Monday, January 7, 2008

A Note About Baking Ingredients: Flours


A quick update on seed saving:

So far, I've had mixed but mostly positive results with my saved seeds that I have been testing. My yellow Friench beans had nearly 100 Per cent germination rates, and it looks like the green Frenchies are going to follow suit. Two varieties of heirloom tomatoes: Amish Paste and Olpaka are showing more than 75 per cent germination rates. Another variety looks to have been a bad tomato, and hasn't had any little sprouters yet. But my broom corn, which will be the centerpiece of a really great garden of tall plants this year (if I can keep things from eating the sunflower seeds before they can grow) had good germination rates, too. However, it lookms like I will be buying watermelon seed this year, as none at all of the very many watermelon seeds I was testing have sprouted. I might try again and try and keep them warmer, but decision day as to what I will be ordering in terms of seeds this year is coming quick.

I had a lot of things that I was thinking about this week. Even though it is winter, there is a lot to do. We had a bout of actually cold weather, and it puts a little twist on the day, that's for sure. The animals have to be fed and cared for differently, and keeping the house warm is a challenge. But I decided to dip into baking, instead, and the reason is that I have kind of gotten back into my usual routine for that, and it's a good time to go over the kinds of things I use around the house.

I bake most of what we eat myself. Occasionally, I'll make crackers, but I do tend to buy those, and I do use cake mixes most of the time, though I can make a really good bunch of cakes from scratch. But I only buy bread when the schedule is a little hectic, and I really don't buy cookies unless I'm getting girl scout cookies from my cousin. Other than Carr's ginger cookies filled with lemon (those I recommend without reservation!), storebought cookies are just diappointing, and I figure store bought cookies have as much or more fat and sugar in them as homemade or even really nice bakery cookies. Why not have something that is actually good? Who really thinks those Chips Ahoys are better than even cookies from a mix?

When I buy cooking and baking supplies, I usually approach them in terms of catagories like fats, leavening, flour, sweetening, spices, seeds and grains. Then there is the extra stuff like chocolate and add-ins and things like that.

Flour is probably the most important ingredient, and while it seems like the simplest, in fact, I would say that my flour buying is one of the more complicated elements of my baking. Flour takes up the most storage space by far. For basic everyday cookies, pies and everything like that, pick a good brand name unbleached white flour. My sister uses Gold Medal. She bakes about once every week or so. She's a penny pincher and really a very normal person, and she gets good results with it. I prefer King Arthur. I think it takes less flour to make the recipes turn out, and it's really high quality flour. An additional benefit to King Arthur is that the all-purpose can in a pinch do double-duty as bread flour if the recipe just a plain old white yeast recipe. Don't try to substitute all purpose Kind Arthur for bread flour in like a crusty French bread recipe or sourdough or anything like that, but for a daily loaf, you can use the all purpose, which I would not try with Gold Medal. And I know for a fact from taking to my father about his failed baking experiments that you can't use things like Robin Hood for bread.

Which brings us to bread flour. I also use King Arthur bread flour, and it is amazing in recipes that call for higher gluten content flour. I have used other kinds of bread flour, but there is no comparison. Yes, it's expensive, but if you think what you pay for a "homestyle" white loaf from the bakery at the grocery store or even in the bread aisle, you are saving just by making your own bread. You should at least get the good stuff.

Wheat flour is in the midst of getting a bad rap. I kind of understand why. I know people with gluten sensitivity, and it is a hard thing. I switched from all wheat bread baking to a mixed flour content when my mother visited a homeopatic doctor who advised her to go on the Type A blood type diet. If you believe that kind of thing, the guidelines for eating by blood type suggest that wheat gluten is okay for type A's, but the other parts of the wheat can basically cause snot.

I don't like whole grain baking, especially with bread. I'm not good at it. Things don't turn out, and even if they do, I want things to taste the way I remember them tasting from when I was a little kid. Even though throwing in whole grain flour is good for you, there is more to eating (and to baking) than getting enough bran! I like kneading silky, squishy loaves of bread that are practically bouyant on the counter. You don't get that with whole grains. I know there are a few new whole grain baking books out there, but I haven't found a copy at the library yet, so that will have to wait for another day.

I've made a few nods to newer ideas about what people should eat and what I really want to eat. My compromise healthier bread loaf contains about one fifth high gluten wheat flour to help whole the loaf together and give it a rise. Other kinds of flour I always have on hand just to make the bread more interesting are: rye (stoneground is okay, dark is great), whole spelt, soy, and rice. My compromise for healthier cookies is oat flour. When I measure out flour for cookies, I'll put scant a quarter cup of oat flour in the bottom of a one cup measurer and fill the rest with white flour. Sometimes, I'll add a little brown rice flour to the cup. It's kind of gritty and grainy, but in a good way. If you use more than one fourth oat flour to make cookies, they'll just be too cakey and breaky and gummy and not well-textured, even though oat flour in cookies is very tasty. Oat flour shouldn't really go into bread, as it is too flabby and makes the bread fall too easy. If you want oat taste in bread, soak some rolled oats in hot water for an hour or two and stir them into the bread dough. When adding water to the flour for the bread dough, take into account the water you already used for the oats.

