Chef Benjamin Maides serves handmade pasta at Avoli Osteria, in Dundee, made with buckwheat, rye and farro flours.
At Two Birds bakery in Elkhorn, Trilety Wade and Megan Thomas turn out vegan cookies and muffins made with spelt flour.
And chef and cookbook author Isa Chandra Moskowitz uses whole grains — millet and quinoa included — in both whole and ground forms in oodles of her vegan recipes.
Whole grains and the flours that result from them give baked goods a new depth of flavor and a more creative texture, and that's not all they bring to the table. They're higher in vitamins, minerals and fiber than their white flour cousins. Some are also gluten-free. With a few minor tweaks, they can make it into almost any recipe that once relied simply on all-purpose white flour.
Maides said he's wanted to experiment with making pasta using non-traditional flour for years. It's something he first learned when he was cooking in Italy.
“They are interesting because you get a flavor and texture you don't normally get out of a dough,” he said. “It opens up a whole new range of possibilities.”
He makes the restaurant's mezzaluna tirolese, a small ravioli filled with a blend of ricotta and spinach, using rye flour, which is the traditional way to make the dish. He's also experimented recently with buckwheat pasta, serving it as a special with a duck ragu.
“Buckwheat is heartier, so it can stand up to something like wild boar or venison,” he said. “Something that has a little more flavor can really work with buckwheat.”
He's using farro, a cousin of spelt, an ancient version of wheat, to make a rustic pasta dish that will be available soon at the restaurant.
Wade said she relies on spelt flour in vegan baking for its nutrients and flavor.
“It's heartier and not as sweet,” she said. “I think it deepens the flavor, where white flour is tasteless.”
Patty Trebbien, a registered dietitian at Alegent Creighton Health, said almost all alternative grains are nutritionally dense, though the content differs from grain to grain. Alternative or whole wheat flours are healthier because they have been processed less than white all-purpose flour, which doesn't include the bran part of wheat, where you find the fiber, nutrients and vitamins.
Other grains Trebbien likes for their nutrient value are quinoa and teff, a North African grain that can be used in flatbread and baked goods because of its sweet flavor.
“Quinoa is one of the best-kept secrets ever,” she said. “It is a complete protein, great for fiber and also gluten-free.”
Moskowitz also loves quinoa.
“I use it in everything,” she said, including salads, stir fries and as a stand-in for risotto.
She likes to bake with coconut flour, which she said “tastes like Twinkies.” Almond flour, with its dense texture and nutty flavor, makes it into pressed crusts.
“It's good for making things shortbread-y,” she said.
Buckwheat flour goes into pancakes and blintzes. She buys finely milled Japanese rice flour at Asian markets instead of traditional grocery stores and uses it in gluten-free baking.
“With sweet recipes, you are looking more to cover the flavor of the flours,” she said, “but in savory ones you want to bring them out.”
She suggests trying buckwheat flour in savory scones or biscuits.
When she uses whole grains in their intact form, she likes to toast them to bring out the flavor before she cooks them, which gives a crunchier texture. Whole wheatberries are another favorite.
“It might be impossible to over cook them, which is why I love it,” she said. She throws them in dishes where she'd otherwise use rice, including soups and salads.
Trebbien advises home cooks to work whole grains into their diet at a moderate pace. Most people eat about 10 grams of fiber a day, she said, and a good goal is to increase to 25 to 30 grams a day.
Maides said the thing he likes most about using the grains is the chance for experimentation.
“You have to play with it and see what you like,” he said.
A GUIDE TO WHOLE GRAIN FLOURS
• Farro: A cousin of spelt. It has a dense texture and nutty flavor. Use it for pasta, bread or in risotto.
• Graham: A coarse grind from hard wheat berries. Use it for crisp crackers and crusts.
• Spelt: Made from an ancient wheat predecessor and can be substituted one to one for wheat flour. It has a sweet, mild flavor. Substitute it any time you would use white flour. it is not gluten-free but does have a low glycemic index.
• Whole wheat: Ground from hard wheat berries and has an earthy flavor with overtones of raw sugar. Use it for chewy bread, cookies or buns.
• Whole wheat pastry: A finer grind that comes from softer wheat berries. Use it for tender baked goods.
• Barley: Fine-ground from hulled barley with the inner grain still intact. It has a nutty, tangy flavor and can be used for smooth and buttery quick breads, cookies or cakes.
• Buckwheat: Ground from a seed related to sorrel and rhubarb. It's nutty with a mineral quality and can be used in blini, crepes, pasta, pancakes and waffles.
• Oat: Ground fine from oats and has a mild sweetness. Use it combined with other flours in baked goods, pancakes and waffles.
• Rye: Milled then sifted from the grain. The darker the variety, the stronger the flavor. Use it in bread, biscuits, scones, waffles or pancakes.
• Amaranth: A fine, powdery flour ground from the seeds of a leafy plant. It has a grassy flavor and is good in baked goods, pancakes and waffles when combined with other grains.
• Quinoa: From the goosefoot family. Use it combined with other grains in quick breads and muffins.
• Millet: A fine grind with a mild, sweet and nutty flavor. Use it in delicate cookies or cakes mixed with wheat flour.
