Friday, January 8, 2010

Fast homemade bread... the Whole Wheat Pastry Flour Sessions.

We are trying to eliminate white sugar and highly refined carbohydrates like white flour from our diet (and props to my nutritionally-minded husband who, since we met nine and a half years ago has lost approximately 1/3 of his entire body weight and looks altogether yummy) and this has led to a whole bunch of kitchen experimentation on our part.

So far we have fiddled around with various sweeteners (agave syrup, sucralose, stevia, etc.) with varying degrees of success.  Now it's on to flour.  As those of you who have ever attempted it realize, most whole wheat flour is completely useless on its own.  It makes leaden, dry yeast breads, and cannot be used by itself for anything as light or tender as pastry or quick breads.

I am happy to report that we have discovered a secret baking weapon, made by the consistently great Bob's Red Mill (found in better/more comprehensive regular grocery stores like Wegmans and Stop & Shop, natural foods stores, Whole Foods, Fairway and the like).  This product is Organically Grown & Certified 100% Stone Ground Whole Wheat Pastry Flour.  While not very mellifluously named, it is a wonderful substitute for plain old white flour in things such as pie crusts, pancakes and other quick breads, and cookies.  In combination with all-purpose flour, it is also tasty in whole wheat bread, particularly the recipe I will discuss presently.

Now, for those of you not geeky enough to have actually looked into this, there is a distinct difference between the various kinds of flour you find on your shelves.  For a more elegant parsing out of the subject of wheat, gluten, and flour generally, I turn to the great Shirley O. Corriher, author of my favorite (heck, my only) book on food science, CookWise, and a frequent contributor to Alton Brown's great Food Network show, Good Eats:


When you add water to wheat flour and stir, two proteins in the flour, glutenin and gliadin, grab each other and water.  As you continue to stir, more and more of these proteins connect and cross-connect to form sheets of gluten.  These remarkable elastic sheets trap and hold air and the gasses made by yeast, and enable yeast bread to rise...only wheat flour contains enough of these proteins to make good sheets of gluten.

This stretchy gluten film traps and holds air bubbles as the dough is mixed and kneaded.  Yeast, a one-cell plant that feeds on simple sugars from the dough, oozes out a liquid filled with alcohol and carbon dioxide.  When this liquid touches the trapped air bubbles, it releases carbon dioxide gas and enlarges them.  The dough becomes lighter and begins to rise.  The yeast continues to feed.  As long as there is oxygen in the dough yeast divides and multiplies to produce even more carbon dioxide.

After the dough rises, it is punched down.  The clumps of yeast are broken up and spread so that each cell is surrounded by a new food supply.  Then the dough is shaped and set aside.  Because of all the well-fed new yeast cells, the bread rises faster during the second rise.

Finally, the bread goes into a hot oven and rises even more.  Yeast makes carbon dioxide faster as it warms.  Also, the alcohol that the yeast has made from the beginning bets hot and changes to a gas, providing more gasses to inflate the bubbles, and heat alone makes the gasses expand, enlarging the bubbles.  This last great rise, called ovenspring, continues until the yeast gets so hot that it dies.

Soft starch granules trapped in the film bend and curve themselves around and between the gas bubbles.  The dough becomes hotter;the protein gluten film cooks and becomes fim.  There are now millions of air cells with delicate thin linings-the incredible texture of bread.


...High protein wheat flour containing good quality glutenin and gliadin, sometimes called strong flour, makes good yeast breads.  Strong flour is from the hard spring wheat grown in colder climates--in the great northern plains and Canada during the spring and summer.  Soft winter wheats, grown in moderate climates where the ground never freezes to a depth greater than 10 inches, have much less glutenin and gliadin.

...Wheat kernels, sometimes also called wheat berries, contain the bran, the germ, and the endosperm, which is starch and protein.  In milling, the kernels are cleaned and tempered (soaked in water) for easier removal of the germ and bran.  The kernels are crushed and the germ and bran removed.  The endosperm goes through one set of rollers and sifters after another, and these grind, sit and separate the endosperm into fractions called streams.  It is hard to imagine, but a kernel of wheat may be separated into eighty or more streams.  Some streams are high in glutenin [responsible for elasticity] and gliadin [responsible for softness], while others are high in starch.  Every stream is analyzed so the miller knows exactly what is in it.  

...Just as winemakers blend juices from different vineyards to make fine wines, millers blend flour from different streams of wheat to make different flours.    For a bread flour, a miller includes a lot of flour from the high-protein streams.  This flour will form good sheets of gluten and make light yeast bread.  For a pastry flour, the miller includes very little protein, since too much gluten will make a pie crust tough.  

Whole wheat flour contains germ and bran.  Cup for cup, whole wheat will have less of the gluten forming proteins than plain flour from the same wheat just because it contains the other parts of the kernel.  Whole wheat flour will make a heavier bread and is frequently blended with a high protein plain white flour for lighter loaves."


The gluten-forming proteins affect the cook in two different ways.  First, a high-protein flour will absorb a lot of water compared to a low-protein flour.  This has a major impact on all recipes containing flour: the same amount of flour and water that makes a firm dough with a high-protein flour makes soup with a low-protein flour.

...The presence of gluten is perfect for yeast breads but disastrous for quick breads, cakes, muffins and pancakes [NB: all the latter are made with baking soda and/or baking powder as leavening]... in general, gluten proteins are a blessing when you need strength, but a disaster when you need tenderness."


