Soaked Granola Bars

Of all the things I am reading about the traditional foods diet, soaking grains is probably the most confusing. Not confusing due to the labors involved, but confusing as to the benefits of soaking. I am all for making work for myself, but am I making more work for a reason? Is there actual value to soaking, say, oatmeal in whey inoculated water for a day and then dehydrating it for many hours before using it? On taste alone, I would say yes - since these granola "bars" were superior to any granola I've ever made at home. But as for nutritionally, I would say that for me the jury is still out.

Soaked and Ready Oats.

It is so easy for me to read and believe almost anything written relating to healthy diet. It wasn't hard for me to banish my microwave to the basement (for occasional Husband-usage only) and to commit to using my cast iron pans for almost all stove-top duties. After a while, it wasn't even hard for me to give up canola oil - though that was probably the most difficult given the overwhelming insistence that for years health and diet sources told me was the superior and healthiest oil to use. But giving up non-soaked grain, oatmeal in particular, proves to be the highest hurdle to date.

The flavors that come from soaking and sprouting grains and then grinding them is reward enough for the extra demand for my time and devotion. But soaking oatmeal in whey-water and then drying it... well, that isn't so intoxicating. You need the bit of acid to kick-start the process in things, like oatmeal, that won't sprout. The smell of the dehydrating oats was pleasant enough (I am so lucky that my Mom never got rid of the food dehydrator that we used years ago - it's now proudly perched atop my childhood play table in the basement), but the taste of soaked then dried oats was not so much. Aside from looking rather like dog kibble, it had a certain fermented sourness that I knew I would have a hard time passing over on my picky boys.

A sure way to get this one to try something is to have him help me make it!

Cultures around the world have soaked or fermented grains before consumption for generations. Americans, and our independent and inventive spirits, appear to have successfully removed this extra work from our lives and perhaps that may play a role in some of our collective poor health. Obviously, I don't think just because we have modernized and something has a Whole Grains Seal of Approval that it is going to be healthy - I'm certainly not going to run out and buy General Mills cereals. But sometimes I think it is probably speculation at best. Other cultures are subject to other climates and geographic anomalies that we New World-ers are not. The coconut and palm oils well used by tropical cultures are readily available in those areas, and maybe my northerner ancestry will never do well with them. It's hard to say, but so far, I'm happily using coconut and olive oil most of the time; I am choosing not to worry too much about it.

We do know that the phytic acid present in all grains, nuts and seeds can be reduced greatly by a gentle pre-treatment of either acidulated soaking or sprouting. According to Sally Fallon (who is very well-researched), "untreated phytic acid can combine with calcium, magnesium, copper, iron and especially zinc in the intestinal tract and block their absorption. This is why a diet high in unfermented whole grains may lead to serious mineral deficiencies and bone loss." How about that, Sally Field?

Last week I read this post at Kitchen Stewardship bulleting the differences between soaking and sprouting and the benefits (or disadvantages) of each. It is confusing to know what to do or what is best for human consumption. We all will "live until we die", I suppose, but sometimes I wish I was a more science minded type who could really know and decipher all the dietetic contradictions I come across.

No matter what I have read and the confusion I feel, I still wanted to try this recipe for soaked granola bars from Kitchen Stewardship. I made a half batch using the soaked and ready oats, and let the Boy-O dictate the add-ins: equal parts chocolate chips and coconut. Since the soaked and dehydrated oatmeal is so crunchy, the recipe is better than any other granola I've tried. (I chose the baking method: 10 minutes at 325 degrees.) I couldn't cut true bars from them, but rather have large chunks that are easy to pick up and eat. Because you essentially make a caramel from honey and butter, the chocolate melted - masking all remaining traces of whey flavor from the oats. The final result was a richly satisfying snack that the Boy-O loved, and I felt good about giving him. Since I have the dehydrator now, I will be making more soaked and ready oats.

