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Sprouted bread

By Ted Weesner Jr.
Globe Correspondent / March 4, 2009

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Makes 1 loaf

This recipe is easily doubled to make two loaves. A loaf made with only wheat berries is wonderful all by itself, though feel free to mix and match grains of all sorts for a variety of flavors - it's part of the thrill of making this bread. All grains will sprout after a couple of days. A half cup of dry seeds to the dough dials up the flavor and nutritional oomph. All of the grains and vital wheat gluten are available at health-food stores and some supermarkets. Begin this two to three days before baking. You'll need an 8 1/2- or 4 1/2-inch loaf pan or a willow basket or round bowl and a cloth.

3 cups assorted whole grains (some combination of wheat berries, rye berries, barley, spelt, lentils, soybeans, mung beans, chickpeas)
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons vital wheat gluten
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
2 tablespoons honey, barley malt, agave nectar, or granulated sugar
1/2 cup water, at room temperature
1/2 cup mixed sesame, pumpkin, sunflower, and flax seeds (optional)
Vegetable oil (for the bowl)
Butter (for the loaf pan, if using)
Whole-wheat flour (for shaping)

1. Two to three days before baking, soak the 3 cups of grains in a container of cold water for 12 to 24 hours at room temperature.

2. Drain them, return them to the container, cover with plastic wrap, and leave on the kitchen counter. Wait 2 to 3 days until the grains begin to sprout, rinsing and draining them once or twice so they are always damp. As soon as little tails appear, the grains have sprouted and are ready. The mixture should have grown to about 4 1/2 cups. Store in the fridge until you are ready to make the dough.

3. In a food processor, work the sprouted grains to as fine a pulp as possible, but not to the point of generating a lot of heat. If the pulp begins to feel warm to the touch, stop processing and let it sit for about 10 minutes to cool off before continuing. If you have a meat grinder (manual or electric), it works better than a food processor and doesn't generate heat.

4. To mix by hand: In a bowl with a wooden spoon, combine the sprout pulp, vital wheat gluten, salt, yeast, honey, 1/4 cup of the water (and seeds, if using). Stir vigorously. Or, knead with wet hands for about 2 minutes or until all the ingredients are evenly integrated and distributed. The dough should be soft and slightly sticky; if not, add more of the water to form a sticky ball of dough. In a stand mixer with a dough hook: Combine the sprout pulp, vital wheat gluten, salt, yeast, honey or other sweetener, and 1/4 cup of the water. Mix on slow speed for 1 minute to bring the ingredients together into a ball, adding additional water as needed. Continue mixing 2 to 3 minutes, occasionally scraping down the bowl. The dough should form a sticky ball.

5. Mist a work surface with a spray of water. Place the dough on the surface and knead with wet hands for 1 to 2 minutes. Although the dough will be sticky on the surface, it should have the strength and feel of normal bread dough. Form the dough into a ball and let it rest on the work surface for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, lightly oil a bowl.

6. Resume kneading the dough for 1 minute with wet hands to strengthen it. The dough should have strength yet still feel soft, supple, and very tacky. Form the dough into a ball and transfer it to the bowl, rolling to coat with oil. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let it rise at room temperature for 45 to 60 minutes or until it is about 1 1/2 times its original size.

7. Meanwhile, butter the loaf pan, if using. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface and form it into either a loaf or a freestanding batard. For the loaf pan, set the dough in the pan. For a batard, place the dough on a proofing cloth, in a willow basket, or on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper and dust with flour. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature for 45 to 60 minutes or until it is about 1 1/2 times its original size.

8. Set the oven at 425 degrees. If baking a freestanding loaf, set a pizza stone on the middle shelf of the oven and place a roasting pan on a rack underneath it. Place the dough on the stone, pour 1 cup of hot water into the pan, lower the temperature to 350 degrees, and bake for 20 minutes.

9. Rotate the loaf 180 degrees and continue baking for 20 to 30 minutes or until the loaf is a rich brown on all sides, sounds hollow when thumped on the bottom, and registers at least 200 degrees in the center. Transfer the bread to a wire rack and let it cool for at least 1 hour before slicing. Adapted from "Whole Grain Breads"