Why use whole wheat instead of white flour?

When we eat breads made from whole grain flours, we get all the great nutritional value from the whole grain. Check out the nutritional values label on whole wheat vs white flour. Not all of the nutrients in the whole grain wheat are shown, but the label gives you a hint of what you are getting in whole wheat vs white flour: Whole wheat has 366%  as much iron and potassium and over 300% as much fiber. Whole wheat flour has a lot of B vitamins that are removed when flour is refined into white flour.

Nutrition label from whole wheat flour. Note the fiber, iron and potassium values.
Nutrition label from Unbleached White flour (this is refined flour, but it has not been bleached to make it pure white). Note the fiber, iron and potassium values and compare to whole wheat flour.

Whole grain bread is better for a person with diabetes or prediabetes!

High fiber carbohydrates, like those in whole grain bread helps keep your blood glucose from rising very quickly. When you eat white bread, the carbohydrates are more quickly digested and absorbed into your blood stream. That is why we say that white bread has a higher “glycemic index” than whole wheat bread. (The “glycemic index” of a food is higher depending on how quickly that food typically raises blood glucose. White bread has a glycemic index in the 70’s while 100% whole wheat bread’s glycemic index is in the 50’s)

 

There are two types of “Whole Wheat Flour” that you can get in most grocery stores.

The most common is labeled simply “Whole Wheat Flour”. It is made from hard red winter wheat, the most common variety of wheat used for flour. Alternatively you can get “White Wheat Flour”; do not confuse this with “white flour”. White wheat is another variety of wheat.

Whole wheat flour made from “hard red wheat”

 

Whole wheat flour made from hard white wheat

There is a difference in taste—the “white whole wheat flour” has a milder flavor. I use the two flours interchangably. I sometimes use 50% of each type when I’m making bread.

How can I get my whole wheat bread to rise like white bread?

You are right, whole wheat bread can be very dense. That is because the bran and germ in the whole grain keep the gluten from rising as it does in white flour. The protein gluten (a combination of “gliadin” and “glutenin”) is what gives breads and other baked goods their “spongy” texture. You just can’t get the same texture in a gluten free bread.  If you add just a little “Vital Wheat Gluten”, your bread will rise just fine. I use 1/4 cup in a recipe for 2 loaves of bread. I do this in regular sandwich bread as well as sour dough or french bread. This makes my bread about 95-96% whole grain.

Vital Wheat Gluten is an important ingredient if you want your whole grain bread to rise well!

Whole Grain Bread Recipe

I am giving you a very basic recipe with options for some variations. I use my heavy duty “Kitchen Aid” stand mixer, with a dough hook to do the majority of the mixing. This makes the process easier than if I am doing everything by hand.

  • Whole wheat flour total: 5 3/4 to 6 cups, divided (you may need a little more depending on humidity in your kitchen)
    • Up to 1 cup flour can be substituted with another grain or seed (e.g. rolled oats OR oats ground into flour in your blender; rye flour, ground flax seed, chia seeds, rice flour, cooked and cooled millet—be creative!)
  • 1/4 cup Vital Wheat Gluten
  • 2 cups warm liquid (110 to 120 degrees); you may need a little extra liquid if humidity is very low (water or milk are most commonly used, but you could use broth, water left over from cooking potatoes or vegetables or even fruit juice if you want a sweeter bread)
    • It is good to check the temperature of your liquid to make sure it is in the range that helps yeast to grow, but doesn’t kill it. When I am adding flour, sweetener and oil to the liquid before I add the yeast, I go with the top end of the range (110-120 degrees F)
  • (Optional) 1/3 to 1/2 cup sweetener: honey, molasses, maple syrup, white or brown sugar. (Sweetener helps bread retain moisture and adds flavor. I like using 1/4 cup honey and 1/4 cup molasses)
    • A combination of honey and molasses gives bread a very nice flavor, especially when using some rye flour and oats.
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup oil: canola oil, corn oil, safflower oil, olive oil, melted butter—you could even use melted lard. For a heart healthy bread I typically use Canola oil)
    • Canola oil is heart healthy becuase it is a polyunsaturated fat that contains omega 3 fatty acids. Poly-unsatruated fats help lower blood cholesterol. Eating more omega 3 fatty acids has been linked to a lower incidence of heart disease.
  • 2 tablespoons or 2 packets dry yeast
    • If you make bread often, it is more economical to buy yeast in a jar, otherwise buy it in individual packets. Once your jar of yeast is open, storeit in the refridgerator. Make sure you use it by its expiration date!
  • 1 tbsp salt