Soaked and Ready Oats (Kitchen Stewardship)
makes enough for 1/2 batch of Soaked Granola Bars (easily increased)
  • 3 cups rolled oats
  • 1/3 c. whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 T. whey
Place the oats and wheat flour in a non-reactive bowl. Measure water and add whey to the water, stir to mix. Pour water/whey over oats/flour, and stir well. Let sit for at least 7 hours at room temperature. (I didn't have any standing liquid at all, and didn't need to drain any off. Most of the liquid should be absorbed.)

Spread in a thin layer on a baking sheet lined with a silicone mat or parchment paper. Since I dehydrated, I lined the dehydrator tray with parchment - and dehydrated at 147 degrees for about 12 hours until completely dry. Kitchen Stewardship recommends drying until hard and crispy in a 250 degree oven for 2-4 hours.

When dried and cooled, break into chunks resembling oatmeal size. You can pulse in a blender or food pro, or even break by hand.

Kitchen Stewardship really does have many great recipes, and I love them as a resource for both soaking/sprouting grains and for using sourdough starter. The soaked granola bar recipe is actually from the ebook Katie Kimball wrote called Healthy Snacks to Go. I have never purchased an ebook, and am thinking that this may be my first one. There is something about holding a book in my hands, even though I appreciate the paper-freedom of the computer, especially in the kitchen. (Obviously, since the "M" key and some punctuation near my right hand are sticking on this kitchen netbook... How do you even clean that?)

Meanwhile, I'll likely go on sprouting and soaking a number of things. It is true that the more fermented foods you introduce your taste buds to, the more they will accept and even crave them. And, while I can't see cooking up a bowl of "soaked and ready" oatmeal in the morning, I can see making more of this delicious granola. I may eventually try eating it plain, but likely will need to add some sweetener, maybe maple syrup.
What do you think about sprouting and/or soaking? I am anxious to hear some thoughts from other fermenters and experimenters!

Daring Baker Challenge February 2011: Panna Cotta, Wisconsin Style

The February 2011 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Mallory from A Sofa in the Kitchen. She chose to challenge everyone to make Panna Cotta from a Giada De Laurentiis recipe and Nestle Florentine Cookies.

I love Daring Baker Challenges. I think part of the reason I like them so much is the planning stages that can take the better part of a month, and then fortuitously change at the last second. The reveal date for our monthly challenge is always the 27th, and today I baked the final stage, another version of oatmeal cookies - but more on that in a bit.

Panna Cotta is essentially an Italian "milk jell-o". I have eaten all kinds of custard in my life, but can't say that I've ever eaten this eggless version. I didn't know what I was missing. When I began planning my approach, I thought I would make at least two different kinds of panna cotta, and complete the lacy florentine cookies earlier in the month. I couldn't see why you would want to eat a butter laden cookie with a milk and cream laden pudding, I guess... and my Husband isn't able to eat heavy milk desserts, but is somewhat fond of cookies.

As you may remember, earlier in February was when the sprouting grain bug really hit me. I immediately altered the Florentine recipe to include the sprouted spelt flour, and while I was at it, used brown rice syrup to replace the corn syrup. The thing I discovered about Florentines is that the amount of butter (a staggering 2/3 cup), and the state of the butter's coolness, directly affects the end cookie. Since the butter is melted and the other ingredients added, the first cookies I baked spread out into near impossible thinness. It could be because I also used rolled oats instead of quick oats. Sometimes, I wonder why I don't ever just follow instructions.

All of my alterations added up to an impressively thin cookie, somewhat chewy and toothsome, that crisped up when stored in the freezer. I froze the remainders intending to make ice cream: I have developed a habit of saving nearly all leftover DB Challenges to make ice creams, which isn't really a bad idea most of the time. I did use metric weights for these.

