Saturday, February 16, 2008

Graham Flour: Where Goodness Meets Godliness

Graham flour copy One of the after-school snacks my grandmother used to give me, when it wasn’t the divine sugar bread, was graham crackers spread thickly with soft butter. My grandmother wasn’t a religious woman—she had her own supreme power—but turns out that graham crackers were meant to be divine in their own way. They were the invention of the Reverend Sylvester Graham, a deeply repressed 19th century Presbyterian preacher in my home state of New Jersey, who developed the flour from which they were made in a crusade to fight sin and promote temperance through sound bodily health. The underlying theory was, sort of the like the theory that sugar creates hyper kids, that white flour leads to drunkenness and fornication. Whole grain breads (and vegetarianism) would be the road to clean-living salvation.
Whole grains haven’t made a saint out of me, or anyone else in the more than 175 years since Graham introduced his graham flour and “graham bread,” but he did have a point about general health. We have the last laugh, though, because some things made with graham flour can be, well, sinfully delicious.
Graham flour is essentially a super version of whole wheat flour: the true article is coarser than regular whole wheat and contains more of the bran and germ, which are ground separately from the endosperm (the basic fine flour component) and added back into the flour after it is ground. It has a naturally sweet and nutty taste that comes through in baked goods ranging from the traditional graham cracker to pie crusts. Graham flour is also used for graham nuts cereal (similar to the commercial brand Grape Nuts®), which you can easily make at home. I most often use it for rich but nutritional quick breads, such as muffins, date-nut, and Boston brown bread, the favorite accompaniment to baked beans for a New England Saturday night supper. If you make some now, freeze a loaf for next week or the week after, when I’ll provide a recipe for those beans.

My Boston Brown Bread
Brown bread is a rich, moist steamed bread, traditionally made in a can and sliced into rounds. It is excellent spread with butter or cream cheese, and also makes nice ham or ham and cream cheese sandwiches. Makes 2 loaves.
½ cup raisins—dark is traditional
2 T whiskey or brandy
1/3 cup boiling waterBrownbread batter 1 copy
¾ cup graham flour 
½ cup RI jonnycake cornmeal
½ cup rye flour
¼ cup a-p flour
½ tea salt
¾ tea baking soda
1 large brown egg
½ cup dark molasses (sometimes labeled “full flavor”)
1 ½ cups sour milk or buttermilk
½ cup walnuts, broken into pieces (optional)
Liberally coat the interiors of two 20-oz cans (a standard size for canned fruits and vegetables) or mini bread pans with oil or cooking spray. See the post on plum puddings for instructions and photos related to covering and steaming the containers.
In a small bowl, pour the brandy and boiling water over the raisins and set aside while you make the batter.
Combine the dry ingredients in a medium bowl. In a 2-cup measure, beat the molasses, milk, and egg until well blended. Make a well in the dry ingredients, pour in the liquid, and stir until just combined; the batter will be fluid and a little foamy. Drain the raisins, discarding the liquid, and gently fold them into the batter together with the walnuts.
Using a preserving funnel if you have one, spoon the batter into the prepared cans, leaving an inch or two of space. Cover tightly with foil secured with rubber bands. Place in a Dutch oven on a rack and pour boiling water about half-way up the sides. Cover the pan with a lid and steam, either on top of the stove or in the oven, for 2 hours. Remove the foil and test with a clean skewer by inserting it the full depth of the bread; it should come out completely dry and the exposed top should be springy. If not, steam an additional 20-30 minutes. You are seeking a fully cooked but still very moist crumb, so timing may take a bit of experimentation to avoid either a too wet or too dry product. Let cool in the cans for about 10 minutes, then remove the bottoms of the cans with a can opener; the bread will push out easily. If using mini bread pans, loosen around the edges with a knife and turn out. Serve warm; a thin slicing rather than a serrated knife works best. To store, cool on a rack and wrap tightly; reheat gently in a microwave or serve at room temperature.

Brownbread 1 copy                brownbread butter2 copy
P.S. I’m off to Mexico for a week; I’ll try to post a food note from there, but if not will return to regular posting March 1.


eddie said...

What is A-P flour?
Soryy I am not an original American.. Bread looks good though!

Jane said...

A-P flour is "all purpose"--a preferably unbleached white flour that is neither too hard (high gluten) nor too soft (low gluten), therefore "all-purpose." I think this is 550 flour in Germany.