Factbox header: Gluten-free flours
• Rice, corn, potato, sorghum, quinoa, millet, buckwheat, amaranth, flax, chia and nut flours, among others.
List adapted from Martha Stewart Living Magazine and the Celiac Disease Foundation
RECIPES WITH WHOLE GRAIN FLOURS
• 4 eggs
• 1 quart milk
• 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
• 3 cups whole wheat flour
• 1/2 cup oats
• 1/3 cup millet
• 1/3 cup sunflower seeds
• 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
• 1 tablespoon baking powder
• 1/3 cup cracked wheat
• 1 cup melted butter
In a medium bowl, mix the eggs, milk and brown sugar. Add the whole wheat flour, oats, millet, sunflower seeds, all-purpose flour, cracked wheat and baking powder. Mix until smooth. Add the melted butter and mix for about 5 minutes. Pour 1 cup of the mixture onto a preheated waffle iron. Cook until the waffle is cooked through, about 3 minutes. Repeat with remaining batter. Yields four to six waffles.
-- Recipe courtesy of the foodnetwork.com
Wheatberry 'Paella' With Chickpeas and Leeks
• 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads (optional)
• 1/2 cup boiling water
• 1 cup wheatberries
• 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons olive oil, divided
• 2 leeks, white and green parts only, sliced into ¼ inch half moons and washed well
• 6 cloves garlic, minced
• 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
• 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
• 1 cup dry white wine (Chardonnay is great)
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 1 cup vegetable broth
• 1 tablespoon tomato paste
• 2 roasted red peppers, jarred or homemade, finely chopped
• 2 bay leaves
• 4 teaspoons capers
• Lots of fresh black pepper
• 2 cups drained, cooked chickpeas (one 15 oz can should work)
• 1/4 cup chopped parsley or cilantro
• 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
» Prepare the wheatberries:
This is my favorite cooking method for perfectly cooked, plump wheatberries with great texture. Just place them in a 2 quart pot and submerge in water that covers them by 2 extra inches. Cover and bring to a boil. Let boil for 2 minutes, then turn the heat off completely. Keep covered and let steam for another hour. They should be firm and chewy, but if you think they are a tad too firm that's OK because we're going to cook them the rest of the way in the paella. Drain and set aside.
» Prepare the saffron threads:
To get the most flavor from saffron, the threads need to be steeped. It's very easy, just pour 1/2 cup of boiling hot water over the saffron in a coffee mug, cover and let sit for about an hour. Once ready to use, press against the saffron with the back of a spoon to crush it a little. It's now ready to use.
» Prepare the paella:
First you're going to saute the leeks and set them aside. I love the delicate oniony-ness of leeks, and it will get lost if they're overcooked, so this method works wonders — we'll add them back to the pan at the end. So … in a large pan over medium heat, saute leeks in 1 tablespoon olive oil with a pinch of salt for about 7 minutes, until tender. Transfer to a plate and set aside.
In the same pan over medium low heat, saute garlic in 2 teaspoons olive oil for about a minute. Add the oregano and thyme and saute for about 30 more seconds. Add white wine, salt and saffron threads in water and turn the heat up high. Bring to a boil and let boil and reduce for about 3 minutes.
Lower heat back to medium, add the cooked wheatberries, vegetable broth, tomato paste, roasted red peppers, bay leaves, capers and fresh black pepper. Let cook for about 15 minutes, adding the chickpeas about halfway through. The wheatberries should absorb a lot of the liquid, but it should still be somewhat saucy. Remove bay leaves and taste for salt.
Mix in the chopped parsley or cilantro and lemon juice. Turn off heat and let sit for about 10 minutes to let the flavors marry. It's one of those things that will taste even better in an hour or so, so if you've got that kind of time, then go for it, just gently reheat before serving.
-- Recipe courtesy of theppk.com and Isa Chandra Moskowitz
Buckwheat-Hazelnut Sables (makes about 4 dozen cookies)
• 1 cup toasted hazelnuts
• 3/4 cup buckwheat flour
• 14 tbsp butter
• 1/2 cup superfine sugar
• 1 tsp lemon zest
• 1 tsp orange zest
• 1/2 tsp kosher salt
• 2 large egg yolks
Add 1 cup toasted hazelnuts to a food processor and pulse until finely and uniformly chopped. Transfer to a medium bowl, add ¾ cup buckwheat flour and stir to combine. Set aside.
In an electric mixer fitted with paddle attachment, combine 14 tablespoons butter, ½ cup superfine sugar, 1 teaspoon lemon zest, 1 teaspoon orange zest and ½ teaspoon kosher salt. Turn mixer to medium-high and beat until butter is light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed to low and slowly add 2 large egg yolks. Scrape down bowl. Add half flour mixture and mix until just combined, scraping down bowl, then add remaining flour mixture and continue mixing until dough comes together into a ball.
Form dough into a round log about 14 inches long, then wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Slice log into ¼-inch coins and transfer to prepared baking sheets, spaced about ½ inch apart. Bake until cookies are golden brown and fragrant, about 15 minutes. Let cool on pans for 1 minute, then transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely.
-- Recipe courtesy WSJ.com from Chad Robertson of Tartine Bakery in San Francisco