As indicated in the last few posts, Didier Rosada talked at length about bread flour during last month’s Artisan III workshop at SFBI, detailing the testing process by which the miller determines the ash content, the protein content and the enzymatic activity. At the end of his lecture on flour, he offered a brief recap of what to look for in a bread flour for the purpose of artisan baking.
If you want to make artisan bread, you want your bread flour to be:
- Made of 100% hard (red or white) winter wheat (or at the very least of 80% hard winter wheat + 20% hard spring wheat) for the dough to be able to withstand longer fermentation times
- Unbleached for sure
- Enriched (for better nutritional value)
- Unbromated (watch out as the addition of calcium bromate to flour is still allowed in some States as well as in some countries while it is forbidden in the European Union)
- Organic if possible (although organic flours are still relatively new and may be a bit more inconsistent)
- With a protein content of 10.5 to 12%
- With an ash content of .48 to .56
- With a falling number 0f 250 to 300
These are only guidelines and a baking test will be needed for each new flour. According to Rosada, it is best for the baker to work with big mills as small mills seldom have a lab and may also lack access to different crops. If a local crop is bad, then flour quality will be poor because the miller has already contracted with the farmer to buy the crop, whereas a bigger mill can mix different qualities of wheat to produce a flour with the required specs. However working with big mills may come in conflict with the wish to eat local. Pros and cons will need to be weighed.
Stone-ground isn’t necessarily better. Very old-style mills with hand-sharpened millstones may yield flours with poor baking properties. Romantic notions notwithstanding, if your flour comes from an ancient mill still equipped with millstones which the miller sharpens himself (such mills are becoming rarer and rarer but still exist. If you’d like to visit one and can read/understand French, please click here), you may be able to make a terrific “miche” but it will very difficult for you to produce a perfect baguette.
In other words, make sure you know your flour
Of course, for the home baker it is easier said than done, at least in the US where the consumer has often no access to the flour’s specification sheet (which gives a general idea of its specs) or to its certificate of analysis (which gives exact values). The home baker therefore usually has to go by the label and that label isn’t very specific as evidenced below:
- this flour comes from hard red winter wheat
- its protein content is a minimum of 10% and a maximum of 12%
- its moisture content is a minimum of 12% and a maximum of 14.5%
- its ash content is a minimum of 0.45% and a maximum of 0.65%
- its falling number is a minimum of 220 and a maximum of 280.
I was first told by the “customer information specialist” who provided these details that the information was proprietary but when I wrote back to insist, she relented and allowed me to share it on the blog.
She also asked me to make it known that the information provided was based on current product specifications and could change without notice, suggesting that Whole Foods “guests” always refer to the product labels for the most recent information.
As for King Arthur Flours (whose labels are not more informative),
their spec sheets can be found on King Arthur’s website: here for conventional flours and here for organic ones.
You will notice however that these spec sheets concern professional flours and not the flours commonly found in supermarkets across the US. When I wrote to enquire about specifications for the flours available to home bakers, a kindly customer service representative informed me that Sir Galahad was the professional name for King Arthur conventional all-purpose flour and Special the professional name for its conventional bread flour. So now we know. 🙂
However before the intervention of said kindly customer service rep, I had received a rather less amiable reply from another rep to an inquiry regarding protein content. Here is the text of my initial message: “Hi, I am trying to find out about the protein content (quantity and quality) of various flours, including your AP and bread flours. It is indicated on your website that your AP flour contains 11,7% of protein. However when I calculate the percentage based on 4g of protein in 30g of flour, I get a different number. Please explain why. Also please indicate if your AP is made of a blend of spring and winter wheat” (I had divided 4 g by 30 g and gotten 13.3%).
And here is the reply I received: “Our All-Purpose flour is milled from hard wheat flour, but not necessarily a blend of winter and spring wheat. It is almost impossible to calculate the percentage of protein from the flour bag, because they round things off so much. The all purpose flour that you received is 11.7% gluten however the nutrition label states the protein as 4 grams not percent. Comparing grams to percents is like comparing apples to oranges, two different units of measurements for the same thing. A percentage is a part divided by a whole. The part of the flour’s weight that’s protein (4 grams) is divided by the whole weight of the serving (usually 28 to 30 grams). The result is the percentage of protein in the flour. 4 divided by 30 = 13.3, yet we are saying 11.7. This discrepancy is the way everything can be rounded off. Eg. 4 grams of protein can be anything from 3.5-4.4. The 11.7 could be rounded to 12. I hope this helped to clarify”.
Indeed… In any case, in the end I had the info I wanted and now so do you.
However, adding to the confusion is the fact that the same flour is sometimes marketed under different names across the US. I thus learned during one of the workshops I attended at SFBI over the course of the year that the same organic flour I buy at Whole Foods can be found under another name at Costco (at least in Northern California as the Costco warehouses I have access to here in the Northeast do not carry it) as well as in some supermarkets under yet another label. Oh well! I guess there is no way out of doing a baking test…