March is National Flour Month, a staple in most households, especially where baking is concerned. Some people suffer from intolerance to gluten known as celiac disease. Many restaurants offer gluten-free options by making foods from wheat flour alternatives such as brown rice, chick-peas, buckwheat, barley, potatoes, quinoa, tapioca or white rice.
With the increase in specialty stores and products, there is a wider variety of flour available. All-purpose or plain flour is a blended wheat flour with a mid range gluten level, which is acceptable for most household baking needs. Bleached flour is treated with flour bleaching agents to whiten it (freshly-milled flour is yellowish) and to give it more gluten-producing potential. Cake flour is a finely milled flour made from soft wheat. It has very low gluten content, making it suitable for soft-textured cakes and cookies. The higher gluten content of other flours would make the cakes tough. Graham flour is a special type of whole-wheat flour. The endosperm is finely ground, as in white flour, while the bran and germ are coarsely ground. It is the basis of true graham crackers. Many graham crackers are actually imitation grahams, because they do not contain graham flour or even whole-wheat flour. Self-rising is “white” wheat flour or whole meal flour that is sold premixed with chemical leavening agents.
My favorite types of flour to use for bread is stone ground whole wheat. Whole wheat flour is an excellent source of complex carbohydrates and are generally higher in protein. Wheat germ contained in the flour is packed with antioxidants and vitamins B and E. It is also a good source of heart-healthy unsaturated fats.
If you typically prefer white bread, try mixing in a different variety of whole grain flour for the added nutritional benefit. When I make cookies at home, I mix half all-purpose flour with half whole wheat.
Making your own bread is not as difficult as it may seem either and can be made in small portions and then frozen. Celebrate flour power this month with some homemade bread.
3 cups high gluten whole wheat flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 packet dry yeast
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 ¼ cup luke warm water
Set up your mixer bowl with dough hook. Add ½ cup of water with the packet of yeast and let set for 10 minutes. Sift flour and salt and add remaining water and olive oil and knead in mixer for 5 minutes. Make dough into a ball, and place in an oiled bowl, cover, put in a warm place and let rise for 1 to 1 ½ hours. Punch dough down and knead for 2 minutes then divide into 4 pieces and make into rounds. Place rounds on a greased cookie sheet, and use your fingers to make dimples in dough. Sprinkle top with salt and olive oil. Bake on 375 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes until golden brown. Serve warm or at room temperature. Share a loaf with your neighbor or store in an airtight freezer bag for up to a month.
Morris, owner of Rhett’s Restaurant, Personal Chef & Catering in Southern Pines, can be reached at (910) 695-3663.