Now that you are fully armed with information about wheat, it’s time to learn how to use it. Baking with whole wheat is kind of tricky, not only because of the taste, but because of the texture as well. Not to mention that it behaves somewhat differently from white flour in baked goods, so you have to use it in a slightly different way.
I know I already said this yesterday, but if you missed out on that post, I will repeat it just for you: grind your own wheat berries for the freshest, best tasting flour ever! Whole wheat flour gets a bad rep in part because it is often already rancid when you buy it from the store. Part of that bitter taste comes from the tannins in the bran, but part of it is also the rancid quality. Freshly ground flour tastes nutty and sometimes sweet, not bitter.
As we discussed in the post “Why Whole Wheat?” , there are some concerns about the digestibility of whole wheat, particularly the bran. Some people resolve the issue by soaking or sprouting their flour, but I feel that sifting the flour is sufficient. Since (at least) the days of Rome, flour has traditionally been sifted to remove the larger pieces of bran left behind in the milling process. If you grind your wheat in the Vitamix , there’s not likely to be a lot of bran to sift out, but both store-bought and home-ground whole grain flours still benefit from a good sifting before baking. Sifting aerates the flour, which helps result in a lighter product in the end.
The American system of measurement in baking – cups – is horridly inaccurate when it comes to measuring dry goods. One cup of flour can weigh 4 oz., or it can weigh 5.5 oz. Clearly, this makes a difference in whatever it is you’re baking, so it makes the most sense to weigh your flour when baking rather than using unreliable cup measurements. You can convert recipe measurements to weight, but it’s easier to start with a weight-based recipe in the first place. The easiest place to find such recipes is on British sites, like AllRecipes.co.uk . You can also find a huge list of measurement conversions at Convert-to.com .
If you don’t have a kitchen scale, I can highly recommend the one I use: The EatSmart Kitchen Scale . It’s small and lightweight, so it doesn’t take up a lot of space (a precious commodity in my kitchen!). Plus, it’s really easy to use and has proven to be very accurate.
Here’s a video of me sifting and weighing whole wheat flour to make bread. (I know, another vlog! Two days in a row! What is the world coming to?)
King Arthur Flour – the expert on the subject – recommends replacing up to a 1/4 cup of the liquid called for in a recipe with orange juice. The orange juice is supposed to offset the bitter taste that whole wheat flour can sometimes project, but it doesn’t make the bread (or whatever you’re baking) taste like orange juice. We don’t normally have orange juice sitting around, but when oranges are in season, I do make use of this tip. Maybe this winter, I will freeze some extra orange juice so I can have it all year long! Some people recommend adding a pinch (just a little pinch!) of citric acid to the dough for presumably the same reason.
Moist & Flavorful
The stronger flavor of whole wheat flour works very well in recipes that have a complementary strong flavor. I personally think that whole wheat flour adds a lot to recipes that have a lot of spices, like gingerbreads and gingersnaps . Pumpkin breads and cakes also work well with whole wheat flour, in my opinion. The molasses and ginger in recipes like this really go together well with the hearty whole wheat flavor. Carrot cake is another one that I believe is a good candidate for whole wheat flour. Also, these recipes generally have more moisture to them, another reason whole wheat flour works well in them. Whole wheat flour loves moisture! So if you’re just starting to bake with whole wheat, I suggest you start with a recipe like one of these.
Replacing White Flour
When starting with a white-flour-based recipe, you can replace up to 1/3 of the white flour with whole wheat flour and not have to make any adjustments.
Keep in mind that whole wheat flour absorbs more liquid than white flour, so if you’re adapting a white-flour-based recipe, you’ll want to add more liquid. Add just a tablespoon at a time until you get the consistency you desire.
Consider a Different Flour
If your only exposure to whole wheat flour is the kind you buy at the grocery store, consider trying a different type of flour. In particular, I would recommend either white whole wheat flour or whole wheat pastry flour (the latter is not particularly good for bread, though, if that’s what you want to bake). Whole wheat pastry flour can be difficult to find, but white whole wheat flour is readily available at most grocery stores. Both of these flours will have a lighter taste and texture than the whole wheat flour you are more accustomed to.
Everybody loves a slice of fresh homemade bread, but making a 100% whole wheat loaf of bread that rises beautifully and tastes hearty but delicious can be a seemingly impossible task. I admit I’m not there yet, but I’ve learned a few things along the way that have helped me in my journey to bake a better loaf of bread.
Healthy Bread in 5 Minutes a Day , my own personal favorite guide to bread baking, recommends adding 1/4 cup of vital gluten to a 4-lb batch of dough (7-8 cups flour) to aid in the rise and elasticity of the dough. Gluten is the element of wheat flour that helps create the rise and elasticity of the dough, so that the final product is light but not crumbly. This is why most bakers prefer to use a high protein type of wheat (like hard red spring wheat) to bake bread, because high protein is high gluten. Unfortunately, when using whole wheat, the bran cuts into the strands created by the gluten, reducing the elasticity and hindering the rise. Sifting helps with this, but so does adding gluten.
Personally, I haven’t followed this advice because it’s just one more thing to put on my grocery list. My grocery budget is pretty tight, and doesn’t really have room for extra stuff. I also admit to being more than a little fearful of ingesting too much gluten, considering the rise of wheat allergies, sensitivities, and celiac disease. I am not 100% convinced that it is in fact the healthiest way to make bread. I am also not 100% against using it, should I ever decide to spend money on it. You will have to make that call for yourself. If you want to check it out, Amazon.com carries Hodgson Mill’s Vital Gluten .
I like to add a few dashes of powdered ginger to my bread dough, because it is also a conditioner. It makes the yeast happy, which helps give the dough a happy rise.
Eggs, Sugar, Milk & Butter
These ingredients are all considered “dough conditioners” and will help produce a lighter loaf of bread when baking with whole wheat flour. Most sandwich bread recipes contain one or more of these ingredients because they will all help create a more delicious and higher-rising loaf of bread, the kind most of us are familiar with when it comes to sandwiches.
What are your favorite tips for baking with whole wheat flour?