Directions:

  • Place warm liquid + oil, sweetner and 2 cups whole wheat flour in a large mixing bowl. Let this sit for about 15 minutes (this helps soften the bran in the whole wheat flour)
  • Add the yeast and stir OR mix on your mixers “stir” setting for 30 seconds.
    • Yeast added to flour, liquid, sweetener and oil. Another way to do the yeast is to put in into about 1/4 cup water with 1/2 teaspoon sugar and allow it to sit for a few minutes until it is frothy. Then add it to your flour and liquid.
      Using an electric mixer makes the mixing and initial kneading of bread very easy.
  • In a separate large bowl, stir together the Vital Wheat Gluten, 3 1/4 cups whole wheat flour, OR 2 1/4 cup whole wheat flour + 1 cup of whatever other flours or grains you are adding. Mix this into the above mixture, makin sure all the flour is combined with the liquid. Stir or mix for about 40 seconds.
  • Add the salt
  • Continue to stir or mix the dough until it starts to form a ball and is still slightly sticky, adding flour 1/4 cup at a time as needed to get the dough to form a slightly sticky ball (you may need 3/4 cup additional flour, again it depends on humidity—I find that the amount I add varies every time I make bread)
  • Coat your hands with flour and then place the dough on a lightly floured board (any hard surface will do). Sprinkle 2 to 4 tablespoons of flour on the top of the dough and knead it lightly. Use the palms of your hands to stretch the dough and then fold it until you have a nice tight ball. (This shouldn’t take more than 5 minutes)
  • Place the dough in a large bowl that has been greased. Turn the dough over in the bowl so that the dough is greased.
  • Cover the dough with plastic wrap and then place a towel over the bowl and let raise until almost double in size.
    • You know your dough has risen enough when you poke your fingers into it and it does not spring back.
  • Place the risen dough on your lightly floured board and gently press the air out of the dough and form a ball.
    • Cut the dough in half  and form each half into a tight “log”.
    • One way to do this is to roll the dough out and fold it into a log; important to make sure that it is very tight so that you don’t end up with a hole in the middle of your loaf.
    • Place each log of bread dough in a greased loaf pan.
    • Final rising of dough will be in loaf pan or on a sheet pan if you are making it into different shapes. Cover with plastic wrap, topped with a cloth towel and allow to rise until just above the top of the pan, or until almost double in size.
    • If you don’t want your bread in loaves, you can shape it however you want to.
      • It is fun to give each of your kids some dough to make into their own unique design!
      • You can also divide each loaf into 3 long strands to make a braid. Be creative!
  • Allow the dough to rise until it is just above the top of your loaf pans, or if no using loaf pans, until not quite double in size.
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F about 15 minutes before it is done rising.
  • Bake for 35 to 40 minutes. If making smaller loaves or shapes of bread, it will take less time. Bake for about 20 minutes and then check frequently. Bread is done when it is browned on top and it makes a hollow sound when you tap the bottom of it.
  • Placed finished bread on a wire or wooden rack and allow it to cool before cutting
    • Many recipes say to let it cool completely, I find that if I let it cool for about 20 minutes, it is still warm, but easy to slice—what is better than a warm slice of fresh bread?

You’re right—baking bread takes some time, but it is not difficult! Having fresh whole grain bread for your toast, sandiwich or with your soup is well worth it! Your family will love it!