Sunday, February 7, 2010

Bread with Ultragrain

While the baking aisles at the local grocery stores have always been clogged with cake mixes and canned frostings, the flour sections have improved over the years.

At first, I was limited to a few brands and a few options unless I was buying boutique flour in tiny bags. Now, on occasion, I'll find something new.

Recently, I picked up a bag of Eagle Mills All Purpose Flour with Ultragrain.

Of course, I had no idea what it was when I bought it. I know the names of a lot of different grains, but Ultragrain sounded to me like it might have superhero tendencies. Maybe it would make me able to leap tall buildings.

Or not.

I used a bit of it in other baking recipes before I decided that I ought to try it in a loaf of bread. I decided to keep the recipe fairly simple in terms of added flour-like ingredients. I started last night with about a cup or so of whey (left over from yogurt making) that I tossed into the bowl of my kitchenaid mixer. I added a teaspoon of yeast, a tablespoon of sugar, and enough of the Ultragrain flour to make a thick batter. Thicker than pancake batter, but still mixable with a whisk. Since the flour was fresh out of the freezer and the whey and the yeast came from the fridge, I knew it was going to take some time for the yeast to wake up. I covered the bowl with plastic wrap and let it sit on the counter overnight.

This morning, it was obviously bubbly. I added another teaspoon of yeast, a teaspoon of salt, and more flour. I put the dough hook on the mixer and let it fly. It wasn't long before I realized that the dough was a little stiffer than what I wanted. I briefly considered adding more whey, but then I spotted a container of yogurt that was almost empty, so I grabbed that, instead. This was some of my home-made yogurt, and I'd guess there was maybe a quarter-cup left. That went into the mixer.

I kneaded until it was thoroughly combined, then covered the bowl again and let it rest for maybe 15 minutes. Went back and kneaded again. The dough was getting nicely stretchy and shiny. I added some olive oil. Not as much as usual, since the yogurt also contributed some fat. Maybe a teaspoon of olive oil. When it was nicely kneaded, I stopped the mixer, dribbled a tiny bit more olive oil around the sides, used a spatula to make sure the whole doughball was free from the sides of the bowl, covered the bowl with plastic and let it rest until it was doubled in size.

Preheated the oven to 375.

Meanwhile, I did a little research on Ultragrain. It seems that a lot of commercial breadmakers and flour companies have a similar product. Basically, Ultragrain is the same stuff that other companies are calling white whole wheat (or more accurately, whole white wheat). The Eagle Mills website makes a point of talking about the way the grain is milled so that the grains are the same size as standard flour, while other sites talk less about the milling and more about the grain itself.

White wheat in this sense is white compared to red wheat. Regular white (not whole) flour is made from red wheat that has been stripped of the germ and other bits, so that just the white part is left. Regular whole wheat is red wheat that hasn't been stripped, so that nutrients and fiber remain. However, many people find that the red whole wheat has a bitter taste, and often it's ground to a coarser texture (stone ground, for example, usually means that the flour is coarser) so the resulting bread is denser and browner.

White wheat doesn't have the red color component, and some people call it albino wheat. The red color also is where the bitterness comes in, so white whole wheat tastes sweeter and more like refined white flour, while retaining the nutrients and fiber. It's still not as white as refined white flour, but it's not as brown as whole wheat and the color is more uniform throughout, without the dark brown flecks that you find in standard whole wheat flour.

While white wheat is supposed to be more like white flour in taste, any whole wheat can cause some issues with recipes that require gluten formation because the hard bits can cut the gluten strands. The shorter strands aren't as good at trapping the gasses, so the bread can still be a little more dense. Some of the websites suggest using white whole wheat in recipes designed for regular whole wheat, rather than using it in recipes that are written for plain white flour.

However, many things affect gluten formation. Adding seeds to the mix can cut at the strands. Oil added to a dough recipe will coat the gluten strands. Other whole grains or other mix-in change the properties of the bread. To me, this isn't a negative thing, it's what makes breadmaking so interesting.

I also found out that the all purpose flour from Eagle Mills is a mix of the Ultragrain and regular white flour. Eagle Mills also sells a 100 percent white whole wheat flour, but that's not available in my local stores. Fortunately, King Arthur Flour also has a white whole wheat flour that's sold locally, and recently I saw another brand of white whole wheat, so it seems like I'll have more options as this type of flour gets more popular.

I've got to say that as much as I like the idea of a lighter whole wheat option, I hope that red whole wheat doesn't disappear completely. Sometimes that bold flavor and darker color and interesting texture is just what I'm looking for.

Back to breadmaking. After the research and the rising time, I floured my countertop and dumped the dough out and shaped it into a long loaf, about the diameter of your average baguette. Put it on a cornmeal-sprinkled cookie sheet and covered it with plastic for another rest. Let it double in size...or a teeny bit more. Made three diagonal slashes and popped it into the oven. After 30 minutes, the crust was a lovely brown, but I thought it might need just a tad more time, so I lowered the heat to 325 and let it go for a little longer. No timer on it this time. Maybe ten minutes.

The crust was a lovely mahogany brown and there was a decent amount of oven spring. The loaf is soft and moist, but not gummy or spongy. The color was a light tan. Not as dark as whole wheat could be, but obviously not white bread either.

Flavor-wise, if I closed my eyes and ignored the color, I might think it was some version of white bread. Or I might imagine it's got just a little whole wheat. Either way, it's a great option for making a mild bread that's better for you.

Soon, I'll try a bread with a flour that's 100 percent white whole wheat and see how that comes out, but based on these results, I expect that it won't give me any problems at all. It'll also be interesting to see what the results would be if I used a recipe designed for whole wheat.

This is why breadmaking is so much fun. There are so many options.