food is not really the goal right? But that’s what happens with grains because I love them.
Anyway, I took those sprouted grains and loosely followed a recipe I found online and had beginner’s luck. The bread rose fine and tasted great, if a little gummy. I could not repeat my success, however, even if I followed the instructions to the letter on the next round. I also substituted a lot of sprouts for flour in my favorite no-knead bread recipe. The result was more like baked pudding than bread! I almost gave up.
I did have luck with a recipe for yeasted bread from King Arthur’s Whole Grain Baking Book, one of my favorite references for whole grains, even if it uses orange juice too much for my tastes. Why I don’t believe in juice is a whole other chat-a-rama, so I’ll stick to sprouts and say the recipes for yeasted bread that include sprouts in that book are good. I won’t be making them often because I think that the long fermentations of sourdough are very helpful. This is another baking process I have yet to devote myself to learning.
Figuring out how to sprout grains was easier than I thought. I never had luck with jars, but Michael Perakovich sprouts in long flat tubs, so I changed my method. I soak wheat berries in water overnight, drain them, and sprout over the course of the next couple of days. Instead of using mason jars topped with screened lids, I use flattish metal bowls topped with plates. I sprout 2 cups at a time, draining them through a strainer. I rinse twice a day until the sprouts are as long as the seeds. I use them immediately, or put them in the fridge.
Shaking out enough water in the strainer is important, otherwise you will inhibit germination and allow other undesired funky kinds of growth. When you make that mistake, don’t despair — you’ve got compost.
Sprouting is very useful in my house right now. I’ve got a five gallon bucket of wheat we grew last year that I want to use. (Read here about the harvest.) I’m not a good enough little red hen to delegate the milling responsibility – we can mill it on my friend Howard’s bicycle powered flour mill – to other people I feed.
It is so fun to see the wheat we grew grow all over again. The seeds are very lively, and sprout more quickly than seeds I’ve purchased. I’ve been adding the sprouts to pancakes, crackers and crepes with good success. I love the way they taste and the way they help me think I’m doing something healthy. Here’s some of my favorite formulas.
Based on Laura Brody’s Multi-seed Crackerbread in the King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking Book. You can use water but I want all the fats I can get because, as a friend once said, fat equals flavor.
- 2 cups sprouted wheat berries
- 1 cup whole wheat flour
- ½ cup rye flour
- ½ cup cornmeal
- 2 tsp salt
- ¼ cup olive oil
- ¾ cup milk
Grind the wheat berries in a food processor or very strong blender. You want them especially fine for these crackers, which are very flat, so let the machine go for a minute or two, pausing and moving the material around a little.
Mix the dry ingredients with a whisk. Add ground wheat berries – which will look like a paste with lots of little nubs – the olive oil, and about ½ cup of the milk. If the dough comes together in a nice ball, you’ve added enough liquid. You don’t want it too dry, but you do not want it too wet, either, because too much moisture gives you a cracker that is not crisp.
Divide the dough into balls that are 3 ounces each. If you can’t weigh it out, make about 8-10 balls. Let them rest for an hour on the counter in a bowl with a plate on it or maybe draped with a wet towel, to keep them from drying out.
Roll the balls on a board dusted with flour. Go for super thin. A 3 ounce ball can stretch 8-10 inches in diameter. Just before you are done rolling, sprinkle with poppy, onion, or sesame seeds, and press them into the dough. Transfer onto silicone mats or a lightly greased cookie sheet and bake in a preheated 450° F oven for 7-10 minutes.
Cool on a rack. If the crackers are too chewy, they may need to sit overnight in the air or in the oven, drying out a little. Store in a tightly sealed container.
RECIPE: SPROUTED WHEAT CREPES
- 1 cup sprouted wheat berries
- ¼ cup whole wheat flour
- ½ cup buckwheat flour
- 1 tsp salt
- 3 eggs
- 1 ½ cups milk
Grind the sprouts and a little of the milk in a blender until the sprouts are broken up pretty fine. Add the rest of the ingredients. Allow the batter to rest for at least 10 minutes, to let the flour absorb the moisture. If you want to prepare this the night before, refrigerate the batter.
Once your griddle or crepe pan is ready, blend the batter once more to incorporate all the ingredients. I like to pour the batter into a bowl because when you use whole grain flours and sprouts, particles drop to the bottom and need a little encouragement from a quick stir before each pour. I use about a third to a half cup batter for each crepe.
Wait till the top of the crepe is set and the edges are a little brown before flipping. I always top my crepes with plain yogurt, but you can go any direction you want.