White or Wheat?
Such a complicated subject! I love whole grains because they can be challenging to work with and the flavor is incredible. That being said, I don’t think we should call white flour “junk food”. As someone who has struggled with an eating disorder for 20 years, I am trying to raise my kids in a house where no food is called “junk”, it’s just food. I think there is a place for all foods; so many happy memories revolve around Dairy Queen Blizzards, Cinnamon Toast Crunch while camping and Gushers fruit snacks with friends.
As discussed in the interview, there is also the problem with access. It doesn’t sit right to call what most people can afford, and easily attain and use, junk. It feels like another way to blame individuals for “choosing” to be unhealthy, when there really isn’t a lot of actual choice.
I would love to see more local, whole grains because accessible to more people. I would love to help facilitate the delicious and fun exploration that baking with whole grain can be. But I don’t think we need to demonize a other food to do it. My goal is to be an all-inclusive baker, to be otherwise closes doors before people even know they’re there.
No, white flour is not junk food. Yes, in a modern, sedentary lifestyle, our serving sizes may need to shift to maintain a balanced diet, but like white rice, whole food cultures are built upon white flour based recipes as staples, and for many, is an important source of affordable caloric intake. Culturally, these recipes, or special occasion recipes using refined flours, maybe a source of family tradition, holidays, and rich food heritage. Like many bakers, much of my baking frequency does spike up around holidays and special occasions, and these are for the most part not going to be whole wheat recipes. So from that standpoint, yes you can call many of these recipes “sometimes food”, but I guess it’s a whole other topic all together to talk about how with increasing wealth, many items that people could only afford to make and eat for holidays are now available year round.
But on the subject of staple grains, I think refined flour products still have relevance and importance for food security, and in a busy household, with picky eaters, it has approachability. It can be part of a balanced diet. Among my recipe hoarding piles, I have a range of recipes, everything from basic all white bread to books focusing on whole wheat and high extraction flour. What do I bake mostly? I use 10-20%WW, either by design (as written in the recipe) or I spike in about 10% in a 1:1 sub to sneak in a bit of whole grain. It works for my family, and I don’t have the time to play around with formulas or try new recipes out (any recipe too high in WW that my family doesn’t like the texture or taste means I have to eat it all, and then I have to make more that they would eat).
Yes I’d be interested to have more whole wheat recipes if Andrew is interested to develop them. I like the idea of the “WW option” of a master recipe, although sounds like double work for Andrew, but would be interesting as a comparison and understanding flours. I understand the challenges in writing universal recipes with a very heterogeneous regional milling menu, but I feel like I deal with that with all recipes that don’t specify a specific brand or %protein in the flour. Just takes a bit of tweaking and that is how breadmaking experience helps so much in building instinct of look and feel and going with how it looks rather than the recipe times.
Question - has anyone come across any bulk section or natural food store with a grain mill? I was thinking it would be nice to have that as a store service (like how stores have a peanut butter grinder) for people to come and buy bulk grains and grind fresh in store, and then you don’t need to buy your own mill and can get freshly milled flour when you want some and then throw it in the freezer. Just a random thought!
I use HE or 100% wheat for my breads. Adrian Hale's 100% Einkorn Loaf is my idea of a flavourful and healthy loaf. I am interested in more whole grain recipes. I also try to use at least half whole wheat flour in cookies, scones, muffins and quick breads. Stone ground flours are available to me from a small mill here in Maryland that delivers and also sells at the farmers markets.
Yes, I bake with whole grain flour. Freshly milled in my kitchen and I use the flour immediately (which greatly increases the rise of the dough) 88% hydration and to give it shape I bake it in a bread pan inside a dutch oven. I bake with yeast and a couple of spoons fresh levain which gives additional rise and flavor. Thanks for the sourdough Andrew, it's so fragrant and easy to maintain. It takes 3 hours to make this bread, 10 minutes hands on time. Super crusty and delicious nutty bread, amazing with a slice of Gruyere, stores well on a wooden board on the cut side. However, I have never been able to make a free form loaf of this bread and I would be really interested in learning how to do that.
