I thought I knew a lot about flour and baking prior to the start of June.
I thought wrong.
As a registered dietitian with a personal affinity for baking, maybe I know more than the average person. But sitting this side of a trip to Norwich, VT to visit King Arthur Flour followed closely by a trip to Kansas for a “Wheat Safari” hosted by the Wheat Foods Council, I now know how much I had (and still have) to learn.
I’ve spent a good bit of time on farms over the years, but they’ve mostly been dairy farms. Visiting farmland in middle America was a new experience for me. The whole process and feel around a wheat farm is different than a dairy farm (obviously). Whereas there is a daily ebb/flow in terms of “harvesting” milk on a dairy farm, farmers like Ken Wood (shown above) span multiple seasons planting, waiting, nurturing and reaping (with what I now know is a strong sense of urgency to ensure wheat is out of the field before mother nature intervenes with untimely storms.)
For me there was something almost "other-worldly" about standing on the fringe of a wheat field... dry Kansas heat, warm winds blowing and the only sounds around the lone passer-by on a country road and the loud hum of a combine (or in this case, the faint cackle of a bunch of excited RD onlookers. I'd leave that part out if I wrote a screenplay *wink*).
The dairy farmers I know have always taken pride in knowing their herds and can point out personality traits in their cows. I quickly learned that crop farmers speak in that same sort of way - with thoughts about their land, the land around them and the seasons’ influence on their crops. It’s an intimate knowledge of nature and agriculture that those of us who work with a computer screen in our face all day don’t experience nearly enough.
A lot of what I learned on both of these trips involved the mechanics of successful baking. Those tips I intend to devote attention to in future posts. (See my recent tips for making quick and easy puff pastry thanks to King Arthur Flour) In the meantime, here are just a few interesting points to consider:
-According to the Home Baking Association, 33% of Americans say they would bake if they knew how.
Hello RDs & food bloggers! We NEED to change this. While market-ready baked goods are a fine convenience, being able to bake is a life skill. As many of us look for less processed foods in our diets, being able to “bake from scratch” is one of the most basic principles. Perhaps more importantly, baking with kids is one of the best ways to get them excited about time in the kitchen. My oldest memory of my grandmother is of time spent in her kitchen cooking plum cake...and it is truly one of my most treasured memories.
-As I said in this post, when it comes to baking, the brand of flour matters.
Personal preference for brands may come down to just that... personal preference. But if you aspire to be a good, consistent baker, you should know that national brand flours have fairly tight specifications for how much protein should be in their flour (protein being mostly gluten, which gives baked goods their structure) while private label (aka “store” brands) have much wider variances allowable for their specifications (ie. meaning what you get today in a bag may not be the same composition or perform the same way in next month’s bag).
Is this relevant? It is to me. Baking is part art, part science. For the science part, I want as few variables as possible. I spent two days at King Arthur Flour baking some amazing creations and won’t deny that theirs is now my preference. I don’t think you will ever be disappointed with their flours. But you must choose your favorite and stick with it, for the most consistent results.
-You don’t have to bake everything 100% whole grain.
While there is no denying the health benefits of increasing dietary consumption of whole grains, aiming for a 100% whole grain diet may not be necessary. I’ve mentioned this in the past, but very honestly felt this more from a taste standpoint than nutrition. I learned some very interesting information during my time at Kansas. Attendees had a couple of really insightful Q/A sessions with Julie Miller Jones, PhD (no relation, but funny coincidence about the name, huh?) while we were on the bus en route to various destinations. And what I learned is that if you take a comprehensive look at the data supporting the need for increased whole grain in the diet (which these researchers did), you find that a diet with about half refined grains (exclusive of high sugar, fat & sodium refined grains) is not associated with disease risk. From the study:
So what does that mean? It means that my kids like my muffins made with no more than about 50% whole wheat flour... and that’s OK. It tastes better to them, they will actually eat what I bake if I bake this way & it’s not a failure by this RD mom. I value being able to bake for my family on so many different levels and very honestly, rest easier knowing that I'm doing no harm with making the flour composition more to their liking.
Simply put, it makes me want to bake. What about you?
If so, try these Easy Oatmeal Raisin Cookies shown below.
Disclosure: My trip to Kansas was funded by the Wheat Foods Council. I was not compensated for my time or this blog post. Opinions expressed are my own.
easy oatmeal raisin cookies
Ingredients (1 dozen cookies)
- 1/4 cup coconut oil
- 2/3 cup granulated sugar
- 1 egg
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
- 3/4 cup self-rising flour (I used King Arthur Flour)
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 1/2 cups old-fashioned oats (I used Quaker)
- 1/2 cup raisins
Heat oven to 350°F.
Beat coconut oil & sugar on medium speed of electric mixer until creamy. Add egg and vanilla; beat well. Add flour and cinnamon; mix well. Stir in oats and raisins; mix well.
Drop dough by rounded tablespoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets.
Bake 10 minutes or until light golden brown. Cool 1 minute on cookie sheets; remove to wire rack. Cool completely. Store tightly covered.
The recipe for Easy Oatmeal Raisin cookies was inspired by this recipe from QuakerOats.com.