I've never used the Cornell flour formula, but for anyone interested, a gentleman named Clive McCay who was a nutritionist at Cornell University in the 1930's invented a combination of flour that supposedly boosts the nutritional content of baked goods. In the bottom of every cup of flour you add to any recipe place: 1 tablespoon of soy flour, 1 tablespoon of dry milk, and a teaspoon of wheat germ. There's no reason why this shouldn't work, but I don't bake with wheat germ or with dry milk because of allergies/special diets, etc.

Last, but not least, I use quite a bit of graham flour. We have pancakes every Sunday. I would suggest to anyone that they should develop "days" for certain foods, especially breakfast. Pancakes are a great breakfast, because they are "expandable". You can really easily double a batch, even in the middle of cooking if someone is really hungry that morning, if you have guests, or if someone shows up for a visit that you weren't expecting. Now, pancakes are the one thing that I have found that is actually improved by replacing half the all purpose while flour in the recipe with half whole grain flour. For that, I use graham flour, and the result is better than just white flour.

While I'm on the subject, while not really flour, cornmeal is also a nice thing to have around the kitchen. You can whip up cornbread with just the usual ingredients to have around the house. I don't care for white cornmeal, but I keep a can on hand for dusting the pan when I'm making round and free standing loaves of bread. I also use a little yellow cornmeal boiled or soaked in hot water as the base for my multigrain loaves of bread.

When stocking your kitchen, you need to ask yourself: how much do I really need? This is a really complex question, as well. I know it sounds corny and terrible and awful, but on the morning of 9/11, I had to ask myself, if there was a problem with the food distribution system of this country, even for just a few days, would I be able to help my family or would I be one of the people who are standing in bread lines whenever there is an acute crisis? I know, it's depressing to think about. I had to answer "no" at the time, and I decided to change my behavior and my shopping habits so that the answer was a little closer to "yes", if not a whole hearted "yes". Also, there is a little personality and geography involved. If you don't bake a lot, maybe just one five pound bag of all purpose flour is all right for you. My sister buys a bag at a time, and doesn't mind dropping by the grocery store when she needs more, even in the middle of rolling out a pie crust. Of course, she lives a block and a half from a large twenty four hour grocery store. I live thirty miles from the nearest 24 hour grocery (Walmart doesn't count) and almost ten miles from the nearest grocery store of any kind. So, I never feel comfortable when my all purpose flour bucket that holds ten pounds of flour isn't full. I also like to have at least ten pounds of bread flour in the bucket and ten pounds of all purpose and bread flour on the shelf in the basement. I'm less particular about how much of the other flours I have on hand. If I find Kind Arthur flour on sale, I buy a lot of it, just because it does tend to run high and doesn't go on sale that much.

So I would say: look at how much you bake and look at how much you would bake if for some reason you couldn't get flour at the store for say a week. Also, where do you have to store flour? If it's not relatively dry and secure, can you afford airtight containers or even just a few storage totes? I keep ten pounds of each bread and all purpose flours in my big plastic buckets, and the rest of the flour bags tied up in plastic shopping bags. As soon as I can get them out of the basement, I do, though, the vacuum sealer should help in being able to keep things nicer during long-term storage. I know there are a lot of lists of what you should have on hand if a crisis should arise, but, for me, cost is definitely an issue, so if I can keep about thirty pounds of just wheat flour on hand, I consider that okay. For a "normal" household with a little less preoccupation with a "survivalist" mentality, I still think you need to have one five pound bag of flour in reserve, no matter how much is left in the opne bag, just for the sake of conveinience.

Okay, after all that: what would you do if the country collapsed? talk, I'm going to share a couple of recipes. They both take all purpose flour, and they are good, basic things that anyone can make with good, basic kitchen ingredients.

Sunburst Yellow Cake

This is fine as cake and great as cupcakes. We used to get these in our lunches for school when money was short, and I always enjoyed them. If you want an idea of the sort of basics you should have in the kitchen, this recipe is a great place to start.

Preheat the oven to 375.
Grease and flour a 9x13 pan or put cupcake liners in a regular sized cupcake tin.
1 1/2 Cups sugar
1/2 Cup Shortening or Margerine
Add: 3 eggs
1 teaspoon rum or Vanilla extract
1 cup milk
Sift together and stir in:
2 Cups Flour
3 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon nutmeg

Bake until tops spring back when touched.

Basic Pancake Recipe

This is bascially the same one that comes out of the 1970's Betty Crocker cookbook. I make it all the time, and it's really easy to remember: put in one of everything! This is the one where I substitute one half of the all purpose flour with some graham flour. The pancakes are a little more delicate to flip but they taste a lot better. Most of the recipes I use, I leave the salt out. For pancakes and biscuits, however, I use salt. Salt tenderizes the dough, and also, people are really used to Bisquick biscuits and pancakes which I find unbearably salty. A little salt, even a few dashes, will go a long way towards making the homemade biscuits and pancakes taste a little more like what people who are used to mixes expect!

1 Cup flour
1 Cup Buttermilk
1 egg
2 Tablespoons white sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon of baking powder
1/2 teaspoon of baking soda

Mix all ingredients just enough to combine. Fry in a greased skillet. My aunt uses butter or Blue Bonnet, but I prefer more oil. Martha Stewart says for fluffier and more tender pancakes: let your batter just sit for twenty minutes before you cook it, but Martha never had to put up with my mother hovering around waiting for her breakfast.

No comments: