The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Q & A with Peter Reinhart

Q & A with Peter Reinhart

Photo: Ron Manville

Renowned baking instructor and cookbook author Peter Reinhart was kind enough to take a few minutes to talk to me about his new book, Peter Reinhart's Whole Grain Bread.

Looking at the new book, I'm struck by how similar it is to The Bread Baker's Apprentice. The structure and layout are very similar, your methodology is similar, even a decent number of the recipes are modified versions of the same recipes. Would you agree with that characterization?

Definitely. The Bread Baker's Apprentice set the stage for this new book and gave me a template for how to put this one together.

Yeah. This strikes me as the natural follow up though, something like "The Bread Baker's Apprentice's Second Semester: Whole Grain Baking Class."

I like that, Second Semester. I should pass that on to the publisher. You're right, what I did was take many of the concepts, techniques, and bread science presented in the earlier book and really push the envelope as to how they can be applied in new ways to make a whole grain bread that people will actually want to eat, rather than eat out of obligation because it's "better for me."

Sure. I have to admit, having grown up in Sonoma County in the 70's and 80's, I don't have fond memories of health food and whole grain breads. I recall going over to friends' houses and eating terrible almond butter sandwiches on whole grain breads that tasted like cardboard and were as heavy as fruitcake. "Mmmmm... it's bran-tastic!" is the best I can say about them.

That was part of what I found so striking about your breads at Brother Juniper's when I first discovered them: they were locally made and relatively healthy AND they tasted really good. It seems that has always been a hallmark of your style, at least since I've known you.

Well, in culinary schools we teach the students that the single most important thing they will learn is that flavor always wins. I call it the flavor rule--that is, when push comes to shove, flavor rules. I think my real talent as a chef and baker is as a flavorist; I think my palate recognizes universally appealing flavors and so that's what I go after.

So now that you are taking on whole grain baking, I have to ask: do you think whole grain baking can escape that stigma, the belief (rightly or wrongly) that you can bake healthy and whole grain or you can bake for good taste but not for both? Because, I have to admit, while some of the recipes in this book at first glance are highly appealing, there are some that... well, I can't imagine wanting to make them unless a doctor ordered me off refined flour. Like whole wheat pizza dough. I've had reasonable approximations of pizza made whole wheat flour and, while they are good in their own strange way, that isn't really pizza, is it (he asks the guy who wrote a book about pizza)? And would anyone really want to try whole wheat brioche unless they had to?

Brioche definitely was a stretch and it's really in there to show that the method can work on any kind of bread. But when it comes to something as wonderful as buttery brioche, yeah, what's the point of doing it with whole wheat? But the goal, as I said, was to win people over based on flavor, not just health claims.

It's intuitively obvious that whole grains are the way to go when it comes to carbs, but it's hard to beat white flour breads for taste. If we had to choose one thing to change about our diets it would probably be, for most people, to add more fiber (it wouldn't hurt to cut back on sugar and refined foods and empty calories, but adding fiber sort of addresses all of those in one fell swoop). So I really am hoping that people will choose the healthier option not out of obligation but because it tastes good to do so. Time will tell.

Hey, try the whole wheat pizza before you knock it--it might win you over!

Ha ha. OK, I promise I'll give it a try.

A number of us on the site have shared our initial reaction to the book and many of us mention feeling slightly intimidated by it. It seems like there are a number of new techniques and concepts in here, things like mashes, the epoxy method, seed cultures, enzymes, and so forth. Personally, I know I felt like I had a pretty good handle on what was involved in making a decent loaf of bread, but after reading this I'm feeling on fairly shaky ground, at least when it comes to whole grains. What's going on?

Actually, the techniques are much easier to do than they are to write about. The method is really quite simple: a couple of pre-doughs made on Day One, combine them on Day Two, and pretty soon you have a loaf of bread. The hard part was figuring out how much of each pre-dough to use, and to explain to the readers the theory of why I think it improves the bread. But as you read the instructions you can see how easy it is to actually do it--certainly no more difficult than any other bread recipes.

I didn't invent these pre-dough. Mashes, sponges, bigas, starters made from seed cultures have all been around and written about for a number of years. What's unique in this book is the way they all come together (what I called, in a rather unappetizing term called "the epoxy method") to create, in a sense, a new method of bread making. That is, an original technique using traditional methods.

