Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Whole Wheat Flour: a serendipitous waltz with God's gift to bread & pancakes (Part 1)

Our favorite bread and flour brand in the UK;
if it's good enough for the queen...

I know I go on about how I'm not a baker all the time and yet seem to post nothing but baking-related entries. That's just me and my incredibly complex and therefore interesting personality going about its business again! What can I say?

But really, I don't like baking. Or maybe I just say that because I was always really bad at it until: 1. I married a man who loves fresh baked goods and 2. I started reading directions while baking instead of taking the "free-style approach."

Start Brief Interlude on the FSA

"What is the 'Free-Style Approach'?" you might ask. I won't mince words (pun intended): it's the half-witted belief that just because you don't follow recipes it means you're a "better," "more inspired" or "natural" cook. We've all fallen into the trap of the proverbial FSA, but it's not until we really start to cook well and can follow an informed and educated FSA, that we understand the ignorance in which we dwelled (or dwelt, if you must) before.

I believe I have now reached that point with baking.

End Brief Interlude on FSA

Up until about a year ago, I had never tried making bread on my own. It seemed too complex, too intense, and the fact that yeast is a living thing kind of freaked me out (despite having no problems, for example, killing live fish with my bare hands). So I just didn't do it. Over the course of my time as a lady of leisure here in London town, I have come upon a couple of wonderful recipes, sometimes in Olive, sometimes through friends, that have steadily changed my mind. One particularly cold day in January, having returned from our holiday traipsing in Texas and Connecticut, I came upon this little gem of a recipe in my Olive mag: Quick Carrot & Walnut Bread.

Before I get into the recipe and all that it involved, I should mention that what baking I had done before this point, only ever involved white (all-purpose or, plain, if you're British) flour. The carrot bread suddenly plunged me into uncharted territory: Whole Wheat Flour Land.

* * *

What is Whole What Flour Anyway and Why Are People Always Going On About How "GOOD" It Is For You?
I too asked myself this question

How to keep this short and sweet? Right-o. Let's get on with it.

There are two kinds of wheat you are likely to be consuming living in the United States or the United Kingdom: Red Wheat or White Wheat. They are most common in the respectively mentioned nations.

Red Wheat is darker, heavier and tends to have a slightly bitter-er taste. White Wheat is an albino variety of Red Wheat which not only has a lighter color, but tends to be sweeter and milder in flavor.

Flour is made from these wheat berries, and the berries or grains themselves, in turn, are made of three different parts: bran, germ and endosperm (Eeewww! She said endosperm!). Whole Wheat
Flour uses all three parts of the grain. White Flour made with Red Wheat (or plain, or all-purpose) is processed and refined longer and therefore uses only, you guessed it, the endosperm.

Whole Wheat flour is better for you because you are consuming more grain and therefore more nutrients, specifically fiber and protein. Up until recently, you had to eat the "yucky-non-wonder" brown bread made with Red Wheat to get these benefits (which, I guess explains why kids like white bread and adults like brown). In fact, all-purpose white flour is so far refined and so stripped of nutrients that laws in some countries dictate it be fortified (that the healthy stuff be added back). But now, thanks to the miracles of modern day science and hybrid flour plants, we can have the best of both worlds with White Wheat Bread.

Adults can now knowingly deceive their children (or husbands, in my case) into eating brown bread that looks white by using the aforementioned albino
variety of flour and not refining it as much!

Pardon the grammar, but, ain't life grand?

Last valiantly edifying point here: my dallying with Whole Wheat also led me to a serious linguistic "aha" moment. I started asking myself, why is it called Whole Wheat (prior to my above research) and found that the English language (and a couple of others) aren't nearly as arbitrary as one would think in their gastronomic nomenclature.

So it's called "Whole" Wheat because it uses the "whole" wheat berry?! Wow. In addition to this, several cultures use the word "integral" or, loosely translated, "complete" or "comprehensive" to describe Whole Wheat. Pretty neat.

A Short International List on "How to say Whole Wheat"
(because I take any chance to show off my mad language skills)
USA: Whole Wheat

England: Wholemeal
Italy: Integrale
Mexico: Integral
France: Farine Complète

* * *

Carrot, Walnut & Raisin Bread

Cuts into ~10 Slices

Picture perfect, huh?

I love carrots and I love walnuts. It didn't take much to convince me to try out this recipe. But, this delicious and very easy loaf of Olive's "Quick Carrot & Walnut Bread" has my own little twists added in. I decreased the salt, added sugar, raisins and sunflower seeds. I was a bigger fan than Matt, but that's only because he has a real sweet tooth and loves toast: sadly, this bread is not very sweet and way too big to fit in our toaster comfortably. It is possible to cut it to the right size, and if you do take the trouble - let me tell you, it's great toasted with jam or honey.

I would highly recommend this recipe to anyone who, like me, has or had a fear of baking bread. Not only will it compel you to, also like me, sing the praises of Whole Wheat Flour, it will make everyone around you thankful you finally gave up acting like you hated baking.

350g Plain Flour
150g Whole Wheat Flour
1/2 tsp Salt
1 1/2 tbsp Sugar
2 tsp Baking Soda
150g Carrots, peeled and grated
300ml low-fat Greek Yogurt
125ml Semi-Skim Milk
1 small handful Walnuts, roughly chopped & toasted
1 small handful Raisins
1/2 small handful shelled sunflower seeds

1. Heat the oven to 230C or 445F.

2. Mix the flours, salt, sugar and baking soda, then stir in the carrot, nuts, raisins and yogurt, followed by enough of the milk to make a soft, quite sticky dough.

3. Place onto a lightly-floured surface and form a flat ball, put on a baking sheet and slash the top.

4. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until risen and cooked. It will sound hollow when you tap it. If in doubt and the bread is browning too much, place foil loosely over the top and let it cook longer as mine came out a little raw the first time after 30 minutes and that really ruined the whole experience. :)

Will keep for about a week on the counter if wrapped tightly and freezes nicely too.
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