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How to Make Rustic Wheat Berry Bread

Why this recipe works We love the flavor and texture that whole-wheat flour gives bread. Some artisan bakers take this concept further, making breads with flour that they grind from whole wheat berries. You might think a bread made with homemade flour sounds a bit unnecessary, and we sure did—until we tried it. While whole-wheat flour has a tinge of bitterness, freshly ground wheat berries give bread a robust flavor with superlatively toasty, sweet notes. To start our own recipe for a rustic loaf made from wheat berries, we needed to figure out the best way to pulverize them. We thought the blender would work, but we had to grind the berries in batches to achieve an even texture. We were also concerned that the generous amount of homemade whole-wheat flour in our recipe (45 percent of the total flour weight) might compromise the structure. So we decided on a two-part solution: First, we soaked our wheat berries in water (for 12 to 24 hours) to soften the bran; the mixture then transformed quickly into a paste in the food processor. Second, we combined our mash with bread flour and a sponge, both of which contributed to a strong gluten network. You can find whole wheat berries in the natural- or bulk-foods section of the grocery store. You can substitute a round banneton, or proofing basket, for the towel-lined colander.

  • makes 1 loaf
  • resting time 12 hours 20 minutes
  • rising time 3 to 4 hours
  • baking time 35 minutes
  • total time 17 to 18 hours, plus 3 hours cooling time
  • key equipment food processor, water-filled spray bottle, large linen towel, 5-quart colander, baking stone, 2 (9-inch) disposable aluminum pie plates, 2 quarts lava rocks, pizza peel, lame, instant-read thermometer

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soaker

  • 1¼ cups (8 ounces) wheat berries
  • 1 cup (8 ounces) water, room temperature

sponge

  • ¾ cup (4⅛ ounces) bread flour
  • ½ cup (4 ounces) water, room temperature
  • ¼ teaspoon instant or rapid-rise yeast

dough

  • ¼ cup (2 ounces) water, room temperature
  • 1 cup (5½ ounces) bread flour
  • 2½ teaspoons instant or rapid-rise yeast
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1¼ teaspoons salt

1). For the soaker Combine wheat berries and water in bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and let sit at room temperature until grains are fully hydrated and softened, at least 12 hours or up to 24 hours.

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2). For the sponge Stir all ingredients in 4-cup liquid measuring cup with wooden spoon until well combined. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature until sponge has risen and begins to collapse, about 6 hours (sponge can sit at room temperature for up to 24 hours).

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3). For the dough Process soaked wheat berries, remaining soaking liquid, and water in food processor until grains are finely ground, about 4 minutes, scraping down sides of bowl as needed.

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4). Whisk flour and yeast together in bowl of stand mixer. Stir wheat berry mixture and honey into sponge with wooden spoon until well combined. Using dough hook on low speed, slowly add sponge mixture to flour mixture and mix until cohesive dough starts to form and no dry flour remains, about 2 minutes, scraping down bowl as needed. Cover bowl tightly with plastic and let dough rest for 20 minutes.

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5). Add oil and salt to dough and knead on medium-low speed until dough is smooth and elastic and clears sides of bowl but sticks to bottom, about 5 minutes. Transfer dough to lightly greased large bowl or container, cover tightly with plastic, and let rise for 30 minutes.

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6). Using greased bowl scraper (or your fingertips), fold dough over itself by gently lifting and folding edge of dough toward middle. Turn bowl 45 degrees and fold dough again; repeat turning bowl and folding dough 6 more times (total of 8 folds). Cover tightly with plastic and let rise for 30 minutes. Repeat folding and rising. Fold dough again, then cover bowl tightly with plastic and let dough rise until nearly doubled in size, 1 to 1½ hours.

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7). Mist underside of large linen or cotton tea towel with water. Line 5-quart colander with towel and dust evenly with flour. Transfer dough to lightly floured counter (side of dough that was against bowl should now be against counter). Press and stretch dough into 10-inch round, deflating any gas pockets larger than 1 inch.

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8). Working around circumference of dough, fold edges toward center until ball forms. Flip dough ball seam side down and, using your cupped hands, drag in small circles on counter until dough feels taut and round and all seams are secured on underside of loaf.

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9). Place loaf seam side up in prepared colander and pinch any remaining seams closed. Loosely fold edges of towel over loaf to enclose, then place colander in large plastic garbage bag. Tie, or fold under, open end of bag to fully enclose. Let rise until loaf increases in size by about half and dough springs back minimally when poked gently with your knuckle, 30 minutes to 1 hour (remove loaf from bag to test).

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10). One hour before baking, adjust oven racks to lower-middle and lowest positions. Place baking stone on upper rack, place 2 disposable aluminum pie plates filled with 1 quart lava rocks each on lower rack, and heat oven to 450 degrees. Bring 1 cup water to boil. Remove colander from plastic bag, unfold edges of towel, and dust top of loaf with flour. (If any seams have reopened, pinch closed before dusting with flour.) Lay 16 by 12-inch sheet of parchment paper on top of loaf. Using 1 hand to support parchment and loaf, invert loaf onto parchment and place on counter. Gently remove colander and towel. Transfer parchment with loaf to pizza peel.

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11). Carefully pour ½ cup boiling water into 1 disposable pie plate of preheated rocks and close oven door for 1 minute to create steam. Meanwhile, holding lame concave side up at 30-degree angle to loaf, make two 7-inch-long, ½-inch-deep slashes with swift, fluid motion along top of loaf to form cross.

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12). Working quickly, slide parchment with loaf onto baking stone and pour remaining ½ cup boiling water into second disposable pie plate of preheated rocks. Bake until crust is dark brown and loaf registers 205 to 210 degrees, 35 to 40 minutes, rotating loaf halfway through baking. Transfer loaf to wire rack, discard parchment, and let cool completely, about 3 hours, before serving.

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problem The wheat berries don’t completely break down.

solution Soak the berries for at least 12 hours.

Hard wheat berries need to be fully hydrated before you can grind them to a mash in the food processor. To ensure fine results, don’t undercut the 12-hour soaking period. This wait also has other bonuses. Soaking the whole grain softens its bran, giving your bread good structure for a nice texture. It also unlocks flavorful sugars in the grain.

problem Whole wheat berries are unavailable.

solution Substitute whole-wheat flour.

Grinding your own wheat berries for this bread will give the loaf superlative flavor. But to make this rustic whole-wheat bread without the berries, simply substitute an equal weight amount of store-bought whole-wheat flour for the wheat berries. Soak the flour in the water for the 12 hours specified for the wheat berries, skip processing, and stir the mixture into the sponge as directed in step 4. The soaker will be slightly thicker than if it had been made with wheat berries, but it will still incorporate easily into the sponge.

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