If you don’t already routinely use whole wheat in your cooking, now is a good time to start. You’re probably already going to do a lot of holiday baking this month. So build on your cooking skills and use whole wheat from your food storage for your holiday treats.
If you are already adept at using whole wheat in your cooking, try expanding your skills. Learn to make sourdough bread or use other flours and grains—beans, rice, oats and rye. Or help someone else learn to bake with whole wheat flour.
Know Your Wheat
Wheat is categorized by three criteria: color, the season it is planted and hardness. Wheatplanted in the fall (called “winter wheat”) has slightly less protein than spring wheat but it has more minerals. Flour made from white wheat is lighter in color than flour made from red wheat
The general rule is: Hard wheat for bread, soft wheat for pastries.
But the thing that makes the real difference in wheat is the hardness. In the grocery store, the flour from soft wheat is called “all purpose flour” and the flour from hard wheat is labeled “bread flour.” That’s because hard wheat has a higher protein content, which makes it ideal for making bread. When you mix it vigorously (like you do when you knead dough) the protein in hard wheat produces long, stretchy protein chains. That’s what gives you a stretchier, springier dough that, when mixed with yeast and allowed to rise, forms nice air pockets and makes your bread light and fluffy.
For pie crusts, cakes or cookies, you don’t want stretchy dough when. You want something soft and crumbly.
and will have a milder flavor.
But for baking purposes, there is very little difference between spring and winter wheat, red or white.
Soft wheat has less protein than hard wheat and so it creates shorter protein chains. The end product is soft and crumbly, just what you want in pie crust or cookies.
Why is my bread heavy?
That’s the biggest challenge when using whole wheat flour. Whole wheat bread tends to be heavy. That’s because along with the flour from the endosperm (see diagram above), you also get the bran. This outside shell of the wheat grain has lots of fiber and minerals. That’s what makes whole wheat so healthy for you. But the bran has no protein, which makes it harder to create those long, stretchy chains of protein.
You CAN have soft, fluffy whole wheat bread
But there are many things you can do to improve the texture of whole wheat bread:
- Increase the acidity of the dough. You can do this by using butter milk in your recipe, adding ascorbic acid or making sourdough.
- Add a dough enhancer such as vital wheat gluten.
- Soak the sponge (the water and flour mixture) for a few hours before adding yeast and kneading.
- Start by experimenting with a 50-50 mix of white and whole wheat flour until you get the “feel” of good bread dough.
If you want to read the best book about making bread and all the scientific why’s and how’s, I highly recommend the book The Bread Builders by Daniel Wing and Alan Scott. This is the single best book for answering all your bread making questions
So that’s your challenge this month: experiment with using whole wheat flour in your baking so that you can make healthy holiday treats that your family will love.