Almost Guilt-free Whole Grain Desserts
By Laura Jean Whitcomb

Two sticks of butter, 2 cups of brown sugar, ¾ cup of cocoa, 12 ounces of chocolate chips and you’d never know you were eating a brownie made with whole wheat flour. That’s the beauty of King Arthur Flour’s new cookbook, King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking. Most of us enjoy a little treat now and then, and using whole wheat flour makes that brownie or cookie just a bit healthier — with extra fiber, antioxidants and trace vitamins and minerals provided by the wheat germ.

Cooking with whole wheat, however, can be a bit tricky. I’m not a measurer — I eyeball most ingredients — and when I first switched to whole wheat flour my baked goods just weren’t the same. So I signed up for a Sunday afternoon class at King Arthur’s Baking Education Center in Norwich, Vt., called “Going with the Grain: Whole Grain Baking.” I was making the switch to whole wheat and wanted to learn how to do it the right way.

I wasn’t alone: Twenty students from New Hampshire, Vermont and Massachusetts filled the classroom. “More and more people are becoming aware of the benefits of whole grain,” says Instructor Robyn Sargent, “but it’s not part of our recipe heritage. We know it’s good for us but we don’t know how to use it. Today is a good chance to try spelt, barley flour and whole wheat flour.”

The first recipe is a “Going with the Grain” bread using a whole spelt flour and a five-grain cereal with whole oat berries, millet, rye flakes, wheat flakes as well as flax, poppy, sesame and sunflower seeds. Sargent demonstrates the process of making the bread dough while describing what constitutes a whole grain. “A whole grain is a grain that still has its outer layer — the bran — and center — the germ. White flour has no bran and no germ,” she says. It also moves through the digestive system slowly, while whole grains provide roughage in the diet, keeping the digestive system moving free flowing.

She measures out all the ingredients first, an “everything in its place” philosophy that guarantees the end of last-minute trips to the grocery store. Liquids are combined first in a metal mixing bowl; this bread recipe requires lukewarm water, olive oil, dark sesame oil, an egg yolk and…orange juice? “It has a nice flavor, a nice sweetness, and the acids help soften the bran and germ so they don’t puncture the gluten, which allows the bread to rise,” explains Sargent.

Then the dry ingredients are added to the mix — brown sugar, salt, yeast, whole spelt, white flour and the five-grain cereal. “We’re using the white flour to work with spelt and facilitate the rise of the bread,” explains Sargent. “You could use whole wheat flour, but you just won’t have the rise.”

The mixture doesn’t look like anything that is remotely ready to knead. But Sargent says to go ahead and flour your fingers and the board surface. The key is not to add too much flour, which will toughen the bread. “Aggressive kneaders would have a lot of difficulty with this dough. It’s very sticky and there are a lot of seeds in it so it’s never going to get smooth,” says Sargent. Sargent and her baking assistant Mary Jane Robbins move throughout the classroom to check on the students. “Keep kneading,” Robbins tells me. “You don’t need to add any more flour but keep going until your fingerprint pops back up.”

While the saran wrap covered dough is rising, the students watch Sargent prepare the ingredients for the next recipe: Double fudge brownies. “These are not low fat brownies,” she says. “But they use 100 percent whole wheat and you’d never know it. They are very rich, so a small piece will be enough.”

This time around, students can choose between white whole wheat flour — “One hundred percent whole wheat, not a blend, but naturally lacking a compound called phenolic acid,” says Sargent — or traditional whole wheat. The choices are nutritionally identical, but the white whole wheat provides a sweeter flavor.

The resulting batter is so rich and gooey that you almost don’t need to bake it; students are not scraping the pan as closely as they could and using their fingers to taste the fudgy mix. It’s a one pan (or bowl) recipe that will easily become a staple in these baker’s households. But try not to treat yourself to a warm brownie. “Some baked goods benefit from overnight tempering, softening the bran to lose the chalky quality,” says Sargent. (And, if you can believe it, the double fudge brownies do taste better the next day. Another surprise: One brownie really does fill you up.)

Sargent demonstrates the last recipe, triple ginger pancakes, while answering questions. What about the wheat flour you see in the grocery store? “Make sure the label says whole wheat flour, not just wheat flour. Otherwise they are just using a percentage of wheat,” she answers. Isn’t buttermilk too fatty? “Buttermilk is what separates when making butter. There’s some fat, but not as much as you’d expect.” My whole wheat flour tastes funny. “Store whole wheat flours in the freezer. The germ, a protein, can turn rancid quickly if not stored properly, giving baked goods a bitter taste.”

Students leave with a loaf of bread, a pan of brownies, a belly full of pancakes and a greater understanding of the intricacies — and benefits — of baking with whole grains.

Laura Jean Whitcomb has made the double fudge brownie recipe every other week since taking the class. She is the editor of Kearsarge Magazine and Upper Valley Life.
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