Having said that it is easy to make a fantastic loaf of bread with just four ingredients – flour, yeast, water and salt – there is nothing stopping the home baker from experimenting with extra ingredients to add flavour or nutritional content to a loaf.
Whenever I see a bag of grains or seed that I haven’t made a loaf of bread with, I buy it (as you can see…). Some work, some don’t, but the whole point is playing around with the ingredients to find out what tastes the best. Recently, the majority of my sourdough loaves have contained no wheat flour at all, in an effort to remove the wheat gluten from our diet – the bread part at least, I have yet to taste a good gluten free beer. Spelt and rye flours have played an important role, but I have thrown just about everything at a loaf at one time or another. This is what I have found using a variety of ingredients: some are replacements for the flour in a recipe, others additions either on or in the loaf.
High protein and gluten free, used in place of some of the bread flour. Gives an excellent crunch to the crust and an attractive yellow tint to the finished loaf.
Red or black quinoa especially gives a very dramatic colour to the finished loaf, and adds to the chewy texture of the crumb. Also adds a slightly nutty flavour to the loaf.
My flour of choice at the moment. Another ‘ancient grain’, which means that it is available in most supermarkets because of how fashionable ancient grains are at the moment. Gives a rich colour (brown tending to purplish), a deep, roasted flavour, and is much lower GI than wheat flour.
The heavyweight of the flours. Very little gluten in comparison to wheat flour, and the gluten that is present is of a different quality, so a loaf with a reasonable percentage of rye flour will not rise much. Also a very sticky dough to work with, but well worth it. Dark and fruity, tastes like Northern Europe on a cold day.
Or cracked wheat, or bulgur, or bourghal; for the purposes of bread making treat them the same. As with all whole grains (and some coarse flours like millet and polenta) benefits from soaking overnight. Adds a chewy texture to the crumb and a crunch to the crust.
Again, like millet, gives that crispness to the crust and a yellow tint (it is made from corn). Polenta is great as a bread topping on something like a Moroccan bread, just roll the dough in the polenta before baking.
A coarse Italian flour, derived from durum wheat, which is used to make pasta. Again, good for rolling around a finished loaf for a good crust, and can be included in a recipe for a bit of bite to the finished texture.
Tipo ’00’ flour
Another flour typically used in pasta making, tipo ’00’ is a very fine wheat flour. I have used it with a lot of success in making ciabatta with a very wet dough, which results in an excellent interior with lots of holes and a very crispy crust, similar to a thin pizza crust.
Again, contains less gluten than wheat and as such should be blended with another flour. I use barley flour, or occasionally barley bran, to give an extra sweetness to the finished loaf. The first loaf that I wrote the recipe for was a barley flour and wheat bran sourdough.
Oats and rolled grains
Soaked overnight and worked into the dough or rolled over as a crust, whole oats and rolled grains can be used to add flavour and texture to a loaf. Rye grains and spelt grains work excellently in a sourdough loaf, and should be kneaded in after the autolyse. To make oats stick tot he outside of a loaf, the loaf can be lightly rolled or brushed in milk first.
A slippery, small, brown seed that gives an almost undefinable flavour to a finished loaf- nutty, sweet, and a little bit fruity. Many supermarket breads – the multigrain types – include linseed for its nutritional content. Many supermarket breads also contain extra salt, sugar, preservatives, stabilisers, and who knows what else. Stick to making your own and adding linseed when you feel like it.
One of my favourite seeds to add to a bread. Buttery, smoky, and complex flavour that has a very long lasting pleasant after-taste. Use toasted, crushed, and worked into the dough or as a topping.
Other seeds, whole grains, and anything else
As I said earlier in the post, I have thrown almost anything edible into a loaf. I have not even mentioned fruit because that is a whole different ball game. Poppy and sesame seeds are fantastic for decorating a loaf – think black and white stripes across the crust – and walnuts turn an incredible colour. Whole grains, such as rye berries, oats, pearl barley, and rice (especially black rice if you want a bit of drama) can be cooked, cooled, and added to the dough. Of course there is the multitude of variations of flours – white or wholemeal, processed, stoneground, or hand ground by monks…
I find the best way to experiment with these flavours is to take a recipe you have made before and replace part or all of the wheat flour if using flour, or just add it straight to the mix if using anything else. Different flours will absorb different amounts of water, rise differently, bake differently, and taste completely different; but then that’s the whole point.