Whole Grain Breads

By Cynthia Liu Whole Grain Breads

.Peter Reinhart is a baking instructor and faculty member at Johnson & Wales University in North Carolina. He founded the award-winning Brother Juniper’s Bakery in Santa Rosa and has authored seven books.

In 1995, Reinhart won the James Beard Foundation’s National Bread Competition with his wild yeast country boule, a round sourdough bread. His prize was a trip to Paris to study with legendary bakers. The baker who ultimately influenced Reinhart the most was Philippe Gosselin, who taught Reinhart the delayed fermentation method that earned Gosselin the award for best baguette in Paris. The information Reinhart learned in Paris became the foundation for the James Beard and IACP award-winning Bread Baker’s Apprentice.

His latest book is Peter Reinhart’s Whole Grain Breads: New Techniques, Extraordinary Flavor. With the help of 350 home bakers as testers, Reinhart has devised ways of baking with whole grains that taste good and are not the dense doorstops from the heyday of the hippies.

What inspired you to write about whole grains?

“I was excited about writing this because it took me back to my bread baking roots; I’ve come full circle. Whole grains is where I started over 35 years ago. Just out of college, I got involved in a hippie restaurant—a Boston restaurant collective called Root One Cafe that was one of the first organic vegetarian restaurants on the East Coast.”

Peter at workIn his mid-twenties, Reinhart left the hippie world and became a member of the Holy Order of MANS. He became a cook at the seminary and eventually started Brother Juniper’s Bakery. “We were looking for ways to create a cottage industry built around food and hospitality that could support our community.” The wholesome bakery’s centerpiece was the struan, a rustic multigrain bread filled with grains such as brown rice, oats and polenta. “A couple of years ago, when low-carb became all the rage, I kept saying to people that after 6,000 years of eating bread, bread is not going to go away. But when it comes back, it will make sense for people to be looking for them in the form of whole grains and we, the bakers, need to be ready to deliver whole grain breads that taste good.

The single most important nutritional discovery in the American diet in recent times has been that we’re really deficient in fiber. The fiber in the whole grains could make a huge difference in general health. Yet no matter what food or diet fad is in vogue, flavor always wins. So I’m using traditional techniques in new ways to try to make whole grain breads more appealing to the growing population of people who desire whole grains—so that people prefer to eat whole grain breads, rather than eating it out of obligation.”

How do you bake with whole grains?

“The baker’s mission is to evoke the full potential of flavor trapped in the grain. After a lot of trial and error, I came up with a new technique– combining two pre-doughs, a pre-ferment (biga or sourdough yeasted starter) and a soaker (grain that has been soaked overnight, but not fermented—in order to precondition it, activate the enzymes and bring out the maximum flavor).

Whole grain flour does not perform the same as white flour because it’s loaded with bran and a lot of additional enzymes. For instance, whole wheat flour requires a substantial amount of additional water than white flour, so you can’t just substitute whole wheat for white flour without changing the recipe. It also responds to the yeast in a different way. If you don’t factor these things into the equation, you end up with either a dense, gummy bread or a dry, boring bread.”

Highlights of recipes in Whole Grain Breads?

Reinhart current favorite recipe is the spent grain bread, which he will teach in class at Draeger’s in March. He made it for Alice Waters in September. “It is made using these two pre-doughs plus the addition of grain leftover from the beer-making process– after all, beer is liquid bread.

Some of the old world rye breads such as vollkornbrot and Bavarian pumpernickel are made from 100 percent rye. They are dense with a very complex flavor profile. These breads are coming back into popularity as an alternative to the lighter French-style breads because the flavor is amazing and addictive.

The cracker recipes were designed with kids in mind as an alternative to junk snack foods. For instance, the four-seed crackers, which will be taught at Draeger’s, make excellent additions to lunch boxes and are great with peanut butter or cheese.

What it’s really all about for me is to fulfill the baker’s mission, which is not only practical, but very much part of my spiritual and holistic outlook on life.”

Peter Reinhart will be teaching Whole Grain Breads in San Mateo and Blackhawk on March 4 and 6.

Thin Wheat Crackers
Makes 18 to 24 crackers

  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons milk, buttermilk, yogurt, soymilk or rice milk
  • 1 tablespoons honey or agave nectar
  • 4 tablespoons vegetable oil

Mix the flour, salt, milk, honey and oil until it comes together to form a ball of dough. Add extra flour or milk as needed to make a firm but tacky dough. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead for 3 minutes, adjusting the flour or liquid as needed; the dough should feel like modeling clay and have a satiny surface.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Cover the dough with a cloth towel or plastic wrap and let rest for 20 minutes. Mist your work surface with oil, then roll out the dough into a rectangle about 1/8 inch thick. Brush the top of the dough with salt water wash (1 tablespoon of kosher salt dissolved in cup of water). Cut into whatever sizes and shapes you desire and bake for 10 minutes, then rotate the pan 180 degrees and bake 10 minutes longer, until the crackers are rich brown on both sides.

© Peter Reinhart’s Whole Grain Breads 2007