Speaking of original techniques: I definitely got the impression that the Pain A L'Ancienne was your breakthough recipe in the Bread Baker's Apprentice. Any similar epiphanies for you while creating this book? Any one technique or recipe in the book that you'd recommend people absolutely must try even if they don't think they have any interest in whole grain breads?

Pain a l'Ancienne was definitely the inspiration for this book--the idea of cold, delayed fermentation to improve flavor is the basis for all the recipes in this new book. Then, Monica Spiller introduced me to the ancient concept of scalded grain mashes and another light went off. It wasn't easy to apply this new piece of the puzzle, so only a few formulas in the book use it, but I have had some testers tell me that the mash bread was the best bread they ever tasted.

I tested the mash bread recipe. It was incredibly good, but a ton of work.

The final method for making the mash that is in the book is about 100 times easier than the one we started with.

Good to hear. I'll have to try it again then.

I'm also totally in love with the spent grain bread formula (I get my spent grain from a local micro-brewery and can make as many variations as there are types of beer). And I also developed a new found love for old world, dense rye breads, especially volkornbrot and Bavarian pumpernickel. The complexity of flavor is quite addictive. I think we're on the verge of a rye bread renaissance in America.

I was going to ask: the buzz around rye breads and German breads on the site seems to be picking up noticably. Every time I log in it seems someone is posting about having tried to bake Dinkelbrot or Vollkornbrot (which you have a recipe for in the book) for the first time. Could that be the "next big thing?"

Absolutely!

Let me just end the conversation with a few words of gratitude. Your writings and classes have inspired numerous bakers, but I am indebted to you on a more personal level. As you recall, by happenstance I landed a job at your bakery when it was still quite small and unknown. At that time I was a typical sixteen year old male, rather angry at the world and directionless. The patience, kindness, piety, and trust you and the other brothers and sisters at the bakery modeled for me were decisively positive influences in my life at a time when I easily could have been influenced in other directions. I'm 100% certain The Fresh Loaf would not exist without the passion for baking you shared with me and quite certain that I would not be as personally fulfilled were it not for the years I was able to mentor with you. So thank you.

Wow! I'm speechless--but thank you for your kind words. Susan and I felt that all of our high school employees were like our own kids and loved having you in our little Brother Juniper's world. I'm honored to know that we were able to make a difference. Thank you, Floyd!

Thank you, Peter.

Peter Reinhart's Whole Grain Bread is now available in the US and Canada from Ten Speed Press. It will be available in the UK from Publishers Group UK soon.

Update: Peter has offered to respond to community questions for the next few days. If you have any questions about whole grain baking or his new book, fire away!

Update: This thread is now closed. Thank you, Peter and everyone else who participated.

Comments

caryn's picture
caryn

Floydm- Thank you for this interview.  I was really moved by your comments at the end. How wonderful that Peter Reinhart was such an inspiration to you.  I look forward to meeting him (again) at his whole grain bread class in Chapel Hill NC in a few weeks (October 20)!

leemid's picture
leemid

What a wonderful thing to have this connection to a great bread man. I am thrilled for you Floyd.

Is it too much to wonder if your friendship could influence Peter to come to the northwest, or at least warn us when he plans to do so, so we can entertain the idea of a TFL sponsored class?

Lee

PS If this makes it directly to Peter, I suspect you are busy, as we all are, but I believe you travel quite a bit, as shown in your pizza book... are there plans for you to visit the Portland area?

Best.

Drifty Baker's picture
Drifty Baker

Mr. Reinhart,

I have been experimenting with making breads with malted grains for a couple of months.  I will definately purchase your book so I can read how you are doing the mash.  The home brewers in my area tell me that I need to control the temperature when cooking the grain to around 185 deg. F.  I find that hard to do on my stove top.  What temperature do you use to cook the mash?

Thanks,

The Drifty Baker

Go biking while it's rising! 

