cooking and baking with whole grains
Photo: Wendy Hebb

Introduction to Cooking and Baking with Whole Grains

Noted chef and author Dan Barber has strong feelings about the white flour most of us are familiar with for baking and cooking. We may call it “all-purpose flour,” he says, but actually, “we eat dead wheat.” (link) He’s making an important point about eating fresh whole grain flours rather than the shelf-stable, white flour that is easy to find in grocery stores and schools. However, for a chef or baker who wants to add whole grain flour to their institution’s traditional baked goods, it’s essential to acknowledge the challenges you may encounter when you begin to work with whole grains and especially fresh-milled flours.

The appeal of standardized white flour, especially for cooking or baking on a large scale, is uniformity and predictability. Trays of cookies, pizza, and muffins can be produced on a reliable schedule, using essentially the same amount of wet and dry ingredients and similar baking times whenever you make a batch. This predictability can differ with whole grain flour, especially if freshly milled or provided by a local farmer in smaller batches. Whole grains like wheat, barley, and rice are “alive” when milled whole and used while fresh, which means the flour milled from them will be more variable in texture and more clearly defined by flavor and performance. Unlike white flour, whole grain flour allows to experiment and discover the singular characteristics imparted by grain type and variety, weather and soil, and the milling process. Initially, this may take more experimentation and, consequently, additional time. Still, we promise that the extra attention is worth it to fully appreciate one of nature’s most nourishing and delicious foods.

In this chapter, several bakers passionate about shifting the wheat paradigm from “all-purpose white” to a diverse array of whole grains share their experiences and lessons learned. We’ll review ways to incorporate whole grains into your menus including milled into flour, used whole, and sprouted. We’ll delve into milling options, grain and flour storage, and techniques for adapting formulas to the unique characteristics of whole-grain fresh-milled flours. Finally, we spotlight several grains other than wheat that our bakers successfully incorporate into their baking repertoire.