by Shannon Stonger
Health Impact News
Baking bread is one of the most basic of tasks and yet, in this current day-and-age, it has been complicated by dozens of factors. To trudge through the confusion, like so many other topics, we need to get back to the basics. That starts with good quality grain  and the ability to use it to create good bread.
There are as many ways to make good bread as there are cultures around the world that rely on it for their daily sustenance. What follows is a simple list of tips and tricks for the home baker looking to create better loaves using wholesome ingredients.
For those who like to stick with 100% whole grain breads, there are three techniques that can be used to work with the fiber and heartiness of whole grains, rather than against them.
But first, a means of creating lighter “white” flour from freshly milled wheat or purchased whole wheat flour.
A long-time practice of both home and professional bakers is to sift a portion of the bran from whole grain wheat flour. This is helpful in many ways. For one, it allows for a higher concentration of starch in the final dough as a portion of the fiber is removed. The higher starch content creates more simple sugars for the yeast or sourdough to feast on, creating a good environment for faster-rising bread.
The removal of the most fibrous part of the flour also allows for a better trapping of carbon dioxide in the gluten matrix of the dough, which is how bread is risen. This can be done with either purchased or home-milled flour and can be done to any percentage of the flour in the recipe. Replacing even 25% of the flour in a loaf with sifted flour can make a significant difference to the final product.
The process of sifting is simple. Whole grain flour is placed in a sifter, such as the stainless steel one in the accompanying photos. This is then held over a vessel which catches the sifted flour while you gently tap the sifter against your hand. This motion shakes the finer, lighter particles of flour through the sieve and the larger pieces of bran are left inside of the sifter.
The sifted flour is then measured and used in the recipe. Note that the flour should be measured after it is sifted due to the volume changes that occur from the removal of the bran. The resultant flour is not stark white as in some grocery store flours. Instead, it retains a small amount of the nutty color and flavor while lending a bit of lift to a heavier whole grain bread.
Real Food Dough Conditioners
Read the label on the back of a store-bought bag of bread and you’re likely to find all sorts of hard-to-pronounce dough conditioners. Those are chemicals added to the dough to preserve its freshness and make it softer and more palatable to those unaccustomed to hardy, real foods.
There are, however, real foods that have been used for generations for creating better bread. These are often called an “enrichment” in that many are rich ingredients filled with nutrients and healthy fats.
- Organic Ground Ginger  – Used in very small amounts, ground ginger acts as a super-food for the yeast used in bread baking. This kick starts the rising process for the bread, increasing the odds of a well-proofed loaf. The spicy flavor of ginger shouldn’t be detected in the final loaf if it is limited to 1/4 teaspoon per loaf.
- Soy-Free Eggs  – Eggs act as a binder in many foods and bread is no different. One of the chemically-derived dough conditioners found in bread is lecithin. This is most frequently derived from soy, though it can also come from sunflower seeds. The yolk of an egg contains naturally occurring lecithin. This aids in trapping the carbon dioxide that helps bread to rise.
- Butter  or Coconut Oil  – Fat contributes softness and richness to bread. This is especially helpful for bread that will not be consumed within the first couple of days.
- Whey – The acidic liquid drained from cultured yogurt, kefir, or buttermilk creates a great environment for bread to rise nicely when using commercial yeast. The acidity also helps to preserve the bread in much the same way that sourdough does.
- Gelatin – Another binder, gelatin is helpful in adding moisture and strength to bread dough.
While much has been said about the health benefits of soaking whole grains, little has been added about the improvements in flavor and texture. In his book Whole Grain Breads, respected bread baking authority Peter Reinhart extolls the virtues of soaking a portion of the whole grain in water before combining with other ingredients for the final loaf. He has found that the loaves bake higher and lighter with better flavor and all of the benefits of whole grains.
This soaking process is different than the soaking process recommended in the popular book Nourishing Traditions in that it only involves water and flour and its main objective is to soften the fiber within the flour and activate enzymes to create better overall flavor in the dough. It differs from sourdough in that there is no leavening or souring agent added to this portion of the dough, called a “soaker”.
Fermentation through Sourdough
Making whole grain breads with sourdough starter instead of yeast, or in combination with yeast, can be beneficial if the correct time parameters are adhered to. A simple 12 hour bulk fermentation followed by a final proof of a 3-6 hours lends itself well to whole wheat breads as it breaks the fibers down during the fermentation process. This helps to keep those fibers from cutting through the gluten strands that help develop a lighter loaf. On the other hand, a very long fermentation – 24+ hours – can actually break down the gluten and can result in a puddle of dough that does not easily hold its shape. Some prefer this long-fermented bread, but not all loaves tolerate such a change in structure. Finding that middle ground with whole wheat sourdough is where the better loaf resides.
All of the above methods can be layered, keeping in mind that soaking and fermentation have similar objectives and therefore do not need layering. For example, you might sift a portion of the flour to be used as the “white flour” for your whole wheat sourdough bread  and also add 1/2 teaspoon of ginger to the dough as a conditioner.
About the Author
Shannon Stonger grew up in a small town in northern Minnesota. She studied chemistry in college, graduated, and married her husband one month later. They were then blessed with two baby boys within the first four years of marriage. Having babies gave their family a desire to return to the old paths – to nourish their family with traditional, homegrown foods; rid their home of toxic chemicals and petroleum products; and give their boys a chance to know a simple, sustainable way of life. They are currently building a homestead from scratch on two little acres in central Texas. There’s a lot to be done to become somewhat self-sufficient, but they are debt-free and get to spend their days living this simple, good life together with their four young children.
Mill your own grains at home!