 

 

buckeyebaker's picture
buckeyebaker

a question to peter.

first, i just love your books; they are piled on my nightstand, and i reread them regularly for inspiration. i wish i could drive out to chapel hill for the october class, but it's the same day as columbus marathon (which i'm running) and so bread-baking loses to running. 

but the question is why you wrote your newest book recipes (to use old-fashioned term) for only single loaves?  your BBA book was written for 2 loaves, and for many of us, that's so much more time efficient. if we go ahead and 'double' the recipes, should we double the starter refreshment as well, and use twice the amount of starter?

i tried that the other day, and results were ok, but not superlative, so will have to tinker.  but for me, to make two loaves at a time is so much easier, esp since my spouse will make 4 sandwiches a day to bring to work, so a loaf disappears fairly quickly.

thanks, and if you're ever in central ohio (nobody ever is!!), please offer a class for those of us who don't live on the exalted east or west coasts. 

grrranimal's picture
grrranimal

Mr Reinhart:

Just a humble thanks for BBA. I'm sure all that can be said in praise of it has already been said. So, just thanks.

A slightly off-the-wall question: Given that you teach at a high-falutin' culinary institute and all, have you ever gotten together with a good sommelier to noodle on bread/wine pairings?

I'm a devotee of the old trope "A loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and thou." Good prescription for any weekend afternoon. In my case, the "thou" part couldn't be any better. My loaves are on their way to getting better (thanks to you and TFL). But my ideas about which wines go best with different breads could definitely be better! Of course, it has much to do with how one's dressing the bread -- olive oil, butter, balsamic, peanut butter (!), etc -- but I just thought I'd ask if you have views on great bread/wine pairings that you think bring out good bread flavours and complexity, or show particular breads in their best light.

All the best.

Prandium longa. Vita brevis.

CountryBoy's picture
CountryBoy

I own your BBA and am saving up money to buy your Whole Grains Bread bk.  In the meantime I visit my local book store and speed read the book whenever I can.  One of the things I noticed is that there seems to be an emphasis on biga as opposed to poolish.  Is that an accurate observation and if so is there a reason?

Also, is it possible to say if more taste is developed during bulk fermentation of the dough versus the proofing stage when I would put it in the fridge over night?

Since I am a novice, please don't hesitate to point out basics that I might not think of. 

Thank you for your time and guidance. 

Country Boy

KipperCat's picture
KipperCat

I hope to catch your class at Central Market in Dallas.

Yesterday I refreshed a piece of mother starter that had been in the fridge for 17 days. I was pleasantly surprised to see how well it turned out. I didn't do this to bake anything new, just because I knew my mother starter was getting old. (The starter in the fridge may have lost a bit of volume, but is no where near the consistency of potato soup. It still has plenty of bubbles and I can see the gluten strands when I scoop some out.) If my mother starter is older than 2 weeks, but still seems in good shape, can I go ahead and use it?

Second question - many of your formulas call for refreshing the mother starter at 2.25/6.75/5, yielding a wild yeast starter in the same proportions as the mother starter. Is there any reason one couldn't use 14 ounces of fresh mother starter instead? How about one that's a week or two old?

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

Peter - 
I hope you are well rested!
I first want to add my thanks to those expressed by others. I have your "Crust and Crumb" and "BBA" and greatly admire how accessible you have made the technical information. These books have truly inspired me.

I started baking bread again after a 25 year lapse, mostly because there are breads I love but cannot get locally, especially sourdough rye. The 100% sourdough rye in "Crust and Crumb," modified by using first clear flour rather than "bread flour," is a favorite, as is the Poilane style miche, which I make with 100% first clear flour.
But I do have some questions. Thanks, agian, for your coming here and making yourself available like this to answer them.
I'm new to this site and have remarked on the popularity of folding the dough once or more during bulk fermentation. That doesn't seem to be a technique you push, and I am curious about your views on it.
Also, I have never been able to get a really nice open crumb in my sourdoughs using the hydration levels in your formula for "basic sourdough." Maybe I'm too rough in shaping or I'm under-fermenting. I do use overnight cold retardation of both the firm starter and the shaped, unrisen loaves, as you recommend, and, while I like the loaves' color, the birdseye crust and the flavor, I wonder what cold retardation does to the crumb texture.
I suppose my question is basically the variables to attend to for achieving an open crumb - which matter the most, where tyros like me most often err, etc.
David

ehanner's picture
ehanner

Your BBA was the first book I actually bought for myself after I took a serious interest in baking. I was so taken by the style and word descriptions you use that I started to study your methods and have become a moderately good home baker. Thank you! One of the first things I did upon realizing I have it in my power to create great bread was to do a tribute of the BBA cover using my daughter Gabrielle. We had fun with it and now she is helping me in the bread making.  She reads the directions for me and prepares the ingredients ahead so I don't forget anything.

