Here at Risen, we love our Awesome Wholemeal Flour. It’s not only more nutritious than other flours but also has a unique, nutty taste that can really enhance your bakes. Yes, wholemeal flour is a different type of flour to deal with, and it can produce a drier bake, but you just need to know how to handle it to ensure that you’re getting the results you want. These are our baking bread advice/tips for making the best use of wholemeal flour in your baking.
What are the challenges?
If you’re baking with wholemeal flour then you can sometimes end up with a bake that feels drier and has a coarser texture than if you’ve been using an all-purpose flour. This can make using wholemeal flour seem off-putting but it’s actually not a characteristic of the flour itself but of the way that you use it. In fact, wholemeal flour can produce moist and delicious bakes as long as you know how to handle it.
Hydration is key
One of the best tips we can offer you when it comes to wholemeal flour is to focus on hydration. Let your dough rest longer than you would after you have mixed it: essentially giving it an extended autolyse.
If you're converting a recipe using white bread flour, you will need to add more water. There isn't a fixed ration for this, so add a little additional water, anywhere up to 50ml, mix and wait 5 minutes to see how it feels. If it still feels drier than what you'd expect for the white flour, add some more water and wait 5 more minutes.
If you’re whipping up a cake mix, let the batter sit for at least 10 minutes before you bake it - maybe a little longer if that works with your schedule and the recipe.
Why does this work?
The reason that wholemeal flour needs that extra bit of care and attention is because it contains both the bran and the germ of wheat, which isn’t the case for more refined flours. This is part of the reason it’s so good for you but also why you need to give it a bit more time before baking. The bran and the germ of the wheat both have a coarser texture and this is what can create the same in your bakes. Giving it a bit more time gives the liquid the chance to hydrate both the bran and the germ, which will create an overall much smoother result.
One of the biggest problems that bakers encounter when using wholewheat flour is a lack of volume in the final loaf. You can be left with a flat, dense bread and especially if the dough is mostly wholemeal.
When mixing, kneading or folding the dough, you are aligning and strengthening the gluten strands. The bran flakes and germ in whole wheat flour act like tiny little razor blades that shred these strands, inhibiting gluten development. The more whole wheat flour you use the more bran and germ there is in the dough and the more the gluten gets shredded. This is why as you increase whole wheat flour you usually must expect a decrease in loaf volume.
So what can you do? Avoid starting out with a 100% wholemeal loaf. Work with a blend of wholemeal and white flour. Blending is a great way to start out working with whole wheat flour and allows you to progressively increase your whole wheat with each successive loaf until you are baking with a majority of wholemeal.
Handle with care
Due to the weakened state of dough made with whole wheat flour it is important to handle the dough gently. When shaping, the dough will have a tendency to tear much easier than when using only white flour and you will not be able to get the dough as tight. Adjust by shaping a little more loosely than you would for white bread.
The same applies when folding the dough during a bulk rise. You’ll find you won’t be able to stretch the dough quite as much without tearing it and as a result the folds should be a little looser.
Reduce fermentation time
A dough made with whole wheat flour will ferment faster than one made of white flour because it contains more nutrients for the yeast to feed on than white flour. If you are not prepared for this, it is easy to over ferment your dough so reduce fermentation times or reduce the temperature of the dough.
Whip up some wholemeal breakfast muffins and try baking half the batch immediately and rest the second half for 20 minutes before they go in the oven. Taste and compare the results and you should get a much more tender and moist bake with the muffins that have been properly rested.
Likewise with baking bread, try a longer autolyse, a shorter fermentation time, gentle shaping and take notes of all your variables. You’ll soon learn how to handle wholemeal with practice.
When it comes to getting you and your family on the whole-grain-train, these tips will get you better results out of your bread and cakes. Head on over to our online shop and grab your bag of Awesome Wholemeal Flour here and get baking!