November 18, 2008

Baking Basics 101 - Wheat-based Flour

Flour2There are numerous varieties of wheat flour to satisfy the multiple uses of it. Because of this, it is very important to select the right flour for the right recipe or else the result could be disastrous and possibly expensive if the recipe calls for expensive ingredients (vanilla in cake recipes come to mind).

Bread Flour
Bread flour is typically milled from hard wheat and contains a high protein content, commonly in the 11.5 to 13.5% range. This allows for good gluten development and is an important factor for rise (the volume) of bread and crumb/crust development in yeast products. They come in bleached and unbleached forms, and some bread flour may have bread improvers mixed in, especially the bread mixes that are commonly found in retail shelves. Bread flour is commonly used in bread (obvious, yes we know), rolls, croissants, sweet yeast doughs, and soft dough products.

High-Gluten Flour
High-Gluten flour is milled from hard wheat, similar to bread flour, but contains a higher range of protein content, in the 13.5-14.5% range. High-Gluten flour will usually have potassium bromate or similar additive included into the flour for better gluten development. Higher amounts of water are a must when working with this flour because of the higher protein content. This flour also comes in bleached and unbleached forms. Usage of high-gluten flour should be limited to final products requiring the strength and structure provided by this flour, such as bagels, hard rolls, pizza crusts, and hearth/pugon baked products.

Artisan Flour
Artisan flour is essentially a bread flour that is opposite of High-Gluten flour. Artisan flour is also milled from hard wheat, but is low in protein with a range of 11.5 to 12.5% protein content. Despite a lower protein content, the quality of protein is higher, thus ensuring that bread will still rise and develop a nice gluten matrix. This type of flour usually do not contain bleaching, additives, or improvers, and is thus often considered an organic bread flour. Bread made with this flour will have a crisper crust and larger/more irregular holes inside.

Pastry Flour
Pastry flour comes from soft wheat and is also low in protein content, around 7 to 9.5% protein content. The flour cannot absorb much liquids thus any batters or doughs made using pastry flour remain soft and fluid at first. Pastry flour can be used in cookies (which will allow the cookie to spread further) and cakes (which will allow the cake to rise higher). Pastry flour is hard to find on retail shelves and an easier solution would be to mix your own flour together. This mixture would be a combination of cake flour and all-purpose flour at a ratio of 2 parts cake flour and 1 part all-purpose flour, even parts of cake flour and all-purpose, or somewhere in between but depending on the needs of the recipe.

Cake Flour
Cake flour also comes from soft wheat and has a finer grind, whiter color, and lower protein content than milled bread flour because of the part of wheat that is used in processing. The protein content is around 6 to 8%. Typical cake flour, with the addition of bleaching (courtesy of chlorine and benzoyl peroxide), contains a distinct bright-white color with a unique flavor. An alternate name of chlorine bleached cake flour is high-ratio or chlorinated flour. Chlorine, aside as a bleaching agent, weakens the gluten and increases the starch's ability to absorb water. This means the cake batter will be thick, and allows for cakes that rise higher (because of more air bubbles trapped inside the batter), are more moist inside (because of higher liquid content which transfers into the batter), and are lighter and fluffier(due to the expansion of air bubbles that were trapped in the batter). It is perfect for cakes such as chiffon, or other cakes where there is a high ratio of liquid and sugar to flour (hence the name high-ratio flour).

All-Purpose Flour
All-Purpose flour, or sometimes called AP flour, is a flour mixture of hard and soft wheat, giving it a lower protein content of 9 to 11 percent, depending on the brand. There are some instances where AP flour is made with all hard wheat, or all soft wheat. AP flour can come in bleached and unbleached forms, and usually enriched with vitamins and minerals. This is one of the most commonly found flour in retail shelves. If none are available, this flour can be (but generally not recommended) custom mixed at home using a mixture of bread and cake flour, at a ratio of 60:40 (however this case should be unlikely as AP flour is found abundantly).


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