There are many things I would like to ask but I think I will continue to follow your latest teachings and continue to enjoy your work through the printed pages. Thanks for all the hard work.

You must be pleased that a young man who interned with you so many years ago is now helping bring the gift of quality bread making to so many. Floyd is a good man and now we know where he got his start.

Safe travels,

Eric Hanner
Wisconsin

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

 Dear Peter, Thanks for your response to my queries. I appreciate your detailed advice.I have made your Basic Sourdough maybe 20-30 times with a lot of variation in flours. I have mostly ended up with a slightly tacky but not sticky dough. I have allowed the dough to double before dividing ... Well, usually. <blush> Mixing and kneading in a KA, the dough typically clears the walls but sticks a little to the bottom of the bowl. Using your procedure - mix, knead 4 min., rest 5 min., knead 4 minutes - the dough requires a couple more minutes of hand kneading to get smooth. I've never gotten it to the window pane stage, I know. I'm pretty sure I have manipulated the dough way too much while shaping the loaves. (Iron hand in an iron glove?) The crumb has had lots of small holes but none over about 0.5 ". The last time I made this bread, I mixed just the flour (20.25 oz) and water (1.75 cups) and let it rest 20 minutes before adding the salt and firm starter. I then kneaded it at a setting of 2 with some brief bursts of setting 4 for an unmeasured time, but probably about 8 minutes. The dough was still not smooth and quite sticky. I hand kneaded a couple of minutes and fermented, divided, shaped (with much less futzing) and retarded over night. I baked as instructed. This resulted in better pvem s[romg and a much more open crumb with lovely tender chewiness (if that makes sense).Hydration by percent was not much different, but I used the autolyse, and the dough acted much wetter. Does that compute, or do you think I must have added more water than I thought?Based on your advice, I'm going to be more careful about letting the bulk fermentation go long enough. I have to confess that your remark about cutting corners to keep to a schedule hits home. I take it that letting fermentation go a little too long is preferable to cutting it a little short.I've only achieved a smooth dough in the KA when it was dry (barely tacky). I'm wondering if I need to knead a lot longer with wetter doughs and go for the window pane stage regardless of how long it takes. I've focused too much on time and not enough on what the dough is doing, I think. From your comments regarding stretching and folding, I don't think I've yet worked with a dough that is wet enough to require it. But I will, eventually.I'm clearly missing having never observed a trained and/or more experienced bread baker work. I'm going to have to retire so I have time to take a class. There's no other answer. ;-)
David

leemid's picture
leemid

I got home early last night from my class, to an empty house; the wife and two daughters were somewhere... I started a batch of bread and in just a few minutes I heard the garage door opening. In walked the girls and declare that they have brought my book from the library. "What book?" I ask. My youngest holds up Peter's new book, which I had completely forgotten I had reserved. Sorry, Peter, but I have to review each book before I buy. This one looks really, really good. Harry Potter will have to wait while I explore whole grains until the library wants their book back.

That's my story,

Lee

KipperCat's picture
KipperCat

Hi again Peter,

Could you give a brief description of your upcoming classes? Or a longer one if you can do a quick cut and paste. Will you be doing breads from your new book?  Are the classes hands-on?  I'm particularly interested in your Dallas area classes.  Do you present the same info and breads at all of them?

Thank you for all the information you've added here at TFL.  We've all learned a lot from you and your books.

staff of life's picture
staff of life

I would like to contribute my own thoughts/experiments with home-milled flour. I wasn't able to get nice crust browning with my freshly ground whole wheat sourdough that I got with my regular version.  I read in the new book that freshly milled flour is hypodiastatic, then I read in The Taste of Bread that a way to correct it is with a small percentage of soy flour; I multiply the total flour weight by .07 and that seems to work much better--the loaves seem larger and brown better.  I know I can also use malted barley syrup, but the soy flour is much more easily accessible and it's cheaper.

I'm actually having a problem with my sourdoughs sometimes that has me befuddled.  And I wonder if it's somewhat related to hypodiasticity.  On the first rise, my sourdoughs rise just fine, but for the final proof, it seems to take forever--about 2 or 3 times as long as the first rise, and when I'm finally able to get them into the oven, they have nearly no oven spring.  My theory, which is as yet untested, is that the yeast uses up all the easily available food during the first rise, and has nothing left for the final.  I can dimly see how this can be related to hypodiasticity, but I can't quite connect the dots fully.  This happens with both my whole wheat and my white sourdoughs.  Or maybe my sourdough culture is to blame.  Any thoughts?  Would malted barley syrup help fix this problem by ensuring there's still something for the yeast to digest toward the end?

