A Local Loaf
October 22, 2010
By Daisy Chow
Finding freshly baked, artisan bread is easy in the Bay Area. Finding bread made with locally grown flour is not so easy. Why is this?
The answer boils down to wheat. In the Midwest, wheat is a subsidized commodity, so farmers have incentive to grow a lot of it. Here in California, most agricultural land is dedicated to what are called “specialty crops,” things like fruits, vegetables, almonds, and olives.
A few local farms do grow wheat, however, including Massa Organics and Eatwell Farm. So I went to Michel Suas, president and founder of the San Francisco Baking Institute (SFBI) and an internationally recognized artisan bread expert, to learn the secret to making an all-locavore bread.
Michel explains that hard red winter wheat varieties, like the Expresso variety Greg Massa grows, are ideal for artisan bread baking for several reasons. Winter wheat grows more slowly than spring wheat does, so the kernels have lower moisture content and a more concentrated, nuttier flavor. Bread flour milled from winter wheat will also withstand longer fermentation times, so the dough requires less mixing. The result is more flavorful bread with an open crumb and crispy crust, hallmarks of good quality artisan bread.
Unlike in his native France, Michel has observed that there is little to no communication between farmers, millers and bakers in the United States. Large-scale commodity wheat farmers are limited to industrial flour mills run by agribusiness conglomerates. These large mills produce flour with 13-14% protein content for processing typical supermarket sliced breads, whereas the best flours for artisan bread ideally contains 10.5-11% protein content.
SFBI was generous enough to share their recipe for sprouted grain bread, which can be made with locally grown wheat berries and whole wheat flour, like the kind available from Massa Organics and Eatwell Farm.
Sprouted grains offer increased vitamin content and digestibility. I’ve adapted the recipe for a typical countertop mixer, but you can find the original recipe here (they used spelt).
Yield: two loaves.
Levain (make the night before)
Whole wheat bread flour
In a small bowl, add water to the starter and mix, breaking up the starter. Add flour and mix in small circles, incorporating more and more flour as you mix until a ball forms.
Cover and let ferment 12 hours at room temperature (65-70 F). You won’t need the entire amount.
Sprouted Grain Bread
Sprouted wheat berries or spelt
Water, 120-130 F
Instant dry yeast
Honey, molasses or raisin juice
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook, add the water and yeast and mix briefly. Add the remaining ingredients and mix at low speed (about 100 rotations per minute) for 5 minutes until the ingredients are well-incorporated. Stop to scrape down the bowl as needed. Increase to medium speed (200 rotations per minute) and mix 2 to 3 minutes. until the dough reaches medium consistency, forms a ball, and the gluten has developed.
Place the dough in an oiled bin or bowl and give it a business-letter fold. Cover and leave in a warm place.
After 45 minutes, give the dough a business-letter fold. Rotate the dough 90 degrees and give another business-letter fold. Let the dough rest seam-side down.
After another 45 minutes, repeat the previous fold.
After 30 more minutes (a total of 2 hours of fermentation), divide the dough into two equal portions. To shape the dough, take one half and place on a floured surface. Pat gently with a flat hand into a rectangle. Give the dough a business-letter fold. Rotate 90 degrees, and give another business-letter fold. Rotate 90 degrees, and roll into a cylinder approximately 8 inches long. Place dough lengthwise, seam-side down, into an oiled 4 x 8 inch loaf pan.
Repeat shaping with second half of the dough.
Cover both pans and leave in a warm place for 1 hour.
Meanwhile, preheat oven to 425 F with a baking stone and steam set-up
After 1 hour, check the dough. With your finger, press the dough to make an indentation. If it springs back slightly but not completely, the dough is ready to bake. If the mark springs back very quickly, the dough is not ready. Allow 15 to 30 more minutes and check again. (If your finger leaves a deep mark that does not bounce back, the bread is overproofed.)
When dough is ready, using a sharp knife or razor, score the dough lengthwise down the center. Then place both loaf pans in the preheated oven, on top of the baking stone. Add steam, and shut the door immediately. Bake 40 to 45 minutes.
Take the pans out of the oven and carefully unmold the bread. Cool completely on racks.
The sprouted grain bread will keep on the counter for 3 days. Try serving with a warm stew, or use for hearty sandwiches. For longer storage, double wrap and keep in the freezer, pre-sliced if you wish.
San Francisco Baking Institute is a world-renowned leader in artisan bread and pastry education. They offer classes for professional and home bakers, including weekend workshops, 5-day courses, and an 18-week professional training program.
Daisy Chow is a graduate of the Culinary Arts program at City College of San Francisco and an editorial assistant at tablehopper.com.