A recent challenge for me has been trying to figure out and conquer the world of sprouted and soaked grains in an effort to make our beloved grain based baked goods easier to digest and more nutrient dense. I am at heart a perfectionist with my baked goods. Transitioning to Whole Wheat only for my baked goodies was rather painful until I figured out ways to keep it from being dark, dense and coarse. Now the increased challenge is to somehow preserve the textures I think of as normal and expected. There won’t ever be anything 100% like white bleached flour biscuits of Philsbury fame but the general ballpark is my goal.
First of all I had to figure out a type of whole wheat that would work. My all purpose whole wheat of choice is a hard white winter wheat called Prairie Gold. I’ve been told by someone that owns a substantial homemade bread making business that no matter how great the variety of grain is the quality can vary to an extreme from one year to the next. He buys small batches of several of his favorite varieties every year and whichever one is best for that year will then order by the pallet load. Since it never occurred to me that there could be quality variations like that by harvest I am very thankful that the pallet of wheat I bought and stockpiled was a good year. Remember me mentioning that buying in bulk has ended up being what I do for a lot of items in order to save in the long run? A side venture of ours last year was ordering two pallets of wheat. We sold about half of it at cost to local friends and family to defray the amount we had in it and also to cut down on how much we would have to stockpile. I am very grateful to now have a few years worth safely stowed away in 5 gallon food grade buckets. A post for another time will be how to safely store bulk grains in buckets without the use of expensive oxygen eaters.
So back to texture management. After finding my all purpose wheat of choice I had to figure out how to get it ground down fine enough. This boiled down to finding a grinder that has a super fine “pastry” setting. While there are some breads that need the course grind for that hearty country texture and flavor that just isn’t what I desire to use in a pie crust or with cookies. Even with the Pastry setting on my grinder I still sift the flour through a super fine mesh strainer. It’s more fine than a sifter is. This catches all the “hull” particles that tend to be a bit bigger than desired and the end result is a super fine, pale flour that is as close to unbleached white flour as you can get and it still qualify as whole wheat. My adventure in multi grain cooking is in it’s embryo stage so I don’t have much experience yet to share about that yet. Maybe in a couple of months!
Even with my almost white wheat flour my soaked biscuit experiments have ended up being flattish with a tough and chewy texture. Not bad if that is what you expect from a biscuit. I want fluffy AND soaked! How hard can it be to achieve fluffy??? Very hard, for me anyway. Today wonder of wonders I had soaked biscuit triumph. And wouldn’t you know, consistent with my luck in life (or maybe that should read: fly by the seat of my pants and forget all about documenting anything when I’m inspired) I didn’t write down a thing I did or measure any of it at all. I’m going to write up what was done from memory though so that maybe…hopefully…one day I can replicate these marvelous creations.
First of all I dumped all the flour I had on hand ground up from a previous project into a ceramic bowl. In hindsight and guesstimating I think it was in the ballpark of 12 cups but I couldn’t be sure. I then added the last bit of my store bought, all natural buttermilk (with live cultures) and mixed it in. It was dryer than what is ideal for soaking flour so I added a few dollups of plain whole yogurt. Mixed this into something that resembled the consistency of a very thick, dense, dough. Basically to the point where all the flour was barely in contact with moisture and then patted it down in the bowl and covered with a damp hand towel. Into the pre-warmed oven it went to spend a lonely night. The plan was to get up the next morning and bake biscuits but I didn’t end up getting to them until early afternoon. Into the base of soaked “dough” I put 2 sticks of grassfed butter diced into small cubes with sea salt sprinkled on top. A few interruptions later involving an employee that ran off the Interstate in our super rare TN snow storm this afternoon I came back to the dough and the now room temp butter. You homemade biscuit connoisseurs know that one of the cardinal rules of good biscuits is that the butter stays cold or else any chance for excellent texture is ruined. Refusing to give up hope yet still quite distracted I plunked the whole thing, bowl, dough and butter together into the fridge where it chilled out for about two hours. Retrieving the now thoroughly chilly dough and butter blob I tried figuring out how I was going to work in the baking soda, baking powder and the smidge of rapadura or (gasp) white sugar I always add to my biscuits. It’s the secret ingredient to end all secret ingredients and part of me is more than a little horrified that I just wrote that out on a public blog. The dough texture from soaking didn’t seem to need any extra moisture and if anything was a wee bit on the moist side for biscuits. Debating on whether or not to pull out the food processor I finally decided against it, worried that if I used a food processor or the Bosch dough hook mixer it would over mix and activate the gluten which could be very harmful to the desired fluff.