SOL

fleur-de-liz's picture
fleur-de-liz

Peter:

I just want to thank you and tell you the Bread Baker's Apprentice relit the bread baking spark in me last year (I hadn't baked in about 20 years!).  I followed your instructions for building my first sourdough culture -- it felt like you walked me through each step.   Your books have been in as close as I have gotten to a "hands on" bread baking class, and I just wanted to say thank you.

I see that you will be giving in class at Sur La Table in Newport Beach in late February.  I am very much looking forward to attending and meeting you in person.

Thank you!

Liz

leemid's picture
leemid

I'm not really interested in whole grains right now, or so I thought. I have too much to do to branch out into more breads. But you can't not read a Peter Reinhart book, so there I sit totally engrossed in the text. I don't know if I am just farther along than I used to be or if this one is written really, really well, but I can't get enough of it. So, of course, I am going to have to give something up to make time to try some recipes...

Peter, who's gonna finish my boat, and my wife's car? Huh?

That's my story,

Lee

staff of life's picture
staff of life

Thanks for your comments.  When I read in your book about using a soaker helping with hypodiasticity, I made a mental note to try it, but I just forgot.  I'll try it next time around.

Here's my recipe using freshly ground flour:

10 oz ripe whole wheat starter

11.2 oz whole wheat flour

1 lb bread flour

1 T salt

2 T malt or .07% TFW of soy flour (I might be able to decrease the soy a bit, I'm still experimenting)

2 1/4 c water

Ferment for 3-4 hours, divide into 24 oz boules, proof for hopefully 1 1/2 hours, bake at 425 for 40 mins. 

I have started using cooler water (50-60 degrees, approx) when I make this, as my house is very warm.  I don't pour the water directly on the levain; I have killed it before that way.  I try to blend the flour with the water before I add the levain.  I don't know if it's still getting at least partially killed that way--I would assume not, as it wouldn't have a reliably good fermentation.  I wonder if the sourdough is occasionally overripe and the yeast binges and then gets lazy?  I feed my sourdough twice a day, using about 1 T of starter to 6 oz ea of water and flour (I keep a liquid white starter, and then convert to whatever when necessary).  I mark the container so I can tell when the whole wheat has doubled as I find it more difficult to tell when it is ripe.  I do know when a white sourdough is ready just by looking though.  Here's my recipe for a white sourdough:

9 oz wet starter

1 1/2 c water

18 oz bread flour

1 1/2 t salt

This is Dan Lepard's recipe for a potato sourdough, minus his potato and T of honey--I'll bet he had them in there for a reason, and I'm messing up the formula!  That might account for at least in part my problem with slow proofing.

Sorry this post is so long, but thanks in advance for your answer!  How wonderful it is to have you answer our questions!

SOL 

KipperCat's picture
KipperCat

I keep wondering about these. I presume the information is per slice of bread, but I don't see a reference to how many slices per loaf. Am I just missing something? If it's not included, is the information available elsewhere?

There is a slight possibility that some day I'll strive to watch my weight go down instead of up. This would be useful info in that case. ;~)

 

KipperCat's picture
KipperCat

Somewhere in your book, there is a rough rule of thumb on additional water for converting a white flour recipe to whole grains.  It was something like for every .xxcup of flour, add 1 or 2 teaspoons of water.  But now I can't find it!  It would be nice to have a good starting point for making such a conversion.

verminiusrex's picture
verminiusrex

I was trying to figure out what to say to you since I had the chance and couldn't come up with anything clever, so I thought that I'd let the picture do the talking.

My bread baking was pathetic when I began (loaf on the left), because all the recipes assumed you knew how to make bread. In March of 2003 my wife purchased Bread Baker's Apprentice, and it explained everything I needed to know. The simple explanation of how long to knead and why lead to my first decent loaf of bread (loaf on the right). I kept seeing information about "overkneading" and was afraid to work the dough too hard.

Now over four years later I'm known by my friends for my constant bread baking, and even better for making good bread. Thanks for everything.

- Harold in Kansas

loaf improvement

(Man, it's kind of embarassing to see the before loaf.)