RCakeWalk's Florentine Cookies (heavily adapted from Nestle's via the Daring Kitchen)
  • 150 g. (2/3 cup) butter
  • 160 g. (2 cup) rolled oats
  • 95 g. (2/3 cup) sprouted spelt flour
  • 230 g. (1 cup) raw sugar
  • 60 ml. (1/4 c.) brown rice syrup
  • 60 ml. (1/4 c.) half and half
  • 1 t. vanilla
  • pinch of salt
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Melt butter in a medium saucepan, and remove from heat.

Measure oats, sugar, flour, brown rice syrup, milk, vanilla, and salt into a medium sized mixing bowl, and pour the melted butter over. Mix well.

Drop a tablespoon of batter, onto parchment lined baking sheet. Leave plenty of room between cookies (I got about 5 on a sheet pan). The first batches I scooped out were very "liquidy". As the butter hardens a bit, the cookies seem to spread out less, and you can gently flatten the balls of batter with a spatula or your fingers.

Bake for 8-10 minutes, until the edges look somewhat firm and even a little caramelized. The baking time varies with the dough temperature, so just keep an eye on them. Let them rest on the baking sheets for at least several minutes to let the cookies set. I like to carefully move the parchment (with the cookies on it) carefully to a cold, empty baking sheet to speed cooling.

When cookies are fully cool, you can drizzle with melted chocolate, or sandwich two cookies together with melted chocolate. (250 g. or 1 1/2 c. chopped chocolate will be more than enough for the whole batch.)

Store between layers of waxed or parchment paper, in a covered container at room temperature - or in the freezer.

The Florentine cookies were good, but on their own, they kind of left me wanting. I guess when I think of cookies, I want something that has a little more bite to it, something less "dainty". I really think they will be nice in ice cream, where they will add a bit of character and crunch to plain vanilla.

When I turned my attention to the panna cotta portion of the challenge, one of my favorite food idea people was there to help me: Lo. One of the things I appreciate most about bouncing ideas off of Lo is her impeccable palate. Of all the people I've met, I will give her the best taster award. She is just the one I want in my corner to ask what something needs, when I taste it myself and can't figure it out. While we had a nice email exchange about flavor possibilities (including goat cheese, as a possible savory option), I settled in on making Rishi Tea's Cinnamon Plum Panna Cotta. Peef and Lo had recently made a Cinnamon Plum Ice Cream that they loved...

Rishi's Cinnamon Plum tea is really a thing of beauty. Many times, I've tried herbal teas that were overpoweringly floral or artificial tasting. This one is so well crafted that no one flavor overwhelms the others, and it is as pretty to look at as it is to taste. Their panna cotta is made by first steeping the tea in the cream to infuse the flavors. I didn't expect it to be as subtle as it was, but it was perfect! The faintest lavender color, and not at all too sweet. In contrast to the Florentine cookies, I followed the instructions exactly. Except when it came to discarding the used tea.

Cinnamon Plum Tea "Simple Syrup" will be used for more than panna cotta in the future.

Rishi Cinnamon Plum Panna Cotta (Rishi Tea)
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 4 T. Rishi Organic Cinnamon Plum Tea
  • 3 T. cold water
  • 1 envelope Knox Unflavored Gelatine
In a large saucepan over medium heat, warm the cream, milk and sugar, stirring to dissolve sugar. Bring mixture just to a simmer, but do not let it boil. Remove from heat. Add tea, stir and cover. Steep for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl (4 quart size), add the cold water and sprinkle the gelatin evenly over the top. Let stand for 5 to 10 minutes.

Pour the infused cream mixture through a fine sieve, pushing on the tea with the back of a spoon to extract all of the cream. (This is where I did not discard the tea!) Return the cream to the pan and re-warm.

Pour the warm tea over the gelatin in the bowl. Stir well until gelatin has completely dissolved.

Divide the panna cotta mixture evenly among 8 teacups, small bowls, or ramekins. Cool to room temperature, cover each cup with plastic wrap, and chill until set (about 2 hours).

