Just so you know: it is killing me to write this post this morning.
I'm out of bread.
It's the little ironies in life that are sometimes the most delicious. Or, the most tortuous. But right now, my mouth has pooled with saliva from looking at that picture, and there's nothing to be done about it. Until my current batch of whole wheat bread, that is rising as we speak, gets baked.
OK, let's get the information show on the road.
Let's say that you've made the decision that you want to grind your own wheat berries. There are many types of wheat berries out there. What kind is right for you?
First, here are a few important facts.
There are two basic types of wheat berries: hard, and soft. Whodathunk? Wheat berries are classified as hard and soft based on the amount of protein in the flour. Hard wheat has more protein, and soft wheat has less. The more protein a flour has, the more potential it has to make gluten. Gluten is a web of proteins that forms when flour and water mix. Think of them as being the chewing gum element in your bread. Consider for a moment the various types of breads you've tried in your life. The chewy or springier types of bread had a gluten that had been well developed. Gluten helps bread rise. That's why we knead bread: to facilitate the formation of the gluten network in the dough. Many people object to whole wheat bread due to its density. Whole wheat bread that is heavy and dense has not developed much gluten. Got it?
Just to help you stick this fact into your brain, I'll remind you that Southern cooks who make biscuits swear by what flour? White Lily. And it's really true: White Lily makes a fabulous biscuit. Why is that? Because White Lily is made from a softer wheat flour. It's lower in protein. The biscuits it makes are tender, because it doesn't have as many proteins available to make those chewy strings of gluten. Get it?
So, what kind of wheat berries are right for you? What kind of wheat berries do you want for making a great loaf of whole wheat bread?
Well, through experimentation, I have found that I like to have three varieties of wheat berry on hand, available for me to cook with. I like a hard red, a hard white, and a soft white.
The hard red wheat berry has a darker, nutty flavor. From time to time, I'm in the mood for a darker denser bread, and I'll make a loaf out of nothing but hard red flour. Hard white is the flour of choice for some families, but I find it to be lacking in character, all by itself. It will produce a loaf that rises nicely, with less of the heavier flavor that is associated with hard red flour. All by itself, though, it's a little too "vanilla" for me. My favorite combination when I am making a loaf of bread is half hard red wheat berries, and half hard white.
Soft white wheat berries are lower in protein. The flour ground from them is sometimes known as "pastry flour". I order soft white wheat berries to make flour for anything I'm baking that doesn't need a high rise: pancakes, waffles, tortillas, biscuits, pita bread, muffins, quick breads or cookies. It's a finer, more delicate flour.
I like to buy Wheat Montana Farms wheat berries. Their quality has never let me down. The berries I have received from them have always been clean: no pests, and no rocks. The varieties I order from them are Bronze Chief (that's the hard red), Prairie Gold (hard white), and a soft white.
There are a couple of ways I've found to get wheat berries, and I'll share them both with you. You may know of yet other ways, and if you'd like to share those in the comments, my readers and I would be most appreciative! If the tip you include is helpful enough for the whole class, I'll include it in the next part.
The problem with ordering wheat berries is that the price you run into when you first google "wheat berries" can be a little deceptive. I'll show you.
Even though the price of these lovely Prairie Gold wheat berries is $43.52, which isn't a bad price, by the time you add in shipping and handling charges, your bill becomes $92.22. Yup: that's right. The shipping and handling charge ($48.70) exceeds the cost of the actual wheat berries themselves. What's a baker to do? (And no, forward thinkers, it's NOT eligible for Amazon Prime's free shipping.)
Well, at least I can tell you what I've done. First, you can order your wheat berries through a local food co-op. There are two ways you can approach this, both of which I've done. The first would be by word of mouth: ask any friend you might have who bakes bread or who you know makes an effort to eat locally grown food. Many food co-ops make bulk orders of wheat berries, which will substantially reduce your shipping. I found out about a local food co-op through the Girl Scout troop my daughter and I participate in, and purchased my wheat berries from them several times. The downside of that for me was that I had to drive an hour to pick them up. But then, I do live in the Boonies. Yesterday, while preparing Part 1 of this tutorial, I googled wheat berries and the name of the nearest big city to me and discovered a food co-op that orders wheat berries that is only a half hour away. Much more bearable! So, I'd suggest that you give either of those methods of searching a try.
Here's one more way I have handled obtaining wheat berries, that might encourage you to do a bit of outside the box thinking. We were planning a drive to Georgia to attend a University of Georgia football game, which I knew would take me near me a regional bread making nirvana, The Breadbeckers, Inc. I talked my dear husband, The Big Bison, into making a little detour on our trip, so we ourselves handled the shipping, since we were already making the trip. While we picked up a nifty little loaf pan for baking bread in that I like very much. They have every other supply you could need as well, from appliances like mills and mixers, to other grains, yeast, honey and other sweeteners. So check out their store in case your local co-op doesn't supply everything you need. Their prices are competitive, and sometimes better than what you'll find elsewhere. Just don't forget to figure in the shipping if you're not planning a trip there.
So, here's what you can expect if you order a 50 lb. sack of wheat berries through your co-op, from Wheat Montana.
|50 lb. sack of Bronze Chief (hard red) wheat berries.|
|45 lb. bucket of Prairie Gold .|
Even though I trust Wheat Montana's product, I always freeze my wheat berries for 24 hours before I store them: trust and verify, right? Even if Wheat Montana produces a clean product, they could pick up insects in the truck ride across the country.
|Because Susan in the Boonies is anti-critter-infested-food.|
So, I scoop the wheat berries into a labled ziplock, and stick them in the freezer for a day before I dump them in my tall bucket with a gamma lid. What's a gamma lid, you ask?
|Gamma lid on top of bucket.|
This is everything I wanted someone to explain to me when I was starting out, but I could never find it laid out like I wanted it. Sure hope this helps you out!
More info in my next post as well. In the meantime, I'd love to hear from you! What questions do you have? What do you do differently? What helpful resources have you found?