American Wheat and the Wheat Safari 2014
“The supper would be delicious—omelets never fell and cakes rose to balloons of lightness, biscuits fluffed up, and no one could season a stew like Agnes Morrison.”
East of Eden, John Steinbeck
Emerald green until the land meets the sky. If I had to describe August in eastern North Dakota in just one word, it would be green. American wheat is grown here, along with corn and soybeans. Sunflowers, sugar beets and hay are part of the landscape too. Celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, the gluten-free diet and the very popular books Wheat Belly and Grain Brain have left us searching to understand the implications of American wheat in our diets. I am fortunate that no one in my family has Celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. I continue to bake with American wheat to feed my family and develop recipes. With so much media coverage I was more than interested in learning about how American wheat is bred, grown, harvested and processed. I learned all this and more. The different classes of American wheat and the baking performance in different types of recipes captured my attention. Wheat Safari 2014 offered a perspective on American wheat flour that begins long before the bag of flour is placed in the shopping cart.
From the genetic history of wheat to touring the state-owned North Dakota Mill I learned that nearly half of all wheat grown in the Unites States is exported. Food cultures are unique, requiring different classes of wheat that perform best in each type of baked product and pasta. Hard wheat has a greater protein content and develops more gluten, making this the best flour for yeasted bread and pasta. Soft wheat has a lower protein and gluten content and is better suited to making cakes and pastries. The ever present all-purpose flour at our American stores is a blend of hard and soft wheats, with a protein content of 10-12%. Dr. Senay Simsek, professor at the University of North Dakota’s Wheat Quality Lab told us that our home baking would be improved if we chose a flour that was tailored to the type of product we were making. After all, that’s what commercial and professional bakeries do to achieve excellent baked products. Recommending bread flour for bread and cake flour for cookies and cakes caught my attention. There’s pastry flour too. The world of whole wheat flour is a topic for another time. (Currently there is a wide variation in the blends of whole wheat flour and therefore the protein content, which in turn affects baking performance.) It was at that moment that I became curious about the blends of flours that are available at the grocery store, their protein content, how it affects my baking. I’m using up the flour I have in my pantry but when I shop for flour I will be checking for protein content to match my baking.
|The Six Main Classes of American Grown Wheat|
|Wheat classes||Protein range||Protein range, 5 yr avg.||Types of flour||Best uses|
|Durum (Semolina)||10-16%||14.4%||semolina||pasta, cous-cous|
|Hard Red Spring||12-16%||14.3%||bread, blending||bread, bagels, pizza dough, frozen dough, blending wheat|
|Hard Red Winter||10-14%||12.4%||bread, all-purpose||all-purpose flour, pan bread, Asian noodles, hard rolls, flat breads|
|Hard White||10-16%||10.3%||white whole wheat||whole grain bread, tortillas and other flat breads|
|Soft Red Winter||8-11%||9.9%||cake & pastry||cakes, cookies, pastries, muffins, chemical leavened breads , pretzels, flat breads|
|Soft White||8-12%||10.4%||pastry for export||Asian noodles, sponge cakes, cookies, pastries|
Pillowy soft, fluffy flour tortillas can be filled, rolled or folded and are just as versatile as bread or crepes. Although my mom is a native Californian the only tortillas we knew came in a box. They were the pre-shaped corn things she filled with hamburger, iceberg lettuce, tomatoes and Monterey Jack cheese. I hadn’t heard of burritos, or even salsa yet. My introduction to flour tortillas came as an amazing after school snack when I visited a friend’s house. We found homemade tortillas wrapped in a tea towel waiting for us. We warmed the tortillas in a cast iron skillet and rolled them with peanut butter and homemade strawberry jelly. A slather of soft margarine and spoonfuls of cinnamon sugar in fresh flour tortillas was another indulgent snack. The first bite of a homemade flour tortilla is so sublime. It almost melts in your mouth.
Flour tortillas are easy to make, most of the time is spent waiting for the dough to rest. The softest flour tortillas are made with lard. Second best is vegetable shortening. I use the non-hydrogenated kind to feed my family. This recipe makes very puffy tortillas, just like a thin version of naan or pita bread. Reduce the baking powder to 1/2 teaspoon if puffy is just too much tortilla. This recipe uses cake flour which has a lower protein content and makes even lighter, fluffier tortillas. But without the strength from a higher protein flour, these tortillas tend to crack and break open. Here’s a bread basket full of ideas for tucking inside Soft and Fluffy Flour Tortillas. And the best salsa recipe for those juicy ripe end-of-summer tomatoes.
|1/2t||fine grain sea salt|
|1/4C||non-hydrogenated vegetable shortening|
- In a medium size bowl mix together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add the vegetable shortening and rub the shortening into the flour until no visible pieces of shortening remain. Gradually stir in the warm water until a soft, smooth dough forms.
- Turn the dough out on a lightly floured work surface and bring the dough together in a ball. Cut the dough in quarters and then in thirds to make a dozen small 6” tortillas. For large, burrito size tortillas cut the quarters in half. Form the dough into flattened circles and cover with a tea towel to rest for twenty minutes.
- On a lightly floured work surface, with a lightly floured rolling pin roll the pieces of dough into 6” circles. Heat a griddle or skillet on medium high heat. Cook the tortillas in the heated pan until bubbles form on top and the bottom is brown where the tortilla touches the hot surface of the pan. Turn the tortilla and cook the other side in the same manner.
The Wheat Foods Council paid for my travel, accommodations and the Wheat Safari but I have no obligation to write about the trip. I am expressing my own opinions about American wheat from the perspective of an avid baker.
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