Welcome to new readers who arrived from Grist.org’s excellent post by Jane Mountain on 5 Foods You’ll Never Have to Buy Again.
Have you ever tried cooking with whole-wheat flour, only to find the results didn’t turn out as well as you hoped? Cooking with whole wheat requires some adjustments in planning and expectations.
The first thing to keep in mind is that whole-wheat grains contain oil, which can get rancid. So check the date on the package, and always store all whole grains in the refrigerator or freezer. By the way, this is why whole grains are sometimes more expensive. You might think that whole grains should be cheaper, because they don’t need as much processing. But in fact, refined (white) flours became popular because they could be shipped long distances and stored at length without refrigeration. This lowered their cost as well.
Some complaints about whole grain flours, for instance bitterness, may result from improper storage. If you store whole-wheat flour in the freezer it should last a good few months.
I’ve compiled a few more tips for switching to baking with whole wheat:
- Change your expectations. The texture will be different and there’s no way around that. I now find baked goods from bleached white flour to be pasty. Keep in mind that whole-wheat baked goods crumble more easily, too.
- Start gradually. Many products fall in between the extremes of bleached, refined white flour and 100% stone-ground whole wheat. Examples include white whole wheat and 70% or 90% whole wheat, which is unrefined but has a percentage of the toughest fibers removed. Flours also vary in texture–whole-wheat flours ground finely yield results closer to white flour. You can also mix white and whole wheat–start with 30 or 40 % whole wheat and gradually increase as you get used to the change.
- Start with the right recipes. Whole wheat bread, fruit muffins, or banana bread will go over better than whole-wheat angel-food cake. You can also use whole-wheat flour for thickening patties or casseroles without a noticeable difference in texture.
- Pastries. I use 90% whole-wheat flour for pastries and yeast doughs. They can be rolled out, but not as thinly as with white flour.
- Sifting. One reader said that sifting makes her whole-wheat challah lighter. My mother always insisted on sifting flour, and we sifted ingredients for her home-made baking mix no less than three times! I”m not sure that sifting helps keep the dough lighter, and many cooks skip it. Other reasons for sifting flour include removing insects and ensuring uniform measurement. But weighing the flour is a more accurate method for delicate recipes. Since I rarely make delicate cakes this isn’t such an issue for me—for bread I guess based on the texture. Humidity also affects recipes, making recipes less important.
- Add extra water to the recipe. This is tied into the weight of the flour—flours vary in their weight per cup, and heavier flours require more liquid—but the whole grains seem to absorb more liquid and suffer more from dryness. Whole-grain bread doughs should remain sticky.
- Add extra sweetener. I’m no fan of sugar, but if you or your family expects a certain amount of sweetness in their baked goods you will need to increase the amount in the recipe.
- Start with a sponge. For breads, I calculate about 700 cc. (24 oz.) of water for a kilogram of flour (454 grams). For the sponge, I add about 700 g. of the flour to all of the liquid, along with the yeast or sourdough starter. For more information, see my recipe for Challah Bread Using Sponge Method.
Have you ever baked with whole wheat flour? Please share your successes and challenges in the comments!
Thanks to Cooking Manager Facebook Page members for their contributions.
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