Monday, June 15, 2009

Gluten For Pun-ishment

For health reasons I've been trying to incorporate more whole grains in my diet, eating whole wheat bread instead of white whenever possible. However, I need to watch my budget, too, and quality wheat bread tends to cost more than the white fluffy stuff. I'm solving that problem by making bread in my bread machine. It takes less than ten minutes to assemble all the ingredients for a loaf of bread, and 3 1/2 hours later I have a delightful fresh loaf with no work on my part.

I buy my white bread flour at Sam's Club and store it in the freezer downstairs. Although it has no fiber, it produces a light, fluffy loaf, because bread flour contains more gluten than other flours. Gluten is a protein that provides the structure in bread. The higher the gluten content, the more volume the bread will have. Whole grains on their own don't have enough gluten to make a light loaf of bread. The first loaf of whole-grain bread machine bread I baked was dense and heavy. It would have made a great doorstop!

Over the years I've experimented with different proportions of bread flour and whole grain, but have yet to come up with the perfect recipe. During a recent browsing trip through my local Whole Foods store, I saw something called Vital Wheat Gluten in the grain aisle. The package said using it could be especially helpful for baking breads made with course, whole grain flours. A glance at the nutrition label indicated the only ingredient was wheat gluten. I was intrigued, so I bought a bag and brought it home. Today I used vital wheat gluten to make a loaf of whole-grain bread.

My basic bread recipe calls for 4 cups of flour. For today's experiment I used half oatmeal and half whole wheat flour. The directions on the wheat gluten indicated I should use 1 tablespoon for every cup of low gluten flour, so I added 1/4 cup into the pan, along with the liquid and olive oil, sugar, salt, and yeast. I selected the whole wheat cycle and hit the Start button.

I left to run some errands. The kitchen was filled with the wonderful smell of freshly-baking bread when I returned. The machine beeped when the baking was finished, and I turned the loaf out onto a wire rack to cool. A loaf of white bread usually rises to the top of the pan. My wheat bread was only 2/3 as tall, but it was substantially taller than any of the other whole grain loaves I've made. I could hardly wait to cut into it to see what it tasted like.

The experiment was a success; the bread was wonderful. It was substantial, but not dense, moist but not gooey, and so good I had to have a second piece. I usually keep homemade bread in the freezer because it doesn't have preservatives to keep it fresh. However, this loaf may not last long enough to reach the stale point!


  1. Thanks for the tip - my husband bakes bread. We also are only eating whole grain bread, so this is very helpful. thanks

  2. I came from a white bread or die type of family, so it took some getting used to when I moved and started eating non-white bread. I missed the sugar, I'm sure [I'm not so secretly in love with high fructose corn syrup]. Whole grain breads have really come down in price, but are still more costly. For the past year or two I've been buying bread from a local bakery - but it's available @ my big grocery store. It's less than $2. for a half loaf of bread - enough to make sandwiches for a week. And it's all natural with no preservatives.
    A bread machine sounds like fun, but I can't spare the space in my tiny kitchen!

  3. Interesting. Apparently the gluten content in regular white flour differs between Canada and the U.S. (as I learned when I got my bread machine). The lack of rising for whole wheat bread is common, though. I'll have to remember this.

  4. A friend once gave us a bread machine as a gift, but we never used it,, enough said about that.

    Still hope to get into baking at some point.