YES (meaning you want gluten, aka use high-protein/hard winter wheat/northern/strong/all-purpose/bread flour)

- yeast breads
- Strudel
- cream puffs, popovers, yorkshire pudding
- puff pastry
- pasta

NO (meaning you don't want gluten, aka use low-protein/soft/southern/pastry flour)

- quick breads (leavened with baking powder and/or soda)
- cakes, muffins, pancakes
- pie crusts
- dumplings, Asian soft noodles
- genoise


-Cake Flour (8 grams protein/cup or 7.5-8.5% gluten) for cakes, quick breads, etc.

-Bleached Southern All-Purpose Flour (9 g/c or 9%) for pies, quick breads, etc.

-Any brand UNbleached All-Purpose Flour (12+ g/c or 10-12%) for yeast bread

-Northern (Robin Hood or Hecker's) (11-12 g/c or 11-12%) for yeast bread, pastry

-Northern (King Arthur) (13 g/c or 11.7%) for bread, pastry, pasta, pizza

-Bread flour (13-14 or 11.5-12.5%) for bread, pasta, pizza

-Durum wheat/Semolina flour (13+ or 13-13.5%) for pasta only and some breads.

Shirley's a genius.  As Kanye said, go on, girl, go 'head, get down.  

So... back to the subject of my beloved whole wheat pastry flour.

Whole wheat flour (and any whole grain product generally) has a lower glycemic index than its refined equivalent, thus keeping blood sugar levels from spiking and keeping one's energy on a more even keel. In addition, whole wheat flour is more nutritious, contains fiber which positively affects appetite, and tastes more interesting/complex.  My Bob's Red Mill Whole Wheat Pastry Flour is labelled as being good for "any recipe calling for baking powder or soda as a rising agent".  In other words, it's the protein equivalent of a soft wheat/southern/low-protein white flour.  In other words,  whole wheat flour does not BY DEFINITION make tougher breads, because there are low-protein and high-protein WW flours!!  This was news to me.

So we now make lovely, tender, low glycemic index, more nutritionally sound quick breads with little sacrifice in tenderness.  However, I do find that if you choose to substitute whole wheat PASTRY flour into any quick bread-type recipe calling for regular all-purpose or pastry flour, you should eyeball your finished batter/dough and see how much it resembles the regular version.  Usually you will need to add additional moisture to compensate for all the extra stuff (the bran and the germ) in the WW flour that grabs water.

Now (at last!) my groovy bread recipe.  Let it be known that this bread withstood 100% substitution of WW pastry flour for regular, all-purpose flour because it is a VERY WET DOUGH (meaning, compared with the average bread recipe, there is a much higher proportion of wet ingredients to dry, which compensates nicely for the extra bran and germ in the WW flour).

The recipe comes from my favorite cookbook of all time, the somewhat-rare 1961 edition of the Betty Crocker New Picture Cookbook.  It features many fabulous period pen/ink drawings of peppy, slender, cutely-coiffed 1960's era Caucasian housewives effortlessly churning out pies, cakes, breads, roasts, punches, etc. for adorable freckle-faced children and strong-jawed, Mad Men-type husbands ogling the wives and the provender of their kitchens.  There's a smashing section of color photographs in the beginning of the book of "The Betty Crocker Kitchens in Golden Valley" (of course they're in a place called Golden Valley), depicting "the reception area with a gay paprika-colored sofa", a "bright, new-as-tomorrow kitchen" (that looks like the "before" picture in a decor magazine), and of course the "Kamera Kitchen" where "picture-perfect foods are readied for the photographer."  All the home economists (sic) are as neatly coiffed as the housewives in the illustrations, and are clad in crisp white skirted uniforms and sensible white shoes.  

All this period silliness aside, these dames knew from baking.  While I would not recommend anyone cook meat from this cookbook (the cooking instructions generally translate to "incinerate"), the baking segments are extraordinary and the book is worth it just for that.  Bear in mind that a team of crack Home Economists toiled 40 hours a week to make sure YOUR cake (or stollen, or cranberry nut muffins, or parker house rolls) came out picture-perfect each time.

This is a recipe for "whole wheat bread", but it actually contains 50% whole wheat flour and 50% white, for the reasons described above by Ms. Corriher.  It's wicked easy.


1 1/4 cups warm water (110-115 degrees)

1 package dry yeast
2 tbsp soft butter
2 tsp salt
2 tbsp honey, brown sugar or molasses
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups unbleached white flour

In mixer bowl (Kitchen Aid style) dissolve yeast in warm water.  Add butter, salt, sugar and half the flour.  Beat 2 minutes on medium speed in the mixer, or 300 vigorous strokes by hand.  Scrape sides and bottom of bowl frequently.  Add remaining flour and blend with spoon until smooth.  Scrape batter from sides of bowl.  Cover with a wrung-out damp tea towel and let rise in a warm place (85 degrees) until double, about 30 minutes.  (For maximum rising, I recommend filling a bowl with boiling water just off the heat, putting a rack on top, and putting the dough bowl on the rack, covering the entire contraption with the towel to catch the heat/steam.)

Stir down the batter by beating about 25 strokes and spread evenly in greased loaf pans.  Batter will be sticky.  Smooth out the top of the loaf by flouring your hand and patting into shape.  Let rise again until batter reaches within 1 inch of the top, about 40 minutes.  (NB: if your batter gets too tall and overshoots the top, punch it down and let it rise again.  If you put it in the oven in its overshot state, it will sag in the middle while baking because it won't be able to support itself.)

Heat oven to 375 degrees.  Bake 45-50 minutes or until browned.  To test loaf, tap top crust; it should sound hollow.  Immediately remove from pan and cool on rack or across empty pans.  Brush the top with melted butter if desired.  Allow to cool away from drafts, and do not slice until bread has cooled.

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