Welcome To Holiday Baking Season!
'Tis the season for making our homes smell scrumptious with spices and sweetness. Back in the day most house hold kitchens had one canister of flour filled with a basic all-purpose flour made from refined wheat. However, there are so many other options! Today cooks around the world are making delicious treats from bean flours, nut flours, and a wider variety of grains all with their own unique nutrition profile and cooking or baking qualities.
At Alpine Nutrition we prefer to use less refined flours such as 100% whole wheat, whole wheat pastry flour, oat flour, spelt, and buckwheat flours just to name a few. These locally sourced ingredients provide a greater nutritional punch than their refined counter parts. I'll explain why in just a moment, but first let's do a little grain anatomy.
Whole grains have three layers. The outer bran layer gives the grain it's high fiber content. The inner endosperm makes up the bulk of the carbohydrates. Lastly the wee little germ embedded in the endosperm is the power house of the grain with the highest protein content. When we eat whole grains we benefit from eating the various nutrients within each part. However, when grains are refined they lose some of their nutritional value as sawdust on the refinery floor so to speak. For this reason, by law refined wheat flours must be enriched with a variety of B vitamins and iron because the bran and germ were refined off.
The wheat flour category is extensive on its own. Baker's turn to "hard" wheat flour for bread making as it is higher in protein - including gluten, which makes the dough sticky and elastic. This allows air bubbles to form as the yeast interacts with the carbohydrates in the flour to create leavening in the bread. Flours from "soft" wheat have less protein and less elastic quality, which makes them more ideal for delicate pastries and cakes. My personal favorite local bakers include the kitchen staff at 21 Acres (Woodinville, Washington), who make bread and other baked goods daily using only whole grain flours from a number of local mills including Camus Country, Fairhaven Mill, Lentz, and Bluebird Farm.
Camus Country Mills in the Willamette Valley of Oregon is a third generation family farm growing organic, transitional (working toward organic certification), and conventional cereal grains. The grains are milled in small batches at the on-site stone burr mill. Fairhaven Organic Flour Mill out of Bellingham, Washington grinds only organic grains weekly in small batches from local area farmers in order to support the steady rise of western Washington grain-growers. In our market you'll find a variety of flours from Lentz Spelt Farm from southeast Washington, known especially for their heritage grains like Emmer Farro, Einkorn Farro, and Black Nile Barley. You'll also find flours, pancake mixes, and whole grains from Bluebird Farm in the Methow Valley, just east of the North Cascades.
In the spirit of the holiday baking season, perhaps you'd like to try your hand at using one of the above whole grain flours. In case you missed the Festive Holiday Baking Class from our partnership at 21 Acres (Woodinville, WA), here's delicious a whole grain cookie recipe to test drive any of the whole grain flours listed above. Happy Delicious Holiday Baking Everyone!
Fresh Ginger Cookies
A chewy-cookie-lover’s alternative to ginger snaps, these cookies are all about the chewy centers. They are not overly sweet, although can be rolled in granulated sugar for a sweet crunch to the exterior.
Makes about 3 dozen cookies.
2 1/4 cups whole grain flour such as whole wheat pastry, spelt, or emmer farro
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons grated/minced fresh ginger (or 2 tsp powdered)
1/2 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup prune puree (1 cup whole prunes makes about 2/3 cup puree)
Extra sugar for rolling/dusting, if desired
1. Puree prunes in a food processor until smooth.
2. In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, soda, and salt.
3. In a separate bowl, beat ginger, butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in egg, followed by prune puree.
4. Gently fold in dry mixture to wet mixture until just combined. Wrap in plastic wrap or parchment paper and chill for 1 hour.
5. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
6. Roll dough into 1 1/2 inch balls and place 2 inches apart on ungreased baking
sheets. For extra sweetness and glitz, roll the balls in granulated sugar before baking.
7. Bake until edges start to brown, about 15 minutes. Let stand on cookie sheets 1 minute and remove to racks to cool completely.