An Exclusive Chat with Peter Reinhart
Peter Reinhart is one of our nation’s most valuable bread bakers. He deserves that exalted status because not only does he make kick-ass bread, but he wants to help as many people as possible achieve fabulous results at home. Peter is an amazing teacher, in person and in print, and his new book Bread Revolutioncovers some truly innovative ideas and techniques. Want to trap wild yeasts for your next bread project with coffee beans or a peach? Think sprouted grains can only be used as a wet pulp? Read on.
Dédé Wilson: Peter, thank you so much for speaking with me. I really like this new book! You have covered pizza, artisanal bread baking for the home cook and even GF and sugar free baking. Why this book now
Peter Reinhart: I think a number of books ago I thought maybe almost everything had been written (laughs)…you would think you would know what’s left…but here a whole new frontier opened up and got me back in the game – I like talking about new frontiers. Even when I talk about pizza, it is about “this is what is next”, like the artisanal movement…I like being the first one to report…after my whole grains book I got into GF and new ways to approach GF using nut flours. Around that time I was finding out more about sprouted grain flour…it struck me as intuitively correct…it made so much sense, but first I had to prove that it worked…
You are referencing the actual grinding of sprouted grains into flour as opposed to using a wet pulp (Ed. Note: both of which are addressed in the book)
Correct. Ezekiel bread has been around for 60 years or so. Using sprouted grains (as wet pulp) – this was new back then – but no one has been using sprouted grain flour because it was assumed it wouldn’t work…that the process of turning it into flour would affect it to the point where it wouldn’t work unless you also added wheat gluten…plus this approach is expensive. Turns out, surprisingly, that it does work and we think it works because the quality of the gluten – especially in organic grains is so high…
How about nutrition? I had done some research on adding sprouted seeds to a granola, where they would be baked along with the mixture, and wanted to know how the heat affected the nutrition. I wasn’t able to find out that much conclusively. What is the newest research?
It is still a gray area. When you sprout any seed or grain the nutritional values dramatically improve in raw form. The raw food movement capitalizes on this…when raw we can sort of predict what the nutritional viability is, but I am always dubious of raw versus cooked. Is it really oven stable? Probably not. We can’t base a nutritional promise on what it looks like raw…the only thing you can count on is maybe the digestibility factor…the prebiotic efficacy…its ability to serve as a good fiber based food for gut health…in fact I think the next phase in food will be gut health…we are finding so many food sensitivities connected to gut health…prebiotics…foods that we eat that become healthy, supportive food for our internal chemistry. Eating sprouted grains is easier on the gut…the chemistry is more available to us, but to what extent, we don’t know.
This makes me think of a conversation I had with Rose Levy Beranbaum about GMO versus non-GMO cornstarch. She found a difference in baking – génoise in particular. Have you experienced a difference in usage of GMO versus non-GMO products?
No, I haven’t but that is fascinating and I am not surprised. There are many genetic hybrids of wheat but none of that falls under the category of GMO…not technically…corn is a huge GMO crop of course…on the other hand, I used to think there wasn’t going to be huge difference between organic and non-organic wheat. It used to be more philosophical for me (the choice of organic) but now I think, hey, it’s better for the earth and better for us and we get better results. Non-organic wheat is handled very differently along the processing route. One of the things I am most concerned with now is the use of glyphosate. It is sprayed on wheat towards the end – it’s a key ingredient in Roundup (the popular commercial herbicide and weed killer)! When it is sprayed on wheat during harvest the seed pods open up and the harvest yield is greater…the glyphosate releases the wheat…then the wheat is ground into flour…the science isn’t definitive enough yet…I have a hunch that products like this are also contributing to the bee hive collapse syndrome…but there is healthy bacteria in the gut and it must be fed properly…there could very well be a correlation between food sensitivities and how wheat is being handled.
I have a wheat sensitivity and years ago when I was in France, for the two-week duration of my trip; I was fine even though I was eating baguettes daily! Someone pointed out to me that maybe it wasn’t the wheat per se, but how the wheat was handled and processed – exactly what you are saying.
Pieces of a puzzle are falling into place…and there are other factors like the opinions of Craig Ponsford of Ponsford’s Place and Joe Vanderliet of Certified Foods (both in CA). They believe that whole-milled flour is the way to go. Some wheat is “fractionated” where they separate the bran and the germ and the parts are processed separately…even after being recombined Craig believes this is as bad as white flour. This is arguable, however, as Joe puts it, “once the kernel is broken, it can’t be put back together”. And the results we get from the whole-milled wheat is so exceptional…and just eating whole grain itself is a step in itself; it will improve gut health…and anything that can make whole grain products better will be the future…but it all comes down to flavor and the sprouted ones taste better – sweeter, less bitter and easier to digest. It is a progression of logic.
A few weeks ago I was at the WheatStalk conference in Chicago – “Camp Bread”. About 250 of us gather to talk bread. I did a presentation on pizza and included the sprouted wheat dough…I was the only one doing anything with sprouted flour. I offered to bring the flour that I needed with me but the organizers said that one of the sponsors would provide it. I figured it would be King Arthur. Turns out it was from Bay State Milling.
