Healthy holiday baking: Part 1, healthy yeast bread flours and leavening agents

Baking season is upon us. Fresh baked breads, muffins, quick breads, cookies, cakes, and pies can be a highlight of holiday gatherings. This three part series of articles that will assist in making your holiday baking easier and healthier!

Eating a slice of fresh baked bread with a chewy crust and an airy interior is mouthwatering. Bread recipes begin with flour. All wheat flours, aside from gluten free flours, are made from a blend of hard or soft, white or red wheat. Different flours have differing protein contents and the protein content reflects how much gluten is in the flour. The gluten content is important because when the flour is moistened the gluten in the flour is activated. When the flour is moistened and mixed or kneaded, the glutens stretch out. When glutens are combined with leavening agents this causes the flour mixture to rise. The protein content and glutens dictate how the leaving agents work. Most breads that have that chewy crust and airy interior are made with a flour containing a higher protein, and thus gluten content, such a bread flour.

Bread flour is one of the best gluten containing flours for baking breads, pizza crusts and light rolls. It has a protein content of around 13 percent with means that it is high in glutens and will interact with the leaving agents, such as yeast, when making breads and rolls. Although bread flour alone is not that healthy. Through processing, white bread flour has had the bran and wheat germ removed. This removes almost all the fiber from the flour. Without the fiber the bread flour easily interacts with the glutens and the leavening agents to bake up light airy breads. There is, however, a healthier alternative, and you still can enjoy that delicious light textured bread. Use a combination bread flour with whole wheat flour.

Whole wheat flour and white whole wheat flour has a high protein content between 13 and 14 percent. Although this flour has a high protein content, the flour contains the bran and wheat germ so it is heavy, weighing down the expansion of the glutens when activated. Remember, white bread flours have the bran and wheat germ removed. Retaining the bran and wheat germ makes the flour healthier for you. Baked goods made with whole wheat flour contain more fiber and the retained wheat germ in the flour contains B vitamins and antioxidants. Whole wheat and white whole wheat are not generally solely used in making raised yeast breads, but they can be. Healthier recipes combined higher gluten flours with whole wheat flours. If a recipe calls three cups of white flour substitute one cup with whole wheat flour. Adding whole wheat flours may increase the time it takes yeast bread to rise. For tips on how to incorporate more whole wheat flour into baking checkout this website.

Other articles in this Michigan State University Extension series:
  • Healthy holiday baking: Part 2, healthy muffins and quick bread flours
  • Healthy holiday baking: Part 3, healthy cookies and cakes and pie crust flours

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