Flour, water, salt, yeast (baker’s or natural). A handful of elements creates endless variety. Where do we start and how do we grow as bakers? We learn about bread ingredients. Full of possibilities. Bakers are sourcing flavorful and nutrient-rich ingredients from small farmers and millers around the world, and milling them at home for the freshest bread. What are they and how do we use them? We explore ingredients to help us bake healthier and more flavorful bread for our families, friends and communities.
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Bread is all about flavor along with texture, nutrition, and even fiber content. Artisan bakers are always searching for ways to improve their breads. It used to be that you’d go to the grocery store to purchase all-purpose, bread, cake, or pastry flour depending on what you wanted to bake.
The world of baking has changed. You can now buy flours and grains that are known by their variety names (e.g. Rouge de Bordeaux, Turkey Red, Yecora Rojo). If you’re chasing more flavor in your baking, then you want to start becoming familiar with all the varieties of wheat (cereals) that are being grown by small farmers all over the world.
Grains used in baking bread all fall into a category known as cereals because these grains have been bred for consumption. There are a large number of grains that are used by bread bakers: barley, corn, emmer, and even rice. It is the kernels of these grains that can be ground into flours or sprouted and used when you make bread. Each kernel consists of three main parts:
This is the part of the kernel that contains the proteins, oils, vitamins (E and B), and enzymes. The germ is also the part of the kernel that contains fats, which means this is the part of the kernel that can cause flour to go rancid. It’s only 2.5% of the kernel, so it’s often removed for this reason.
The bran is the fibrous outer coating of the kernel that encases the seed. It’s there to protect what’s inside from pests and diseases. It contains most of the fiber and vitamins including B, iron, magnesium, and zinc. In all wheat varieties, the bran is 14% of the kernel. It contributes a tremendous amount of flavor to your flour.
The endosperm contains both starch and protein, and it makes up the rest of the kernel (around 75%-83%). There is almost no flavor in the endosperm.
Although there are more and more people with “tolerance problems,” whole grains are full of nutrition including all three macronutrients: carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. They also contain many healthful minerals including calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, selenium, and zinc. You have to be more aware when you purchase flour because many of the store-bought brands have removed all these minerals and tried to add them back in which is just not the same thing.
Unsifted flour is what we call Whole Wheat. An extracted flour has been sifted to eliminate some or all of the bran and germ. White flour is pure endosperm and basically flavorless.
There are many factors that influence the protein levels in wheat when it’s being grown, and most large mills will blend various wheats to get to the protein level they want in the flour that they sell. Home millers can also do this at home using tabletop grain mills.
Hard wheat generally has a higher protein level than soft wheat. A higher protein levels gives your dough more elasticity which is great for making breads, but not so great when making pastries. Hard red wheat is generally preferred by bread bakers.
All-purpose flour is a low protein flour in the range of 8% – 10%. This makes it not an ideal flour for making bread, especially if you’re a beginner.
Amaranth is a gluten-free grain that stays crunchy even after cooking with it. If you do cook amaranth in water and it gets goopy, just rinse it off. Amaranth is often cooked into a porridge or sprouted before adding it to dough.
Amylase is an enzyme present in cereal grains that breaks down starches into sugars. You can add amylase or diastatic malt powder to your dough which improves volume, especially in long-fermented doughs. If a recipe calls for diastatic malt powder and you’re using amylase, then use 1 part amylase for every 50 parts of diastatic malt powder.
Barley is often made into a porridge that’s added to bread dough, and it can be added directly to your dough too. It is high in fiber. Hulled barley (also barley groats) is the whole grain form of barley with only the outermost hull removed. It takes a lot longer to cook than pearled barley. Pearled barley also has the bran layers removed so that it cooks faster. Diastatic malt powder (DMP) is made from barley flour, and it helps make sugars more available to yeast which makes it a popular ingredient in making bread.
Black emmer is a beautiful wheat that’s savored in soups, bulgar, breakfast cereal, flatbreads, and pasta.
This is the most popular type of wheat to use in bread. It normally refers to a higher protein form of wheat that’s easy to handle and gives you a nicely shaped loaf of bread.
Frederick soft white wheat is low in gluten and makes a silky, white, and fluffy flour—great for flaky pastries.
