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 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.
As a daily baker, Jim Challenger is constantly discovering and evaluating new ingredients to bring to his bread. The Ingredient Directory is our place for learning about all the elements that we can bring to our collective baking.
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 is changing, and it’s 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.
We’ve started our list close to home, in the US. We’ll continue to expand it to include sources for grains and flours around the world. We’d love your help. Share your favorite mills and farms, in any country, and together we’ll build a list to help bakers source quality ingredients — and support small farms and mills worldwide. Send us a message with your suggestions to email@example.com.