Healthy holiday baking: Part 2, healthy muffins and quick bread flours

Baking season is upon us. Fresh baked breads, muffins, quick breads, cookies, cakes, and pies can be a highlight of holiday gatherings. This three part series of articles that will assist in making your holiday baking easier and healthier!

There is nothing better in the morning than pairing your morning coffee or tea with a flavorful, moist fruit muffin or a quick bread. Muffins and quick breads are generally made with all-purpose flours. All-purpose flour is the most common flour found in the grocery store. All-purpose flour is generally made from a blend of red and white wheat. White all-purpose flour has the bran and wheat germ removed during processing leaving a white, fine flour. All-purpose flour comes bleached or unbleached. All-purpose flour is generally not used for yeast breads as it does not have a consistently high enough protein content. All-purpose flour is good for quick breads and cakes that do not need to be light or rise an extreme amount. All-purpose flour will give basic cakes, cookies, rolls and quick breads a consistent dense, moist texture and taste.

All-purpose flours comes bleached or unbleached. Bleached means that the flour has been chemically treated with chlorine. This whitens the grain and improves the gluten content. The treatment reduces the vitamin E content but the calories, fats, fiber, proteins, calcium and iron are not significantly altered (most manufacturers of bleached flour add vitamin E back to the flour after bleaching). Unbleached flour is aged, retaining the natural vitamin E content. The aging whitens the wheat and improves the gluten, but this process produces a slightly less white and a heavier feel to cookies and loaves when baking. Using bleached flour ensures white, light cookies and muffins. Yet, most novice bakers may not really see a difference. Details on these differences can be found in part 1 of this Michigan State University Extension series.

All-purpose whole wheat flour and white whole wheat flours do not have the bran and wheat germ removed. Retaining the bran and wheat germ makes the flour healthier for you. Baked goods made with whole wheat flour contain more fiber and the retained wheat germ in the flour contains B vitamins and antioxidants. Whole wheat and white whole wheat are not solely used in making muffins and quick breads, but they can be. To make a healthier muffin or quick bread use at least half whole wheat flour. If a recipe calls three cups of flour substitute 1 ½ cups of unbleached white and 1 ½ cups whole wheat flour. When adding whole wheat flours (if adding fruit hold the fruit till after the dough sets), let the dough set in the refrigerator over night or for at least four hours. This will increase the gluten proteins and help them work with the leaving agents, such as baking powder and baking soda. This will also help enhance and soften the flavors of the whole wheat. Add the fruit by folding it in gently after the dough has set. For tips on how to incorporate more whole wheat flour into baking checkout this website.

Other articles in this Michigan State University Extension series:
  • Healthy holiday baking: Part 1, healthy yeast bread flours and leavening agents
  • Healthy holiday baking: Part 3, healthy cookies and cakes and pie crust flours

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