January 20, 2009

Baking Basics 101 - Non-wheat Flour Part 1

Non-Wheat Flour 1
Although wheat is widely available around the world and has a large history in baking across a multitude of cultures, it was not the only grain to be used for culinary purposes. Cultures around the world (past and present) also experimented on using other grains. It may be because of medical/allergy factors, availability issues with wheat in their region, or a need for a new taste. Whatever the reason, the following grains have become popular for their own reasons.

Rye Flour
Rye historically has been grown together with wheat or on a crop rotation basis, mostly because of its hardy nature. Rye is the favorite in colder European areas like the Scandinavian countries. As a flour, rye lacks the gluten proteins to form strong bonds, hence it is often mixed with wheat to compensate for the deficiency. Doughs made from rye containing more than 20% rye flour depend on the thick gummy viscosity of starch and pentosans (think of this combination as the rye version of gluten formation) to trap air and provide structure.

Another problem with rye loaves is with the enzyme amylase that converts starches into sugars. In wheat loaves, the amylase breaks down quickly as the loaf is cooked. In rye loaves, amylase is more heat resistant and does not break down fast enough before the starches are converted. This means that the sugars pile up in the dough and the loaf sags. To counteract this, one can use acid and salt to prepare the amylase in advance. Sour dough and long fermentation dough like pumpernickel are good techniques to use.

Commercially, rye flour is manufactured from parts of the endosperm, unlike wheat which is made from the whole grain. White rye flour is made from the center of the endosperm, while Cream/Light rye flour is made from the next outer layer. Dark rye flour is made from the outermost portions of the endosperm. Rye meal ranging from coarse to fine is also possible - in fact, pumpernickel flour is a coarse rye meal.

When baking rye breads, caraway seeds are a classic flavoring agent. Rye flour is effective at absorbing moisture from the surrounding air, thus these breads also have a high moisture content. Fortunately this means that the bread is less likely to turn dry on the counter, and unfortunately, baking rye bread will take longer to set (meaning the time after bread comes out of the oven and the shape solidifies).

Rice Flour
Rice flour is manufactured from ground uncoated rice. It can be used as a substitute for wheat flour but requires changes to the recipe due to the lack of gluten. The flour can also be used as pastry flour for recipes that require fine grainy textures.

Cornmeal and Corn Flour
Cornmeal is commercially available in two colors, yellow and white, in a fine or coarse grind. There are also two manufacturing processes available, old or new (aka degerminated). Old processing grinds the entire corn kernel yielding good flavor and food value, but turns rancid quickly due to higher fat content. New process or degerminated cornmeal, is ground without the germ and bran. This results in long holding times but less flavor. Use of cornmeal includes country style hearty breads, muffins, and cornbread. Corn flour is made from finely ground degerminated cornmeal and is also used in cakes, muffins, and breads but with a combination of wheat flour.


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