When we decided to eliminate white flour from our diet years ago, a good French baguette was the one thing I missed most. Bread with soup, bruschetta, crostinis with baked brie, homemade croutons, and garlic bread were all off the menu until I could find or make a better alternative. Converting from white to whole wheat was not enough; there was the issue of the phytic acid in untreated grains that I also wanted to avoid. Soaking the wheat flour breaks down the phytic acid, which can act as an anti-nutrient if untreated.
Phytic acid in grain combines with key minerals, especially calcium, magnesium, copper, iron, and zinc preventing their absorption. Soaking or sprouting the grain before baking neutralizes this acid, releasing the full benefit of the grain. This simple step also aids digestion, avoiding that too-full feeling often experienced after eating bread products. Although it was easy enough to find sprouted sandwich bread at the health food store, a sprouted wheat baguette was nonexistent.
At first, I was intimidated by the idea of soaking flour (8-10 hours) or sprouting grain to make a loaf of bread. It was easier to just avoid bread at dinnertime all together, but as I said, I missed it. With a little research and determination, I converted a French bread recipe to include the soaking method with great success, yielding a wonderful loaf with the classic pull and chew I always loved about French bread.
The only down side was my own spontaneity when cooking, I don’t always know a day in advance what I’m going to prepare. My mom, who is rich in colloquialisms, calls it “getting a wild hair”. So, when I found sprouted wheat flour that I could purchase at Whole Foods or on-line, ready for recipes without further soaking, I was pretty excited. My bread basket can now be filled any day of the week.
This recipe requires a little time to let the dough rest, but the work is minimal and the loaves are beautiful and delicious. I often bake and freeze several at a time, so it is easy to enjoy healthy, whole grain bread any time the mood strikes. Fresh baked bread warms the house and draws everyone to the kitchen with hope it is ready for tasting—just be sure there is extra-virgin olive oil nearby for dipping.
- 4-5 cups sprouted wheat flour
- 2 cups warm water -- 110°
- 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 2 teaspoons sea salt
- 1 egg white -- for egg wash
- In a large bowl or stand mixer, combine water, yeast, and honey. Allow to stand 5 minutes for yeast to soften. Mix in the salt and half the flour (about 2½ cups) until smooth. Cover with a towel and set aside at room temperature for 3 hours.
- Mix in the remaining flour, up to a total of 5 cups, until dough is smooth. If using a stand mixer, mix with the dough hook for 5-8 minutes. Otherwise, turn dough out on a floured surface and knead by hand for 5-8 minutes. (Dough will be more sticky and less firm than dough made with white flour).
- Lightly oil a bowl with olive oil. Place dough in bowl, then turn over so oiled surface faces up. Cover with plastic wrap and a dish towel and let rise for 1-1½ hours, or until double in size.
- Preheat oven to 450°. Place dough on a lightly floured surface and gently knead again. Divide dough into two parts. Roll each half between your hands and the counter to stretch the dough into a long loaf shape, about 15" in length. Place on a baking sheet or in a baguette pan (see photo). Slice the tops of the loaves diagonally about ¼" deep with a razor blade or sharp knife. Let rise for at least 20-30 minutes.
- Place a shallow pan of hot water (about 1½ cups) on the lowest bottom rack in the preheated oven.
- Bake baguettes on the middle rack for 12-14 minutes, watch to be sure the loaves do not become too browned--tent with foil if browning too fast. While the loaves are baking, prepare the egg wash by gently mixing 1 egg white and 1 tablespoon of cold water.
- Remove the pan of water and brush the loaves with the egg wash. Return loaves to the oven and bake for 3-5 more minutes or until loaves are golden brown.
- Cool completely before slicing. Serve with butter or olive oil or dipping.