Baking With Whole Wheat Flour

If you’ve been reading this newsletter for a while, you know that white flour is a major contributor to weight gain (not to mention heart disease and diabetes). Does that mean that in order for your health to improve, you have to give up delicious foods like cakes, pies, cookies, and bread? Not at all! If you’ve been reading for a while, you’ll also know that adding healthy foods is much more important than subtracting unhealthy foods. But is it possible for baked goods to be healthy? Absolutely! It all depends on the quality of the ingredients. Traditionally, baked goods were made with whole–grain flour, which, unlike its refined counterpart, contains nutrients and fiber in addition to carbohydrates. Not only are baked goods made with whole grains more nutritious and filling than those made with white flour, but they possess a richer, more complex flavor, and provide you with steady, lasting energy rather than a brief carbohydrate high followed by a sudden crash. So what’s the catch? Well, it’s been so long since baked goods were commonly made with whole–grain ingredients that most people no longer know how to do it. To alleviate this problem, we’ve provided some useful tips you can rely on for substituting whole grain flour when you’re using a recipe that calls for white flour (your local health food store will carry the whole–grain flours to which we refer):

–Often a recipe will call for all–purpose flour, which is more or less equal parts bread flour (high gluten) and pastry flour (low gluten). As a substitute for all–purpose flour, just mix equal parts whole wheat bread flour and whole wheat pastry flour. Buy it freshly ground in the bulk section of your local organic food store.

–When making something that requires structure and rising time, like bread, a recipe usually calls for bread flour—so use whole wheat bread flour. When making something that is more tender and flaky, and doesn’t require structure, like biscuits or scones, use whole wheat pastry flour.

–To vary the flavor in baking (especially in the case of bread), other kinds of flour, like rye or buckwheat flour, can be substituted for part of the whole wheat. Remember, however, that these flours have too little gluten to create structure, so only use about 1 part of these flours in bread compared to 4 parts whole wheat, otherwise it won’t rise much. While whole wheat bread will never be as light and fluffy as white bread, it will be far more satisfying; you’ll come to prefer it because of how good it makes you feel and because of its hearty flavor.

–Whole wheat flour requires a little more moisture than white flour. Be prepared to add more liquid about a tablespoon at a time to achieve the proper consistency.

–If baking bread with added yeast, increase the yeast from the usual 2 1/4 teaspoons to a whole tablespoon for whole wheat bread.

–For making baked goods that require very low gluten, like pie crust or cake, substitute whole spelt flour for part of the whole wheat pastry flour. Two parts spelt to three parts whole wheat pastry is a good ratio for pie crust and for cake recipes that call for cake flour (super–refined and bleached white flour). If your cake recipe calls for both all–purpose flour and cake flour, use pastry flour instead of all–purpose flour and spelt instead of cake flour.

–To alleviate the greater heaviness of the whole grain flours in cake and cake–like pastries, use the ribboning method. First, have your butter extremely soft, cut into pieces, and set aside. Put the eggs and sugar into a mixing bowl and really whip them with an electric mixer. The mixture will lighten in color and become fluffy. Beat until it is increased in volume and fluffy (if you stop the mixer and lift out your whisk and move it over the surface of the mixture, it will drip a steady stream that stands out on the surface briefly—a “ribbon”). The sugar is working like tiny whisks that introduce extra air into the batter, increasing overall lift. At this point, add the butter a tablespoon at a time, beating for about 10 seconds after each addition. Essentially, instead of beating butter and sugar together and adding eggs, you’re beating eggs and sugar together and then adding butter. You can proceed with your cake recipe from there.

Regarding sugar in sweet baked goods, it’s still a necessity, but you can use brown sugar instead of white for a little more nutrition. Don’t mess with the amount of sugar in cake recipes, but for cookies you can usually reduce the sugar up to half without really noticing much difference. Once you start eating a healthier diet and cut out the harsh processed flavors, you’ll have less craving for extra sugar anyway. Whatever you do, don’t turn to artificial sweeteners.