Archive for: whole grain
A freshly baked batch of muffins is often reserved for the weekends, when we have the luxury of being able to spend some extra time in the kitchen and some extra time to drink coffee, read the paper and relax. But muffins can easily be an everyday food, especially if you make a batch that has a few health-conscious tweaks made to it, and you can bake a batch over the weekend to enjoy even on a busy weekday morning.
These Whole Wheat Banana Nut Muffins are that everyday type of muffin. Packed with fresh mashed banana, they are made with whole wheat flour, vegetable oil and have a handful of heart-healthy nuts thrown into the batter to add a little extra texture and flavor. The muffins are moist and have that same tight, dense crumb that a traditional loaf of banana bread will have, as opposed to a light and cake-like crumb. They have a good banana flavor, accented with a hint of cinnamon and brown sugar. They muffins aren’t too sweet and you can taste the nuttiness of the whole wheat flour, which actually works well with the nuts in the muffins.
I prefer to use white whole wheat flour in these muffins because the finished product is slightly lighter than muffins made with regular whole wheat flour, although both will work just fine in the end. I typically use a mixture of chopped pecans and walnuts in these. You can opt for one or the other – or even use chocolate chips if you want to make these slightly healthy muffins a little more indulgent.
These muffins, like banana bread, store quite well. They will stay moist and fresh in an airtight container for a few days if you’re not going to eat them all at once. They also freeze fairly well, though I like to wrap the individually so that they’re a little more convenient to grab for snacking. They’re good plain, but I also like them warmed up and served with a little smear of salted butter on top.
It is pretty easy to sneak whole wheat flour into a batch of cookies – especially if you’re already dealing with a batch of flavorful oatmeal cookies that will get a little extra boost of nuttiness from the whole grain. These Whole Wheat Oatmeal Chocolate Chunk Cookies are a great example because you would never know that there is whole grain flour in there with all of those chocolate chunks.
Of course, it’s not really necessary to “sneak” whole wheat flour into foods and hide the fact that you’re adding some extra whole grains into cookies or a cake. You need to be sneaky about it because you don’t want to compromise the texture of the baked good when using whole wheat flour, however. Whole wheat flour can make things like cookies a little bit drier and a little bit more crumbly, and if the cookie dough you’re working with isn’t flavorful to begin with, the whole wheat flavor can actually take over the cookie. This dough is very flavorful, not just because it has a generous amount of butter in it, but because it uses brown sugar, vanilla and oatmeal and all three of those elements give the cookies a lot of body. White whole wheat flour can also be substituted for whole wheat flour in this recipe.
I used semisweet chocolate chunks in these cookies, along with some chopped pecans for texture. Chopped walnuts will work just as well if you have those on hand. I found that semisweet chocolate worked better than dark chocolate did for these cookies because the whole wheat flour adds an earthy note (by which I mean that it tones down the sweetness of the sugar), and the little bit of extra sweetness in the chocolate was just perfect. The finished cookies are crisp around the edges and have a nice chew to them. The recipe makes a fairly big batch, but the cookies keep well in an airtight container and are great for sharing.
You might be more likely to think of chocolate chips than of cereal when you’re going to do some baking, but cereal actually works well in many different types of recipes. For instance, it adds a nice crunch in Cornflake Cookies, some extra flavor in Honey Graham Chocolate Chip Cookies and a cereal treat flavor in Rice Krispy Treat Scones. In this case, I used some Raisin Bran cereal to add fiber and flavor to a batch of Raisin Bran Spice Cookies. Think of them as oatmeal raisin cookies, with a twist.
The cookies are easy to make and have cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg in the dough to give them a little bit of a flavor boost. Although you might not think of bran as having a strong flavor, the fact that the bran in these cookies comes from flaked cereal means that it has a rich toasted flavor that actually gives the cookies a lot of depth. There are already some raisins in the cereal (feel free to use another bran cereal and add in raisins, though), but more raisins add additional sweetness and texture to the finished cookies. I definitely felt good about eating these and will admit to having one or two with breakfast – it was cereal, after all!
While these cookies are good when they first come out of the oven, they actually seem to improve with age. The flavors meld more and the cookies stay nice and tender, so they’re a great cookie to make a big batch of over the weekend and store in an airtight container for snacking during the week.
Whole wheat flours can not only add fiber to baked goods, they can add a lot of flavor to them, too. But as is the case with so many ingredients, not all whole wheat flours are created equal. Flours range in flavor and in texture, and using different brands can even impact the results you get when you bake with them. Cook’s Illustrated recently did a taste test of whole wheat flours to see which brands were standouts in their test kitchens.
The five brands that Cook’s Illustrated tested in a recent issue were King Arthur Premium Whole Wheat Flour, Bob’s Red Mill Organic Whole Wheat Flour, Hodgson Mill Old Fashioned Whole Wheat Flour, Gold Medal Whole Wheat Flour and Pillsbury Best Whole Wheat Flour. All were tested in whole wheat sandwich bread and in pancakes. King Arthur and Bob’s Red Mill came out on top, both praised for their great whole wheat flavors. Hodgson Mill’s flour had a strong flavor, but a very coarse grind that led to some overly crumbly sandwich bread. Gold Medal and Pillsbury had the finest textures and the most subtle flavors to their whole wheat flours. These last three flour brands all received the “Recommended with Reservations” rating from CI.
When you choose a whole wheat flour, take into account the flavor and the performance of the product. Tthis might mean that you try a couple of brands on your own at home. Personally, sometimes like a rustic feel for whole wheat baked goods and sometimes I prefer a finer, more subtle presence. I would opt for Pillsbury or Gold Medal for baking bread if I wanted to have a texture that is similar to non-whole wheat bread (finer grinds of the whole wheat generally mean that there will be a bit more gluten in these flours) and a coarse flour for some hearty whole wheat chocolate chip cookies (a coarse Hodgson Mill would be my pick there).
Over the past couple of years, the importance of having whole grains in our diets has been repeatedly emphasized, with the result that whole grains are now being incorporated into things – such as baked goods – that they hadn’t been a part of before. Whole wheat flour is a standby now for many bakers, a item to stock on the pantry alongside bread or all purpose flour. But there are a lot of other flours out there and Good to the Grain: Baking with Whole-Grain Flours introduces many new ways to use things like amaranth flour, oat flour and spelt flour.
The cookbook is divided up into chapters by whole grain flour type, so in each chapter you’ll get a set of recipes that all utilize the same ingredient. The recipes themselves vary widely by type, so you’ll see recipes for yeast breads, cookies, tarts and cakes in every chapter. The book also starts off with an introductory section that discusses baking techniques in general as well as how to work with the specialty flours called for in the recipes, and of course each of the whole grains is well described. The book is beautiful to look at, with lots of lovely photos, and the recipes are clearly written in a way that will make you feel comfortable working with some of these unfamiliar ingredients. A book like this would have seemed quite exotic just a few years ago, but now even major supermarkets are stocking a bigger variety of whole grain flours on their shelves and that availability makes these recipes more accessible to home bakers.
Another thing that makes these recipes accessible is that many of them continue to use at least a portion of all purpose flour as a blend with their specialty flours. Using wheat flour as a building block in these recipes means that the finished baked goods will share a lot of the same textures and structure as regular baked goods, with the added benefit of having extra whole grains, unlike completely gluten free recipes that often have a somewhat different texture in the end or rely on outside binding agents to act like gluten in the recipes.