I view eating bread made from refined flours as a treat, something to be indulged in now and then. My thinking is that it's very likely not healthy to eat bread made with refined flour. Not a big fan of sugar either. But no, I don't think white flour is junk food. I think it's a luxury to be enjoyed now and then.
What would really interest me is how to substitute white flour with true whole grain flour, in traditional recipes for cakes, pie dough, pizza dough. Most whole wheat flour recipe's are based on store bought whole wheat flour without the germ, which has much less fat than true whole grain flour which contains the fatty germ. Baking with store bought whole wheat flour (essentially white flour with a handful bran tossed back in, but lacking any nutrition) does not interest me and virtually all whole wheat flour recipes out there are using this "pseudo" whole wheat four. I'd like to see recipes that make this important distinction. That is something I'd be very much interested in.
As a graduate student living in an expensive city (I don't even want to talk about how much I spend on San Francisco rent), I appreciate the balanced approach you've taken to talking about flour. Would I like to buy high-quality, local, freshly milled flour? Of course. But on my budget, even King Arthur flour feels like a splurge. So I appreciate not feeling deprecated or judged for baking with 'commodity' flour.
As for the whole grain vs white flour question: I generally prefer to bake mostly whole grain breads, partly because I enjoy the taste and partly because I find I feel better when eating more whole grains. But having said that, there's absolutely a place for refined flours as well! I love a slice of fluffy, light shokupan, toasted until just golden and smeared with butter and jam as an occasional treat!
Edit: Echoing many people on this thread to say that I'd love to have more whole grain recipes on the blog!
I don't bake with 100% whole grain (yet) because I am still a novice. I have gone up to 40-50% WG with varied success, but I still need a higher extraction bread flour to really keep my breads together. As a matter of personal taste, I like having breads that make for sandwich making, and at my level, that definitely requires a hybrid flour situation.
That being said, I would love get to the point of baking beautiful, broad 100% whole grain loaves. The savory and addicting flavor of wheat comes out and that's what I think of when I think of bread as sustenance, akin to a side of brown rice or other cooked grain.
Abandoning white flour in my view is unnecessary. Ingredients as building blocks to meals, rather than the manifestation of any number of political systems, are neither good nor bad and they all have their uses. Where would the world of candy be if not for blue raspberry! White flour is good for delicious pastries and lighter breads. Do we besmirch the brioche for its eggs and dairy-- both of which have even more well known ethical complications?
From the baker's stand point, I think it comes down to the end product you are trying to make. Are you making a hearty side or a treat? In America, I feel that bread has been commodified to a vehicle for something else (schmear, avocado, lunch meant) rather than a thing of sustenance which leads to the prevailing use of white flours and cultural definition that resists the hint of something earthy. But even seeing bread as a mean to and end rather than an end itself, I do believe there is little harm in making it marginally more filling and nutritious with the use of whole grains.
I bake mostly with white flour. I don't bake enough to have a lot of different types of flour around the house. I have enjoyed mixing in some whole grains--say up to 20%--I will keep doing that! I'd be game to try a nearly 100% whole wheat loaf but I don't think it will ever be my favorite flavor.
When I bake bread it's usually 100% whole grain, sourdough. I can't imagine white flour ever being abandoned in our culture, and I do appreciate a good baguette once in a while, or cake. But these are exceptions, and not part of my standard diet.
I'm intrigued by the many comments that declare the "belief" that white flour is not junk food. Believing that doesn't make it so. It's wishful thinking. There's plenty of evidence that shows that a diet heavy on white flour products is bad for your health. It doesn't mean that thou shalt never eat white bread, just that you'll pay the consequences. We don't need to make people feel bad about it by being judgy -- just provide the example.
Andrew, as an "influencer", I encourage you to lead by example and lean heavily in the whole grain direction. I run across so many excellent recipes that end with the phrase, "serve with white rice". Why should that be encouraged? It may be the traditional way it's served in whatever culture it comes from, but in our culture, today, it's a bad choice. Why not say, "traditionally, this is served with white rice, but to really make this sing, serve it with brown rice, or <insert appropriate whole grain here>. Ditto for bread making.
