His career — now chronicled over the course of nine cookbooks — shows him repeatedly asking "Why not?" about challenges that stymie so many bakers. Why not break down artisanal recipes to make intricate breads accessible to home bakers? Why not rework whole-grain goodies to make them taste as light and airy as their all-purpose cousins? Why not make gluten-free, sugar-free baking taste great?
And now? Why not demystify the up-and-coming world of so-called sprouted grains?
In his latest book, "Bread Revolution," Reinhart — a faculty member at Johnson and Wales University in Charlotte, North Carolina, and recipient of four James Beard awards — has taken a deep dive into sprouted and heirloom grains, walking readers through the challenges and rewards of working with these increasingly popular flours and grains.
What keeps Reinhart forging ahead in bread? Here are his answers to that and other questions (edited for clarity and length).
AP: How do you keep up with new developments?
Reinhart: I've always been interested in ecological sustainability and nutritional health, so I always have an eye out for opportunities to support both. Fortunately, one time fringe concepts that I have been following since 1970 are now becoming of mainstream interest, affirming for me that, hey, I wasn't crazy after all, back in 1970, with my interest in whole grains, sprouting and organics. So, in one sense, I feel that the movements are catching up to me but, at the same time my friends and contacts in these various movements keep me up to date and, sometimes, I get to hear about new developments before they tip over.
AP: Let's talk about your new book. What are sprouted and whole grains, exactly?
Reinhart: Whole grains simply mean the seeds from grasses like wheat, rye, oats, quinoa and such, used in their whole form, using the bran, germ and endosperm (starch and protein that forms the main bulk of the seed). The nourishment contained by the whole seed is far superior to that in any one part of it, especially superior to the endosperm, which is the source of white flour. Not all seeds are grains, by the way, such as nuts, flower seeds like sunflower seeds, but all seeds have the potential to be sprouted, which is what happens after a seed germinates and begins to put out a sprout, which means it is in the process of changing from a seed or grain into a vegetable. In the process, the nutritional composition goes through a major upgrade, increasing certain vitamin and mineral quotients and also making that nutrition more easily assimilated.
AP: Isn't it hard to make sprouted grains taste good?
Reinhart: No, just the opposite. They are naturally sweeter than when they were in their original form, because their own enzymes break the endosperm starches into simple sugars. The challenge for bakers is to preserve enough of the gluten during the sprouting process (I'm speaking mainly about wheat and rye now) to provide enough structure for the dough. Now we finally know it can be done and how to do it.
AP: Did you come up with new favourites?
Reinhart: Sometimes the simplest recipes turn out to be the real surprises. For instance, the buttermilk pancakes made with sprouted wheat flour have totally rocked my world. Same with the sprouted wheat flaky biscuits and also the cracker recipes. We also provide recipes using sprouted grain pulp instead of sprouted flour, such as the method used for Ezekiel Bread and Alvarado Street Bread, including a killer bagel made with sprouted Khorasan pulp (Khorasan is the name of a type of ancient wheat also sold under the trademark name Kamut). And, of course, the basic sprouted wheat "master dough," which can be turned into a number of different products, will change the way people think about 100 per cent whole-wheat bread.
AP: Is there any bread you won't eat?
Reinhart: I read once in an advice column, where the question was, "What should I do if I'm in a restaurant and they bring a basket of stale bread?" The answer was, "Get up and walk out." That pretty much says it all.
SPROUTED WHEAT QUICK BREAD OR MUFFINS WITH STREUSEL TOPPING
Start to finish: 1 hour 10 minutes (35 minutes active)
Makes 1 large loaf or 18 muffins
For the streusel:
1/2 cup sprouted flour (any variety)
1/2 cup granulated or brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
For the batter:
3 3/4 cups sprouted wheat flour
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
2 cups buttermilk
3 eggs, slightly beaten
3/4 cup vegetable oil or melted unsalted butter
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Position a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 350 F. If making a bread, coat a 4 1/2-by-8-inch loaf pan with cooking spray or melted butter, then dust with sprouted flour. If making muffins, line a 12-cup muffin pan with paper liners, then mist the liners with cooking spray. If making muffins, prepare 2 muffin pans or work in batches.
To prepare the streusel, in a small bowl stir together the flour, sugar, salt and cinnamon. Melt the butter, then pour it in and stir until evenly distributed. Use your fingers to break the mixture into fine crumbs. If it's too warm to crumble, wait for it to cool, then crumble it again. Alternatively, use cold butter and pulse all the ingredients in a food processor until the texture resembles fine cornmeal. Set aside.
To prepare the batter, in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or in a large bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Mix on low speed. Stir in the sugar.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, eggs, oil and vanilla extract, then pour into the flour mixture. Mix or stir until the flour is hydrated and all the ingredients are well combined, about 1 minute. The result should be a thick batter, which will thicken further as it sits. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan, filling a loaf pan to within 3/4 inch of the rim and muffin cups to just below the rim.
Sprinkle the streusel topping over the top of the loaf or muffins. Bake for 20 minutes for muffins or 30 minutes for a loaf, then rotate the pan and bake for another 15 to 20 minutes for muffins, or another 25 to 35 minutes for a loaf, or until the top is golden brown and springy to the touch and a toothpick inserted at the centre comes out clean.
Let cool in the pan for at least 15 minutes for muffins or 30 minutes for a loaf. Turn out onto a wire rack and let cool for at least 10 minutes longer for muffins or 30 minutes longer for a loaf before serving.
Nutrition information per serving (based on 18 servings): 290 calories; 110 calories from fat (38 per cent of total calories); 12 g fat (7 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 60 mg cholesterol; 42 g carbohydrate; 3 g fiber; 21 g sugar; 6 g protein; 350 mg sodium.
(Recipe adapted from Peter Reinhart's "Bread Revolution," Ten Speed Press, to be released in late October 2014)
Michelle Locke tweets at https://twitter.com/Locke_Michelle