Thursday, December 9, 2010

Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies

For my first foray into the world of baking with whole grains, I decided to try out the chocolate chip cookie recipe found in Good to the Grain. Most people don't realize this but there are multiple types of wheat flour out there. What most people refer to as "whole wheat", that reddish brown flour, is hard red wheat. It is also possible to procure in most stores what is labeled as White Whole Wheat. This is still 100% whole wheat but it is ground from white winter wheat. The original recipe in the book calls for the red whole wheat flour so I decided to do a little test and make a batch of cookies with the white whole wheat and one with the red whole wheat to compare. My aim here was twofold. First off, I wanted to see what these cookies were like. Various bloggers, more famous than I, have tried this recipe and raved about it. Some have gone so far as to declare that it was their new favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe. Secondly, I wanted to see what the qualitative difference was between the two wheats with an aim towards seeing where white whole wheat could be substituted in baking applications for bleached white flour.

We begin with our subjects in this experiment. The two wheat flours, sea salt, unsalted butter, baking soda, baking powder, chocolate chips (the original recipe called for chopped chocolate but you work with what you have), white sugar, dark brown sugar, eggs, and vanilla. For the sake of brevity, all common steps will come first.

Batch A was made with the White Whole Wheat Flour

Batch B was made with Red Whole Wheat Flour

It might be hard to see a major difference from this picture but the flour in the measuring cup is bleached white flour, for comparison with the white whole wheat. Whereas the bleached white flour is snow white, white whole wheat has a light brownish cast to it.

Here's the same comparison with the red whole wheat

See all the little flecks in this flour? That's the stuff that's good for you!

We sift our dry ingredients together (flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder). I do own a sifter but I find that a fine mesh strainer works just as well and is easier to clean.

This next step was a little different. This particular recipe called for creaming cold butter with the sugars. Most recipes, like the famous Toll House one, call for using softened butter. I typically use melted butter in my chocolate chip cookies, a trick I learned from my sister which makes them spread more and get the thin chewy texture I desire. I decided not to buck convention this time and follow the recipe as told.

I have no clue how I got this weird trippy photo. In case it is hard to tell, I added vanilla.

Add in the dry ingredients...

Here's what the dough looks like with the white wheat
Toss in some chips and...

You have me taking a pic of them in the oven, having forgotten to before I threw them in. I will say that this dough definitely lent itself to needing to be formed into balls then flattened. I have my doubts that they would've flattened on their own.

Here's the red wheat dough...pre-baking obviously

The white wheat cookies all baked.

The red ones all baked.

Here's a side by side comparison. No idea why this photo rotated itself upon upload...

I decided to use blind taste testers to compare the two cookies. I gave my wife Joanna, and our two friends Amber and Anthony, each a cookie from the respective batches. I didn't tell them what the difference was. I merely said I wanted to know which one they liked better and why.

So, what's the verdict?

Universally, the red whole wheat cookies were the winner. All three said they had a greater depth of flavor, a kind of subtle nuttiness, as well as seeming to have more amplified flavors, ie. they were more rich and buttery. The last comment was the most interesting as the recipes were identical beyond flour. The white whole wheat cookies were rated highly as well and, when I revealed the differences, we all agreed the white wheat could easily pass for being made with bleached flour. I will, therefore, be further experimenting with how far I can take the white whole wheat to bleached flour subbing.

I made whole wheat brownies last night, but that's another post...

What's the deal?

For a while now, I've been fascinated with eating better. I don't just mean healthier either. I mean also eating with awareness, ie. awareness of the source of one's ingredients, awareness of how processed the food is that one is consuming, awareness that it is far better to consume a smaller amount of food of superior quality than to gorge on something that comes from the laboratories of mad food scientists. Many things have helped shape this awareness, from reading books by authors such as Michael Pollan, to documentaries on our industrial food system, to a desire to increase my health and lose weight without giving up my love of good food.

Being an avid amateur baker, I've become fascinated with the topic of baking prior to the advent of boxed mixes which involve mixing egg and oil with an unidentifiable powder to produce something akin to "baked goods". Going even farther back, I'm curious about how we baked prior to the advent of white flour.

Bleached white flour, or all purpose flour, is a relatively new concept. It was one of the first processed foods out there and was an early example of making something shelf stable, as well as bending nature to our whim to provide properties we find desirable, through removing it from its original state. We get many desirable traits from this processed ingredient. It allows our breads and cakes to rise higher due to gluten content and no fiber to get in the way of forming air pockets, it becomes shelf stable because the oils that would make it go rancid are removed, it allows us an easy building block for baking by giving us a one size fits all flour for multiple applications. However, this processing also removes the germ and bran, which contain the nutritional parts, leaving only the crushed endosperm. Lost are the nutritional oils, fiber, protein, as well as depth of taste.

This blog is going to be about two things. Firstly, it will be about a love of baking. Secondly, and most importantly, it will be about my attempt to remove bleached white flour from my baking and my kitchen, subbing in not only whole wheat flour but also making use of the wealth of other grains out there that have been lost to the modern diet. I'm no expert on science or baking. A lot of what I do will be experimentation. I will share my results and what I learn. I document this in the hopes someone else might find value in this subject.