the whole wheat flours study

Soon after I was forced to took up cooking I switched entirely to baking and cooking with whole wheat flours. The path to this jump, not a difficult one for me, was smoothly paved by Mother throughout my young childhood: all the peanut butter and jelly and grilled cheese sandwiches of my life have been constructed strictly out of whole grain bread. I choked down the crusts, too. Mom said it would make my hair curly. More convincingly, she mandated I finish them before being excused. Regardless, I must have eaten too many.

Already used to the slightly more dense consistency and fuller flavor of whole wheat bread and rice, I baked a couple loaves of bread with half whole wheat and half white flour. That seemed half-hearted and noncommittal of me. I brushed off the cautioning recipe notes about complete whole wheat substitution and swapped out our Unbleached Gold Medal for King Arthur. Cookies call for white flour? Pfft. Whole wheat. Muffins? Whole wheatified. Homemade pasta? Hand me the wheat berries; I’ll grind them myself.

Little time passed before I noticed that groceries offered two types of whole wheat flour: red whole wheat and white whole wheat. Later I came across a third, much less prominent type, whole wheat pastry flour, though in reality it is merely a subcategory  of white whole wheat flour.

 

Once I finished reading In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan, subsequently entirely swore off store-bought baked goods, and began baking bread weekly or twice weekly, I discovered another twist. Red whole wheat flour and white whole wheat flour do not act the same. Red is a stolid character that cooperates willingly and gets along well with everyone, despite sometimes being discriminated against at first for its coloring; red maintains authentic friendships everywhere. White looks more like a bright white star but really is a shallow impostor with a fickle mood that rises and falls without warning; sometimes, though, it surprises its acquaintances with true talent. These opposing personalities manifested themselves in this way: after carefully following the steps of two recipes of my favorite bread – one with white whole wheat and one with red whole wheat flour – the white wheat dough would be significantly stickier than the red but would also rise higher and then sink lower than the red and end up much lighter in color and somehow less appealing in taste. Two utterly different loaves of bread. Such divergent results from two flours lead me to wonder which I should preference in baking. I frequently combined the two. I had no idea what to do with the fine-ground, white whole wheat pastry flour.

 

So, just before our Europe 2012 trip, and about a year after my first experiments with whole wheat flours, I finally conducted a study to determine the best whole wheat flour. It was thorough. It was highly scientific. It was blind. It was The Great Whole Wheat Flours Study. And it included a grand total of eight participants. Nevertheless, it was conclusive.

 

I made three half-batches of buttermilk biscuits for a total of 18 biscuits – six each of red whole wheat flour, white whole wheat flour, and whole wheat pastry flour. Even though the recipe called for half white flour, I used all whole wheat. I baked the biscuits just before our Wednesday evening prayer meeting at the beach so I could carefully ensconce them in cloth napkins, enclose them in tupperware, and bring them along still warm. At the beach I required willing participants to close their eyes as I handed them bite-sized samples of each of the biscuits in random order. I asked they determine their favorite based on flavor and texture and then provide some additional comments. I scrawled the results on an increasingly salty and crumpled piece of notebook paper.

 

Participant Number

 

Biscuit Preference

 

Comments

Participant 1

Anna

red whole wheat

Pastry and white flour biscuits taste a bit bitter.

Participant 2

Emily

whole wheat pastry

White and pastry flour biscuits have the finest texture; red is sweetest.

Participant 3

Mr. B

white whole wheat

Red flour biscuit has most flavor; white flour biscuit has finest texture.

Participant 4

Mrs. L

white whole wheat

Red flour biscuit tastes the most wheaty.

Participant 5

Mrs. M

white whole wheat

Order of preference: white, pastry, red.

Participant 6

Claire

white whole wheat

 

Order of preference: white, red, pastry. Pastry flour biscuit has bitter aftertaste.

Participant 7

Hannah

red whole wheat

Pastry flour biscuit is the most crumbly and least favorite.

Participant 8

Mallory

whole wheat pastry

Pastry flour biscuit is sweet and flakey. Close call between pastry and white.

After I and the seven other participants had tested the biscuits, we snarfed down most of the remaining fragments. People liked them. The winner was clear: white whole wheat. Fifty percent of participants named it as their favorite. Red and pastry flour split the other four votes evenly, though the general consensus was that the whole wheat pastry flour biscuits had neither good texture nor taste. I think the study was a success.

Based on the results of The Whole Wheat Flours Study, in the future I shall favor white whole wheat flour in my baking.

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2 comments

  1. I started using white whole wheat flour after you stayed at our house this spring, when you were using it. I like it a lot for many things. Now I can say I have scientific evidence that using it is the correct thing to do. Love, G.L.

  2. Well, I guess it is time I change. Looks like it should be the white whole wheat flour. I’m glad you did this study. It saves me time and energy and besides I might have trouble finding “tasters”. Thanks. Grandma M.

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