This is one of the varieties of wheat that’s known as an ancient grain. It is the trademarked variety of Khorasan. It has a buttery flavor which makes it well used in pilafs and cold salads. It is 20-40% higher in protein than modern wheat varieties.
This wheat has high protein and high starch levels. It doesn’t have a strong flavor.
Khorasan is one of the varieties of wheat that’s known as an ancient grain. It has a buttery flavor which makes it well used in pilafs and cold salads. It is 20-40% higher in protein than modern wheat varieties. It is also known as Kamut, which is a trademarked variety.
Pumpernickel is coarse flour ground from a rye berry. Bread made from pumpernickel flour is often referred to as pumpernickel bread. It’s normally baked for a long time at a really low temperature. Beware of store-bought pumpernickel in the US because artificial coloring is often used to give the bread its characteristic dark color instead of baking it low and slow.
Quinoa is not a grain, but it’s a protein powerhouse for bakers wanting to put more protein in their bread. Quinoa is often cooked into a porridge or sprouted before being added to dough.
There are many different varieties of rice. It is another cereal that’s gluten-free and can be used in many ways when making bread.
Rye is a very hardy grain that grows well in cold climates. It is well-loved in Eastern European and Scandinavian countries. Its worldwide popularity is growing all the time. It pairs very well with chocolate and is starting to be used in more pastries. It’s darker in color (blue-gray-green) than wheat with an earthy, somewhat sour taste; others think it’s sweet and nutty. It does not form gluten, so it is often mixed with wheat flours as a vehicle to add flavor. Whole rye loaves are denser than wheat loaves. It is high in a vegetable gum that makes it slick, sticky, and able to bind water. Sourdough leavening works incredibly well with rye.
Semolina is a coarse ground Durum wheat that’s most often used when making pasta. It has a nice yellowish hue and imparts color and flavor to your loaf of bread. It pairs well with Khorasan/Kamut. It’s a hard variety of spring wheat. Semolina is often used for dusting peels and towels that are used to wrap up pasta dough. See also Durum.
Sorghum is another gluten-free grain that’s growing in popularity.
This is one of the varieties of wheat that’s known as an ancient grain. In Germany and Austria, spelt is called dinkel. It is high in protein (13%-14%), but low in gluten potential. It is much more extensible and much less elastic than standard wheats. This is a large grain that’s often used in risottos and porridges. It gives nice extensibility to your dough, and it’s thought to be easier to digest than other forms of wheat. It has a subtle sweet and nutty almost herbal flavor. It is also known as farro grande.
Spring wheat is planted in the spring and harvested in the summer and fall. It has a milder, somewhat sweeter flavor. Spring wheats generally have a higher protein level than winter wheats and normally fall in the 12% – 14% range. The higher protein counts of spring wheats give them greater gluten potential which makes them ideal for breads and pizzas that ferment for a long time; they can also trap lots of air.
This variety is great for Asian noodles along with pan breads and flatbreads. It’s usually a bit lower in protein.
Strong bread flour has protein levels in the 11.5% – 12.5% range.
Teff is a tiny grain that’s well used in Ethiopia and growing in popularity by artisan bread makers. Its flavor is often characterized as nutty with maybe a hint of cocoa. Teff is higher in calcium than other grains.
Triticale is still playing a minor role in breadmaking, but we expect its use to rise due to the fact that it’s a cross between wheat and rye. Like rye, it has a low gluten content, so it’s often mixed with wheat flours in bread.
Warthog hard red winter wheat has around 11% protein with an intense wheat flavor. According to Adam Leonti in The Flour Lab, it’s an all-around solid performer bringing good strength, starch quality, and extensibility to doughs.
White Lammas wheat has a very golden whiteness that brings unique flavor varieties to cakes.
White Sonora is an heirloom wheat with yellow color and a sweet and buttery flavor. It is often used in tortilla making, but bakers are loving the sweet and nutty flavor.
Winter wheat is planted in the fall and harvested the following summer. They grow longer than spring wheats and deplete more of their nutrients during this time. Winter wheats generally have lower protein counts in the 10% – 12% range.
This is a high protein hard red spring wheat that’s getting high marks in bread baking.