While panna cotta is chilling, make the syrup. In a small bowl combine the following:
  • 2 T. Rishi Organic Cinnamon Plum
  • 4 t. sugar
  • 2 T. hot water
Stir until sugar dissolves. Let steep for 5 minutes and strain syrup, discarding tea (I used this Discarded tea to make a pot of tea for me to drink while writing this...). Cover and chill until ready to serve.

To serve (according to Rishi):
Garnish each panna cotta with 2 or 3 pistachios, 2 or 3 dried currents, a drizzle of the syrup and a tiny dash or two of ground cinnamon.

I was supposed to toss the cream infused tea, but just could not. After munching on a few of the plumped up currants, and insisting Sasa do the same, she said "Don't toss it, Rebecca. It smells like Oatmeal Cookies." To which I responded: "Oatmeal Cookies! I was supposed to serve the panna cotta with oatmeal Florentines!" I figured there was no excuse to waste that amazing "used" tea, and got out the Vita-Mix.

I ground the leftover tea into a "tea flour" with 1/2 c. rolled oats and a tablespoon or so of wheat flour. It smelled exactly as an oatmeal cookie should, like home, healthfulness, and a warm, line-dried blanket.

Since the tea was soaked and softened a bit, I would imagine that it could be ground in a food pro or regular blender. It's worth trying. I'm imagining that tea flour could be substituted for a portion of the flour in a whole host of favorite recipes.

(Cinnamon Plum Tea) Oatmeal Cookies

makes about 2 dozen
  • 1/2 c. butter, room temperature soft
  • 1 egg
  • 1 t. vanilla
  • leftover Cinnamon Plum tea from Panna Cotta recipe blended with 1/2 c. oatmeal and about 2 T. wheat flour (about 3/4 c. total)
  • 1/2 t. baking soda
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 1/2 c. rolled oats
  • 1/2 c. whole wheat flour
  • 3/4 c. raisins
  • (could add a touch more cinnamon if you like really cinnamon-y cookies)
Cream butter, sugar, egg and vanilla together until lightened.

In a separate bowl, combine "tea flour", baking soda, salt, rolled oats and flour and stir to combine well.

Add to butter mixture and mix well, then add raisins and mix well again. (The batter will be stiff.) Refrigerate dough until cold (I left mine chill overnight).

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Roll balls of cookie dough about 1 1/2 T. big, and flatten gently between your palms. They don't spread too much, so you can place them about 1 1/2 inches apart on the baking sheets. Bake 10-12 minutes, until they look brown around the edges and somewhat set in the middle. Cool on pans for 5 minutes before removing to a rack to cool completely.

When I tried my first bite of panna cotta, I was overwhelmed. It was so rich and creamy, and not at all as "gelatinized" as I thought it would be. I used my favorite Crystal Ball whole milk and heavy cream, which in my opinion is more milky tasting than any milk I've ever had. After a bite or two, I took a bite of a cookie and discovered why you need something buttery and crunchy with panna cotta. It's a match made in foodie heaven. (One note about the using the Crystal Ball cream and milk: because it is not homogenized, the tops of some of my panna cottas buckled a bit as the cream rose to the surface. It didn't affect the flavor or texture at all, just the visuals. Fortunately, I could cover with a thin layer of the tea simple syrup to disguise it!)

The tea cookies tasted much more of tea without the panna cotta accompaniment, but were so delicious alongside that it wouldn't matter to me which way I'd make it. You would think that now I am Cinnamon Plum Tea'd Out, but I am not.

So thanks to my Daring Baker Challenge, my month was bookended by oatmeal cookies, I learned why people are crazy for panna cotta, and I developed a way to use up leftover tea. I also deepened my love for Rishi, and vow to try more of their herbal blends. I am curious if more herbal tea can be ground up and added to baked goods! Thank you to Mallory for a nice challenge choice, and be sure to check out the Daring Kitchen for recipes and the blogroll.