There's no need to be judgemental about it, just make it easy for people to make this choice.
Andrew: A 100% whole wheat sandwich loaf developed by you would be welcomed by many. Because there’s not much that’s available on that topic that’s good. A well-known cookbook author who writes about everything had a whole grain, sourdough, no-knead bread book come out in the late fall. I bought it for a friend the moment it came out, because she was looking for something like this. There were no reviews at time of purchase. Reasonably skilled, she went on to produce brick after brick of whole wheat bread from the recipe. Substantial numbers of reviewers on Amazon noted the same outcome once reviews started to appear. We finally spent some time analyzing the recipe, using all the knowledge we’d gained from your blog and classes. After some further experimentation, we found the ingredient list was probably fine, but the instructions for timing of steps were deeply flawed. So, while we’ve now produced some decent whole grain loaves using our revisions to that recipe, we would definitely prefer a whole grain recipe from you. Because it’s unlikely we’d need to debug it.
I agree with others who have said that being non-judgmental about what flour people use is a good approach. While for some it might just be a matter of more education on types of flours, access is definitely a constraint. I feel fortunate that I have recently found locally milled flours to use. And I enjoy a freshly made white sourdough loaf as much as a deli dark rye sourdough loaf. Time and place for all kinds of variations. An easily accessible homemade whole wheat sandwich loaf would definitely be useful though. Thanks for all you share with us.
Yes, I'd love to have more information about whole grain recipes. Years ago I got accustomed to using all whole grain pastry wheat for quick breads, soda bread, pancakes, cakes and cookies. I just like the texture and flavor better than the fluffy stuff, which seems to turn back to paste in my mouth.
When baking bread I sometimes will use 85% extraction flour for a fourth or half of the grain, especially when using low gluten grains. I try to use whole grain more often.
Many thanks for all you do.
Yes, I'd love more whole grain recipes. I stopped making bread for a long time because I was no longer interested in eating mostly white flour. For the reason of health and nutrition. Now I am making a lot of primarily whole grain bread--a combination of local whole wheat and T85 flours. I'd like to experiment more. I'm less interested in bread that takes a long time to make and more interested in starting something the night before and finishing it by noon. For me, white flour is not junk food per se, but I minimize the use. I did not think this way when I was younger. Perhaps my evolution has something to do with aging. Among my baking cohort, there is a wish for more good whole grain recipes. Thanks for interviewing those folks. It's a great topic. Evolving.
Hi, Andrew! I rarely bake 100% whole wheat bread as I don't have a viable recipe yet. I do bake once a week a sourdough loaf that's 40% whole wheat. I would love a 100% recipe and at the same time I think white flour has a place in bread making. I personally try to keep things balanced and use mixes of both flours all the time. Never bake 100% white due to nutritional concerns. Hope this helps. Cheers!
Yes, I bake with fresh milled grains, soft white, hard white and hard red mostly. Feed my sourdough starter with soft white and rye. Will use a local milled flour if in a pinch and use King Arthur pizza flour when making Detroit style pizza. All organic flours. Just can’t seem to do all purpose store bought flour and refined flours any more. More recipes that are 100% while grain! Yes please!
I've been using more whole grains direct from mills... as well I mostly use sourdough, and recently trying to do more direct baking instead of retarding dough..
Just chiming in to say I would love more 100% (or close-to-100%) whole wheat recipes.
As an avid home baker and dietitian, I definitely seek more whole grain recipes. They are healthier and taste better to me! It is challenging to work sourdough with whole grain flours though, but I want to learn. My goal is a 100% whole grain loaf that still showcases big holes in the crumb and a robust crust. Can it be done? I haven’t found it in a bakery yet. Exploring locally sourced freshly milled flour when I can. White flour is okay, and necessary for some classic pastries and breads, but I’m moving away from it.