Sneak some whole-grain goodness into your baking

No one will notice as you boost the nutritional value of foods you already love

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Oregonian

Whole grains have long relied on their virtuous reputation to woo us, but wholesome doesn’t always get you a date to the prom. Whole grains aren’t exactly sexy, and most Americans don’t eat enough of them—not by a long shot. The USDA last November concluded that 73 percent of us need to increase our daily consumption of whole grains by a whooping 248 percent in order to meet the recommended requirements.

But don’t despair. Eating more whole grains doesn’t have to mean replacing their refined counterparts with earnest but sometimes stodgy mouthfuls of whole-wheat pasta, brown rice and 12-grain bread. The first step to becoming smitten with whole grains is to ignore everything you’ve come to associate with them: They aren’t just for bread making or bran muffins like most have been led to believe. Best of all, there are innumerable benefits to including them in your diet.

Health experts and scientists agree that whole grains reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes (up to 27 percent), heart disease (up to 36 percent) and stroke (up to 37 percent). They’re rich in antioxidants, and they lower cholesterol. They diminish the possibility of obesity and promote better weight maintenance. And when it comes to nutrition, whole grains surpass their processed twin in every category. Processing typically strips away the bran and germ, taking with it about 25 percent of the grain’s protein and 17 or more of its key nutrients.

The most recent update of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans--the cornerstone of the government’s nutrition policy--recommends that 50 percent of the total grains we consume come from whole grains. That means three 16-gram servings or a total of 48 grams of the actual whole grain per day. Is that a lot? Not really: one 16 gram serving is just over a half-ounce (or about two tablespoons of flour), so a little bit can make a big difference. In fact, if you use baking as the path to introduce more whole grains into your family’s diet, there’s a good chance they won’t even notice.

You can have it all: The idea is to sneak as much nutrition as possible into the foods you already love. It’s as simple as substituting one-third of any recipe’s all-purpose flour with white whole-wheat flour. It’s virtually impossible to detect this amount in cookies, muffins, quick breads and pancakes. It’s even possible to make delicious piecrust and spongy genoise with a portion of whole grain flour.

Did you know that a cinnamon roll, dark with whole wheat and honey, could contain 28 grams of whole grain? Would anyone you know refuse a piece of apple cake with fudgy brown-sugar frosting and 30 grams of whole grain on the grounds that it’s too wholesome? It isn’t always possible to squeeze the recommended 48 grams into a single item, but one serving of even these guilty pleasures can increase your intake significantly.

I made 100% whole grain pancakes for breakfast just last weekend. The recipe paired white whole wheat and whole barley flours with the usual suspects, and a single serving of two 3-inch pancakes boasted more than half of the recommended daily allowance of whole grains. They were improbably delicious. Tender and fluffy, laced with lemon zest and three kinds of ginger (fresh, crystallized and ground) . . . to stop after only two was unthinkable. We had no choice but to work through the batch, a selfless show of commitment to a diet complete with whole grains. Not exactly moderation, but I think I’m in love.

Other than the addition of an alternate flour here and there, the recipes I’m including call for butter, sugar and eggs, ingredients that are the foundation of tasty baking. I don’t want to use egg whites in place of whole eggs, turn in my chocolate for carob or swap out some of the butter in a recipe for applesauce or prune puree. If you’re trying to cut down on fats and sugars, by all means, go that route, but for me, making small changes that are smart but don’t involve sacrificing flavor is the key.

Ellen Jackson is a Portland pastry chef, food writer and food stylist.

©2007 The Oregonian


Tuesday, February 27, 200

So a “whole grain” doesn’t really need to be whole. While the Whole Grains Council defines a whole grain as the entire seed (or kernel) of a plant (containing three essential parts: bran, germ and endosperm), whole grains can take different forms.

Whether cracked, split, crushed, rolled or ground (into flour), a “processed” whole grain delivers the same balance of naturally occurring nutrients found in the original grain seed.

White whole-wheat flour will be your new best friend.

White whole-wheat flour has been around for more than 10 years, but it hasn’t received much attention until recently. It comes from white wheat, an albino strain that doesn’t have traditional red wheat’s genes for color.

The nutritional profile of white wheat is identical to that of red wheat, but its mild flavor is less tannic and it produces a lighter, more tender texture in baked goods.

Start by replacing 30 percent of the all-purpose flour in your favorite recipes with white whole-wheat flour. Increase that percentage gradually until the flavor and texture are to your liking.

When it comes to cookies, muffins, pancakes and quick breads, I’ve found that using white whole-wheat flour in place of the entire amount of all-purpose flour produces a result that's just as tasty as the original, with the benefit of increased fiber, vitamins and minerals.

Other useful whole grain flours for baking

Once you’re familiar with the attributes of these grains, you’ll be able to make changes to your regular recipes. Besides flavor, that means knowing how much gluten they contain. Gluten is the protein responsible for the formation of structure, which allows baked goods to trap and hold air, causing them to rise. Too much gluten can cause excessive chewiness, too little decreases structural integrity, meaning your cookie will crumble.


Oat flour has a nutty, slightly sweet flavor that is neutral enough to marry with savory ingredients, too. One serving has two times the protein of both wheat and corn. Oat flour contains some gluten, but its protein is water-soluble and needs a complement of wheat to provide structure. Whole oats or oat flour can be added to make dough more moist. They are a natural addition to cookies, scones, streusel and some cakes.


Barley flour is mild tasting and nutty, and it has the added advantage of imparting the buttery mouth feel we expect from baked goods. Although high in protein, barley flour lacks usable gluten and is best added to items requiring less structure, like cookies. Try substituting barley flour for no more than ¼ cup of all-purpose or whole-wheat flour in a recipe.


Spelt flour has a flavor that is milder than wheat--smoother, nuttier and sweeter. It also has more protein and four times the fiber of whole wheat, and none of its characteristic bitter flavor. Although it forms more gluten than wheat does, it has less structural integrity. Use it in flatbreads, pizza dough, cookies and items that don’t need to rise much.


Brown rice flour is gluten-free and the least allergenic of the grains, providing one of the best and most digestible proteins available. Rice flour lends a sandy, crumbly texture that is pleasing in cookies and crackers, but undesirable in yeast breads, unless used in combination with other flours.

--Ellen Jackson

© 2007 The Oregonian

Original recipes included:

Triple Ginger Pancakes
Glazed Hermit Bars
Crunchy Chocolate Chip Cookies

Easy tricks for adding whole grains to your diet:

Instead of replacing some of the white flour in your regular recipes with whole wheat or white whole wheat, try replacing 20% with another grain like barley.

Substitute up to 30% of the flour in a recipe with quick oats or old-fashioned oats, or throw in a generous handful for every pound of meat when you make burgers or meatloaf.

Use orange juice with traditional whole wheat; its sweetness and acidity mellow the bitter flavor.

Add ½ cup of cooked wheat or rye berries, brown rice or barley to soup. Experiment with the same whole grains in risotto and pilaf.

Use whole corn meal in place of a processed equivalent that has its germ removed. Whole corn has a richer flavor and a grittier texture that works best in cakes, breads, muffins and pancakes.

Try corn tortillas and whole wheat pita bread. For some reason, kids don’t seem to mind the switch from refined to whole grain in these items.