Walk into my kitchen at any given moment and you will see mixing bowls covered with plates with bits of moistened flour in them. And I wonder why I have trouble keeping my kitchen counters cleared off?
They may look like science experiments, but those bowls actually contain the beginnings of delicious soaked whole grain baked goods.
Like many “real foodies” out there, instead of buying my bread and crackers and granola from the store, I do my best to make them myself. And if I’m going to go through the effort of making them myself, I want them to be as healthy as possible. So I soak.
Soaking grains is the process of combining whole grains with liquid and usually something acidic, and leaving them for several hours at room temperature. In doing so, you sort of pre-digest the grains. You release substances that bind to minerals and prevent you from absorbing them, and you neutralize other substances that inhibit digestion.
If you’re wondering what all the fuss is, consider this: while the U.S. government keeps telling us to “eat more whole grains,” whole grains are actually quite hard to digest. Some people solve the problem by going grain-free, but that’s certainly not for everyone. If you seem to digest grains well, especially when carefully prepared through soaking, sprouting, or souring, there is no reason to cut them out completely.
What kinds of things can you soak?
I’ve successfully made soaked yeast bread, crackers, muffins, banana bread, granola, graham crackers, and more. Soaking does not work as well for recipes that don’t contain much liquid or in which you need to cut the butter into the flour, like pie crust, scones, or cookies. Sprouted flour is a better option for those.
How to Soak Flour
If you want to soak a grain in it’s whole form, let me direct you to How to Soak Rice and The Scoop on Oatmeal. But if you are trying to turn your favorite whole grain baked good into a soaked recipe, stick around for a minute.
You need a few things to soak whole grain flour:
1. The whole grain flour in the recipe.
2. Enough liquid to moisten the flour.
3. An acidic medium (optional).
Making the Most of Your Soak
There are a lot of ways to soak, but there are a few things you can do to maximize its benefits. Here are my tips:
1. Use freshly ground flour, if possible. Not only will it be full of nutrients and not rancid, but your baked goods will be fluffier and lighter, too!
2. How much liquid to use? Soaking works best when the recipe calls for enough liquid to moisten the flour, so you don’t have to add anything extra that could mess up the recipe. You can also include liquid fats and sweeteners, which is necessary in recipes that don’t call for very much liquid.
3. For the acidic medium, you have several options. Plain filtered water has been shown to be effective as long as you soak in a warm place. You can also add a splash of apple cider vinegar or lemon juice. Soaking with cultured dairy (such as buttermilk, clabbered milk, kefir, or whey) is also beneficial and traditional, but research has shown that it doesn’t do the best job with phytic acid. Sally Fallon says it does a lot of other things well, so I still sometimes soak with dairy, especially if I’m making pancakes or if I have a lot of soured raw milk on hand.
4. For optimum digestion, soak for 24 hours. Any longer and you risk growing mold. Soaking is beneficial at as few as 7 hours, so it is possible to start something in the morning and bake it later that day!
5. To keep things warm, put it in the oven with the light on, or next to a hot crock pot. In the summer in a warm house, it’s probably fine just on the counter.
And now for the recipe!
I’ve made a lot of soaked yeast bread, but this is currently my favorite. It was inspired by this recipe for homemade hamburger buns at My Humble Kitchen. The eggs in the recipe help to soften the dough, and this combination of freshly ground grains works really well! Feel free to experiment with the flours; I’ve also used hard white whole wheat in place of the spelt. This dough is the most beautiful, easy-to-work-with yeast dough I’ve ever met!
- 1 1/2 c. whole wheat pastry flour
- 2 c. whole spelt flour
- 2 c. hard red whole wheat flour
- 2 c. water with a splash of ACV or lemon juice
- 1/4 c. butter, melted
- 1/4 c. honey
- 2 eggs
- 2 t. salt
- 1 T. instant yeast
- 1 c. unbleached white flour + more as needed (optional: can replace with more of one of the whole grain flours added to the soaking step)
- The day before you want to bake the bread, combine all the whole grain flours and the water in the bowl of a stand mixer. Cover and leave to soak 7-24 hours.
- After the soaking time, add the butter, honey, eggs, salt, yeast, and white flour. Mix with the paddle attachment of your mixer.
- Once mixed, switch to the dough hook and knead in the mixer for 10 minutes. (You can also knead by hand.) Add more white flour if needed, a tablespoon at a time, to help the dough come together. It will be a somewhat sticky dough, but should not be sticking to the sides of the bowl.
- Oil the bowl, turn the bread to coat it, and cover with a plate. Allow to rise for about an hour, until doubled in bulk.
- Butter two loaf pans. Gently press the air out of the dough and divide in half. Shape the loaves and place in the pans.
- Cover with a clean towel or cloth napkin and allow to rise for one hour. Toward the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 350.
- Bake in a preheated oven for 30-35 minutes, or until an instant read thermometer inserted into the middle reads about 180. You may need to loosely tent with foil after 20 minutes to prevent over-browning.
- Allow the bread to cool in the pans for 5 minutes. Remove carefully from the pans and allow to cool on racks (if you can stand it!) before slicing.
- Enjoy within a few days, or freeze for later use.
Do you make soaked baked goods? What have you had the most success with?