Peter, help us understand the significance of this…
Bay State is a huge corporation. I hadn’t been aware that they were addressing sprouted flour. This is significant because it means it will be going more mainstream. Bay State is trying to stay in front of whole grain trends…seeing it before General Mills and other large millers. They see the opportunity in sprouted flour but nowhere did it say it was organic, which I found curious. I spoke to the salesman and asked him about the lack or organic designation and he said that there wasn’t enough organic wheat to go around. They sourced as high a quality wheat as they could, with a high quality protein but this is important. Now we need enough farmers to make organic wheat! It scares me to think wheat might go into the GMO path…(Ed Note: according to the Bay State Milling website, they now offer an organic sprouted wheat flour under their OrganicEssentials line).
Let’s talk about something fun. The part of the book that really grabbed my attention was the last section where you talk about gathering wild yeasts using different “traps”. You talk about sampling three breads: one made with yeast captured with a peach, another through Parmesan cheese and the third from coffee beans. Do the breads from the different traps taste different in the end in a way that you can trace back to what the trap was originally? Like does the ‘peach” bread taste fruity?
It’s subtle…but there is a reason why I call this chapter The Next Frontier. I am not sure you would think about it (the flavor) if you didn’t know, but I was looking for distinct flavors. You don’t taste the coffee bean, or the cheese but Mike’s point was to create layers and waves of flavor. (Ed Note: the person he is referring to is Mike Pappas, a friend local to Peter who, as Peter says, “has some radical ideas about natural wild yeast starters”). Also, Mike’s position is that instead of keeping a starter going from batch to batch he uses it once. If he kept it going the flavors would migrate…organisms would change and change the flavor. Prior to being a baker he had chef training…he has a trained palate…each bread was very good. Once thing that was distinct and common to all three is that the final breads were very clean…there was a cleanness, which I think he was going for. The starters are young; they hadn’t developed a lot of multi-bacteria nuances… if using a beer analogy, you can have breads that are strong and hoppy versus ones that are young, like a wheat beer made for the summer. It’s fresh, not as much complexity but they have a bright flavor…not a lot of sour or acidity…more mellow. When Mike started developing his ideas and theories he began to look for nuances. He wanted to enhance the final flavor…this is so new…Mike doesn’t do this for a living…he is just doing this on own time…he is trying to raise money to open a new bakery…
Were any of the traps more successful than the others?
He uses fruit juice which is a good idea because it provides sugars that promote bacterial growth quickly…the starter can get established quickly…and you can use freshly made juices, if you want…other fruits work, it doesn’t have to be a peach. They just sit there on edge of the bowl…they aren’t in the starter. They’re like magnets; it’s pretty cool. The cynical part of me is saying, “does this work”? But the breads are great; the proof is in the tasting. And I believe in the essence of things…like homeopathy… sometimes there are things so new, it is hard to get my mind around it.
Talk to me about the ProBiotein. Is it a supplement? A flavor enhancer?
It is confusing. They should have called it “pre” not “pro”. It is sold as a prebiotic to shore up your gut…like fertilizer for your gut. Then the bacteria that are present can feed on something healthy – just like yogurt or digestive enzyme pills. The guy who contacted me about this was talking about beer being like liquid bread and vice versa. The product was initially made as animal feed. He put it in bread – a very little amount. It is a fiber and in larger quantities would act as a fiber – but if you want it for that purpose you are better off sprinkling it over cereal or adding to a smoothie. There is so little added to a bread recipe that the fiber content barely gets boosted, but what was interesting was how it affected flavor. It made it act and taste like a sourdough starter. There are viable microorganisms in it and gave my breads a tang. Larger production bakeries will use a sourdough powder, but this is a natural product. At home I mainly use it as supplement in a breakfast smoothie for the prebiotic effect.
Would you take a moment to talk to me about alternative sweeteners? I know you addressed this in a previous book but it is of keen interest for our community.
Since book came out I have developed a new go-to (sweetener) replacer. For every 1 cup sugar called for in a recipe I use 1 teaspoon liquid stevia mixed with 1/4 cup almond flour. You can also just add the stevia to wet ingredients and the almond flour to the dry; you don’t have to mix them together. You need the almond flour to replace the bulk aspect of sugar. When you “look” at granular stevia what you’re most likely “seeing” is maltodextrin; it’s there for the bulk…I have also been interested in information surrounding chicory root. Inulin can be sourced from chicory…the raw root version of it. To be honest I think it is what is in Suzanne Somers “SomerSweet” (sugar replacement product). It’s a polydextrose and has no aftertaste. You can use it cup for cup in baking. I also really like OmniBalance (which is a blend of chicory root and stevia). It’s a powder 4 times as concentrated as sugar. So where you would use 1 cup Splenda or Stevia in the Raw you would use ¼ cup OmniBalance. It’s the most “invisible (in terms of taste) sweetener I have found. But it’s hard to find. I get it through my naturopath. Some of these items are costly to buy, but you have to look at the use ratio. They might end up being very similar.
Peter! So much for us to think about – and the book really is just as fascinating in even more depth. We will be highlighting the Whole-Milled Whole Wheat Ciabatta and the Sprouted Whole Wheat Bread. We wish you much luck with the book.
Thank you, Dédé. Anytime.