Baking secrets: Whole wheat flour makes surprise appearance in cake
The recent push to get consumers to add more whole grains to our meals has inspired me to think about infusing whole wheat flour into a dessert. Not a sweetened yeast or quick bread recipe, but a bona fide after dinner cake dessert.
When I baked in the Catskill Mountains of New York, we relied upon King Arthur Flours for all our bread and pastry recipes. King Arthur, America's oldest flour company, now offers home bakers unbleached white whole wheat flour, milled from white wheat kernels.
Available at most stores, this variety provides all the fiber of regular whole wheat, while boasting a milder flavor and lighter hue. Before delving into a cake remake, I tested King Arthur's white whole wheat flour in a simple batter bread recipe. I enjoyed the subtle background texture from the lighter whole wheat.
King Arthur's product information claims bakers can substitute white whole wheat for up to half the amount of all-purpose flour in any recipe where whole wheat would not be expected or called for in the ingredient list. I set out to test that claim in a cake dessert.
As much as chocolate tempted my taste buds for this challenge, I realized the flavor power of cocoa would inhibit my ability to detect textural changes. I sidelined my favorite chocolate cake in favor of another almost as powerful ingredient: ripe banana.
You may be wondering why I didn't choose a plain butter cake for this experiment. Frosting tops most butter cakes and taste testers expect that adornment, or ask questions if the dessert shows up naked on a plate. I needed a cake recipe often served without frosting and this job called for the return of an old favorite … the bundt pan.
Long ago I tweaked the standard banana cake to fit my tastes for a tube or bundt style pan. Ripe bananas bring loads of natural sweetness and unique flavors to a cake batter. As a bonus, the fruit's texture mildly mimics the effects of fat by preventing gluten development. This keeps the finished cake soft and moist.
The secret lies in playing to an ingredient's strengths while keeping a realistic expectation of the outcome. Here this means using ripe bananas allows for a reduction of fat and sugars in the recipe, not the elimination of one or the other.
Just cup canola oil partners with the smoothness of bananas to bake soft texture into the crumb. Natural sugars in the bananas allow the amount of light brown sugar to be reduced to 1 cup in this cake recipe. Brown sugar also brings a mild molasses flavor to the bananas, enhancing the fruit's flavor.
Low-fat buttermilk provides tanginess that balances the sweetness without compromising the moist texture or detracting from the fruit's signature taste. All these factors make this banana cake recipe simply perfect without frosting and possibly able to stand up to a whole wheat infusion.
For an honest appraisal of this cake, I stashed the bag of white whole wheat flour in the cupboard to prevent my dessert tasters from expecting a change. As recommended by King Arthur, I substituted half white whole wheat for all-purpose. Much to my surprise no one could detect the addition of the whole wheat flour in this dessert. I served the cake without frosting, glaze or sugar dusting.
One bite of this banana bundt cake and you will agree with me; whole wheat flour is not just for bread anymore.
• Annie Overboe, a Culinary Institute of America graduate, lives in Villa Park. Write her at email@example.com.