Saturday, May 29, 2010

A Note on Flour

I wanted to take a few moments to tell you about some of the particular flours that I use in my baking (when possible), so that there won't be any confusion later on : )

Most everyone is very familiar with all-purpose flour, and is quite accustomed to using it, myself included. However, in the pursuit of trying to eat more healthfully, there are certain drawbacks to using the typical "enriched" and often "bleached" flours. The white, fluffy flour that we buy off the grocery store shelf has been striped of most of its nutrition (like the germ and bran) during processing, and is then "enriched" with certain artificial vitamins and minerals to try to give the flour back some of its nutritional value.

Store bought "whole grain" flours are a somewhat better alternative, but even though better, they have still lost the majority of their nutrition. This is because (or so I hear) that within 24 hours of being ground, the flour has already lost close to 50% of its nutrients, and that after 72 hours, has lost around 90% of its nutrients. I'm no scientist or nutritionist, and so I don't know all the particulars, but it seems to me that the bag of flour that has been sitting in my pantry for three months would be pretty void of its nutrients.

So what's the alternative? We need to be able to use some sort of flour....Well, one option would be to grind your own flour out of "wheat berries". Basically, the entire kernel of wheat is ground into flour using a handy-dandy machine, and voila! You have yourself some fresh flour. This allows you to consume your baked goods with the knowledge that the flour you are using still has the bran, the germ, and all the other nutrients God packed into the whole grain.

There are different types of "wheat berries" (and other grains), and they are used to achieve different results. Common ones I use are Soft White Wheat, Hard (or Winter) White Wheat, Hard Red Wheat, Kamut, and Oat Groats. (They are also organic, which is a big plus).

The Soft White is used for items like cakes, cookies, muffins and the like, when a fluffier texture is wanted. The Hard White/Hard Red is what I mostly use when I am making sandwich bread, dinner rolls or heartier types of items. (These are three main types of flour I use).

One way to help determine which type of flour to use is to see whether the recipe uses baking soda/powder, or yeast. "Quick rising" items generally use the Soft White, and the "slow rise" or "yeast breads" generally use the Hard White or Hard Red, (though, this is not always the case).

The Kamut flour has less gluten then the Hard White/Hard Red flours, so it is usually combined with other flours that contain more gluten. (In my "everyday" bread I use a combination of the Hard Red, Hard White, and Kamut).

I mostly use the Oat Groats for hot breakfast cereals, homemade granola, and basically as a substitute for "old-fashioned rolled oats." (We have an attachment on our bread machine that rolls the Oat Groats into, well, rolled oats). However, the Oat Groats can also be ground into flour and used in breads, adding nutrition and flavor.

So now that I've mentioned some of the reasons why I use freshly ground flours, and when I use them, I will now talk about how I use them.

You can take most any recipe, and substitute fresh flour for regular flour, with pretty satisfactory results. The thing about using the freshly milled flour is that it is quite airy. If you measured this flour, it might be a different amount then its all-purpose cousin. How to get around it? Weigh the flour instead. The rule of thumb I use is 1 cup flour = 5 oz freshly ground whole wheat flour.

I do this simply and easily on my nifty kitchen scale. Simply take your bowl (or other container) and place it on the scale. Then hit "tare" or the "on" button, to set the scale back to zero (don't want to accidentally include the weight of the bowl!) and then add the wheat berries until you have the desired weight. Then simply turn on your grinder, pour the grains in, and there you have it - fresh flour.

I realize that while using freshly milled flour is all well and good, some of us do not have the time to grind our own flour, nor the funds to invest in a grinder. I totally understand this and do not want to come across as critical of those who do use store bought flour. I still use store bought flour sometimes! If I'm making something to take somewhere and don't know if the strong taste of wheat will be welcomed, or I'm making a finicky recipe where the wheat might do weird things, or simply can't face dragging out the grinder and then washing all the components all for 1/2 cup of flour, then I will use my jar of white flour. I only try, when possible, to use the fresh stuff, and that's all I'm tryin' to say : )

Anyway, to recap my rather long post on flour:

1. Store bought flour has less nutrition then freshly ground, but still fine to use, and
2. If using fresh flour then the substitute I use is 1 cup = 5 oz.

On a side note, the wheat flour has a stronger, well, wheat flavor to it then all-purpose flour. It might take a little while to acquire a taste for it, but if you like the almost nutty, earthy taste of 'whole wheat', then I'm sure you won't have a hard transition : ) Also, we (meaning my family and I) get our wheat from a company called The Bread Beckers. They ship to the contiguous United States, but we use them through a co-op, which places orders every few months, and so we just pick up our order locally when it comes in. They sell more then just grains - everything from bread machines and grinders to grains and sweeteners. Anyway, just thought I'd share that!

Happy baking!

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