Wednesday, March 25, 2009

To Soak Or Not To Soak

After nearly seventeen years of baking whole wheat bread I've recently learned about the health benefits of soaking the freshly ground flour before baking in order to produce a lighter more digestible loaf.

I had read several articles on the subject, but to be quite honest I didn't want to change a system that had worked for many years. Bread making had become automatic for me and more recently for my girls who have taken over 90% of all the baking. Gee, now I have to do something else to make my homemade healthy bread more healthy!
Oh well, I might as well give it a try. If you are interested Sue Gregg has some really good information on the subject of soaking flour and also has some tips for adapting her recipes.

I'm generally pleased with the quality and taste of the bread using this new method, but its going to take a little time to perfect the system. In a nutshell you soak freshly ground flour in water and some acidic agent (lemon juice, vinegar, yogurt etc.) for 12 hours. This mixture becomes the base for your bread. From this point I make bread as I normally do by adding the rest of the ingredients (you do have to add some non soaked flour), kneading the dough, rising, and baking.

The first loaves were a little bit doughy and the rise time took much longer because the dough was at room temperature. The next time I added less water and the same amount of flour. This time when I got ready to make bread I heated the remaining water (really hot) and added that in with the rest of the ingredients. The rise was much better. I also added more flour while the dough was kneading.

Several months later-

.... here I am months later and we love our soaked bread. I think we have made every boo boo in the book, but now our system is working smoothly.

Here's our old recipe: (we mix and knead our bread in the Bosch mixer)

6 cups very warm water
2 cups oats
2/3 cup olive oil
2/3 cup honey
2 T salt
4 T yeast
12-14 cups flour or until the dough cleans the bowl

Mix, knead, rise and bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes

This recipe made really great bread, but we much more pleased with the soaking method.

Here's the soaked recipe:

The night before we make bread- mix together 4 cups hot water, 1/4 cup yogurt, and 8-10 cups whole wheat flour. Cover and leave out on the counter until the next day.

The next day- add to yesterday's dough 2 2/3 cups very hot water, 1 cup honey and mix until the bowl of dough loosens up. Pour this mixture into the Bosch and add 2 T salt and 1/4 cup yeast. Add freshly ground flour until the dough pulls away from the bowl. Knead for 5 minutes, let rise, and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

Some of our many mistakes:
Challange- the dough after sitting out for 12 hours wasn't warm enough to get a good quick rise- Solution- use slightly hotter water than usual for the remaining water; use freshly ground flour (it's warm) and let the bread rise in a warmer oven.

Challenge- the soaking dough becomes a hard clumpy mass
Solution- add the hot water to the bowl and let it soften the mass; stir and break up the dough with a mixing spoon until it becomes stirable then pour it into the Bosch

Challenge- help the mixer is slinging wet dough all over my kitchen
Solution- soak your dough in a glass bowl and add the water, honey etc. to the bowl to soften the dough before you pour it in the mixer and turn it on. If you try to soften the dough with the dough hook on it will slosh down the outside of the bowl all over the counter making a terrible mess- (can you tell I'm experienced :))

Challenge- I'm exhausted- you mean I have to do one more thing before I go to bed.
Solution- make it part of your dinner preparation routine. Don't wait until you get ready for bed do it during the day or as part of your dinner preparation- you just won't finish it until the next day.

Challenge- Oh no I forgot about my soaking dough and it's been over 24 hours.
Solution- go ahead and make bread with it anyway. We have let ours soak for as long as 48 hours and it is even better. It has a wonderful sour dough flavor.

Good luck- let me know how yours turns out.


Anonymous said...

I was just introduced to your blog via Generation Cedar, and am so glad I was! You have some wonderful ideas!

I've heard of soaking wheat (we've been grinding our wheat for several years, and baking homemade bread even longer), but have never tried it. I'm hoping to give your recipe a try this weekend, but wondered- how many loaves does it make? It is just my parents, sister and I, and we don't eat large quantities of bread, so I don't want to make a huge batch only to waste it on us! :-)


Persuaded said...

wow.. i love the detail in this article! i am hoping to get a grain mill sometime (soon!), and when i do, i'd love to try this method out. thanks so much for sharing☺

Jane said...


Thanks for your interest. This recipe makes 4 regular size loaves and sometimes there is enough left over for a mini loaf. We weigh the dough out and put 2#'s worth in each pan. Sometimes I left with 12 ounces or so and I make a mini loaf. If you don't need that many loaves one solution might be for you to freeze the dough-I'll post on that soon. Blessings,Jane

Anonymous said...

Hi, Jane. I tried to leave a comment a couple days ago, but I don't see it here so I thought I would try again. I love this post. I am so interested in hearing your experience in transitioning to the soaking method for baking bread. I appreciate the details you have given of the process. I am looking forward to trying your recipe. Could you estimate the total amount (in cups) of flour you use for this recipe? Also, I have been "proofing" my yeast first. Is there any benefit in that? (I have tried for quite a while to bake bread using freshly ground flour, my Bosch, and the soak method. I just can't seem to get consistently good results.) I have experienced the same issues with rise time that you mentioned, and that is why I look forward to using your recommendations. Also, do you omit the oats in your new recipe?


Jane said...


We use approximately 6-8 additional cups of flour after the soaking. I don't measure this so I'm just guessing, but that seems about right. Also, we do not proof our yeaat. I tried that a few times and had no noticeable difference for the work required. Yes, we do omit the oats from our recipe now. I read that oats really need to be soaked at least 24 hours so we decided not to incorporate them into our new recipe. If you are struggling with the rise time I would strongly suggest you use freshly ground flour on the day you make your bread and we have risen our bread in a 170 degree oven- or at least get it hotter initially and then turn it off. Hope this helps. Let me know how yours turns out. Blessings, Jane