Sprinkling a bit of flour out on a cutting board I dumped the blob out on it. In a small bowl on the side I mixed some extra sea salt (figured I hadn’t sprinkled enough on the butter earlier) about a tablespoon or so of Baking Powder and probably in the ball park of 1.5 teaspoons of baking soda. To this I added a couple tablespoons of flour so it would be more spreadable. Something I learned about good biscuits long ago is that contrary to what many cookbooks tell you “knead a few times before rolling out” is that you never should knead whole wheat biscuits. If you are using a super low gluten flour you might be able to get away with it but with a full gluten bread flour it’s just too risky. Instead the method that is most effective is to gently “fold” it over on itself and pat down flat. In this way I sprinkled several layers of the leavening mix and “folded” it in. This also finished distributing the butter lumps more or less evenly throughout the blob. Halving the blob I gently patted out the first half. That is yet another tip, never ever “roll” the dough with a rolling pin. It’s too forceful. After a few foldings take your hands and just pat it out until it is the desired thickness. Grabbing a kitchen glass that does double duty as my biscuit cutter I began to extract the biscuits from the blob. This leads me to yet another tip: Do not twist as you cut out biscuits. Straight in, straight out. Twisting motions on the sides can keep biscuits from rising to their true potential. A properly cut biscuit should look like this on the sides.
I slathered some Organic Extra virgin Coconut Oil on my stainless steel insulated cookie sheet and laid out the first biscuits. Yet another tip (tired of those yet??) Put your biscuits close enough that they can touch. Biscuits rise better pressing up against each other rather than spread out all on their own all over the pan.
With the second half of the blob I decided to try something I haven’t tried since I moved to TN. In NM back when I used to think I was exceptionally healthy by cooking with organic unbleached flour I made a creation using green chilles, sharp cheddar cheese and a dash of cayenne resulting in biscuits that tickled the heat and flavor lovin’ palate of MyMan. Getting my hands on decent green chilles is impossible here in TN but I decided to try the cheese twist with these biscuits anyway. I folded in a couple of cups of sharp shredded cheese into the blob before patting it out flat. Once flattened I lightly sprinkled the top with the lightest of dustings of cayenne. You can see the rather largish lumps of butter in the blob really well in this shot.
The Cheese biscuits were put on the pan with their plain compatriots and were promptly slid into the oven that was a flaming 425 degrees. My goal was to speed the baking time up because traditionally soaked flour goods require quite a bit longer to bake than their unsoaked counterparts. My theory was if they started off at a higher heat it might speed the process up. They still ended up taking close to 40 minutes to bake vs. the 20 or so my normal whole wheat biscuits take. After the first 15 minutes or so I backed the heat down to 350 out of concern that they would get too well done on the top before the insides were done.
Confession: Yes, I am one of those cooks that compulsively checks the experiment every five to ten minutes. I can’t help myself. That’s why it’s called a compulsion. That miiiiight have something to do with why my baked goods average needing an extra five to ten minutes of baking time compared to every other baker out there regardless of what oven I use. (ahem) This time my frequent progress reports put a bigger and bigger grin on my face. They were RISING. They were FLUFFY. Finally I couldn’t bear it and pulled off a segment of one of the outlying biscuits. Oh.My.Goodness. It tasted just as good as it smelled and looked. Perfectly golden and crunchy on the outside with an incredibly fluffed interior flavored with the generous gobs of butter that resulted in a velvety softness in every bite. As MyMan said later they are truly the “Biscuits that eat like a meal” Especially the cheesy ones. If anything they over-rose and grew beyond their bounds. I’m totally Ok with that. In hindsight the dough was probably a bit on the moist side of perfection. I’m also Ok with that as well but will file it away as something to modify slightly in the future.
Documentation of the tastiness.
If I am ever able to replicate this with actual measurements and other helpful and specific odds and ends like that I shall do another post in a more concise form. If anybody uses these general guidelines and actually measures and experiences success PLEASE pass it back to me! I’ll be forever grateful. =D In the meantime, I think it’s time for a bowl of beans and another buttery biscuit.
Steph, This is one of the best (if not the best) articles I’ve ever taken the time to read about baking! I’m very excited to try this myself. Your pictures are lovely and made my mouth water and I can’t wait to try the ‘finessing’ tips you shared. You go girl. Love you,
well, I DID learn some helpful things here. Thanks so much for posting! And yes, PLEASE try to duplicate your success, and give us a better recipe. ;o)
So…for those of us who have no wheat grinder (nor money nor room for one) – would you suggest a whole wheat pastry flour that’s been sifted?
I guess now I’ll just HAVE to experiment on my own. 😛 Oh rats. (jk – I love experimenting)
Whole wheat pastry flour sifted should be perfect. Soft pastry wheat that is ground fine should give you better results than what I got with the hard winter wheat. Lower gluten count and much softer flour. Good luck! Hope it turns out well for you. =)
Steph, I am so excited. I have my first bowl of soaking flour in the oven for tomorrow and just hoping to finesse it toward fluffy. Didn’t know if it would help but I added a couple of tummy tuneup capsules to the buttermilk in hopes that the culture will be richer…..lol. I tend to over handle dough…….I don’t have your sensitive touch. Wish me luck!
Yay! Hope they turn out great. If you measure please send me the amounts if they turn out well. We’ll all greatly benefit! =D