Bread Flours: Baking Characteristics
We have added an addendum to the Flour Treatise. Both versions ( Framed and Non-Framed) have this addendum. The addendum describes General Mills latest flour - Harvest King. We hope this information is helpful in your baking efforts.
During a cross country trip in the fall, we purchased flour in Connecticut, Virginia, and Tennessee. Also purchased were flours from different parts of California.. We were curious to see the way in which flour available in New England, and the Southeast, differs from that that is available in our home state, California. Once home, we decided to conduct a basic, quasi scientific experiment whereby we could "test" the different flours to determine their (different) baking characteristics. We call this a quasi scientific experiment because we are not in possession of much of the data needed to conduct a thorough test, such as might be done in a baking laboratory. For instance, we had no information about ash content, "W" or "P" values, or for that matter any of the criteria we have discussed in detail on our Flour Treatise. [Click Here for Frames Version] In one case we do not even have the protein content of the flour used. This is not from lack of trying. We have called and e-mailed the manufacturers of each flour described in this article. Where you see "NA" you also see a mill unwilling or unable to provide the data we requested.
The Artisan kitchen is a kitchen like most found in avid cook's and baker's homes. It is not a laboratory where conditions could be held constant while single variables could be examined. Frankly, this kind of experimentation often results in interesting and intellectually challenging information about breads and foods. We are not convinced however that these data often result in better tasting breads and foods.
The small study described herein was undertaken to see whether or not any particular flour in our small sample of the many flours available across the United States would distinguish itself. In many ways it was an undertaking which was designed to see whether or not the flour we most use was indeed the best for our types of breads. Was there a flour available, one which we could easily purchase, and which might be as good or better than the one we most often use? Having completed this undertaking, we decided to share the results with visitors to The Artisan.
All of the flours were evaluated from the perspective of a serious home baker. A recipe was designed for this purpose. (See below). Brief notes were maintained during the process, but the emphasis of the testing was on the final product. The baker did not know the brand of flour being tested. During the test, scores and flour associations, were also unknown to the baker. The only thing available to her was a lot number. Thus, these results are derived from a blind usage of each flour.
Gold Medal all-purpose, enriched, unbleached flour, available in California was the standard to which each of the other flours was compared. Gold Medal was chosen because it is the flour most often used by The Artisan Baker, and thus we were able to define the characteristics of each test bread and compare them to the same characteristics in a bread based upon a standard with which we were familiar. The test, or standard bread, was produced from this flour. As the standard (by definition), it was assigned the highest marks. It is important to note that except for dimensions of height and width , all judgements were of a subjective nature, i.e. crust, crumb, crust & crumb as a combined notion, texture and taste. Others using the same flours to make the same breads may enjoy different results. If that is the case The Artisan would very much like to hear about them. Feel free to send us a note via E-Mail describing your results.
CHARACTERISTICS OF THE FLOURS & RATINGS
Table I identifies the basic characteristics of each flour tested and its rating. (The Test Criteria are discussed at greater length below.) A simple T- test was applied to determine if score differences were statistically significant. Grouping the top seven flours and the bottom four results in significant differences.
Information such as whether or not a flour was enriched, and unbleached or bleached, was taken from package labeling. Protein percent and type of wheat (hard, soft, or a blend), was obtained through contact with individual flour companies. If this information is not indicated, it means there was no response to our request from the company.
Table I -- Flour Characteristics and Ratings
Rating Gold Medal All Purpose (CA) Yes Yes No 9.8-11* -- -- Yes 5.00 White Lily Bread Yes Yes No 11.7 Yes -- -- 4.65 Gold Medal Better for Bread Yes Yes No 12.2-12.7* Yes -- -- 4.65 Stone Buhr White Yes Yes No NA -- -- -- 4.48 Pillsbury All Purpose Yes Yes No 10.5 Yes -- -- 4.45 Hodgson Mill All Purpose No Yes No 10 Yes -- -- 4.30 King Arthur All Purpose Yes Yes No 11.7 Yes -- -- 4.20 White Lily All Purpose Yes No Yes 8 -- Yes -- 3.85 Big Springs Mill A #1 Patent No No Yes 8-9 -- Yes -- 3.60 Hudson Cream Short Patent Yes No Yes 11+ Yes -- -- 3.30 Gold Medal All Purpose (TN) Yes Yes No 9.8-11* -- -- Yes 2.30
* Indicates the range of gluten-forming protein
The following recipe was used to test each flour. It is a derivation of a number of recipes used to create what is commonly referred to as "rustic' style bread, and as such obtains the maximum flavor from the flour itself. The recipe includes a small amount of yeast . The recipe was developed according to measure rather than weight, since cups and spoons are more commonly used than scales by home bakers. A Krups PowerMix Prometal electric stand mixer was employed while making the dough.
"Rustic" Style Bread
The dough developed in this recipe is a slack or moist dough. It is the epitome of a wet dough, barely doubling in volume as it ferments, and spreading, rather than rising, during proofing. When the dough springs into shape in the oven, it is almost a surprise.
1/4 Tsp. Active dry yeast 1/4 Cup Water- warm 1 3/4 Cups Water - cold 31/3 Cups Flour
All Starter from above 1 Cup Water 3 1/2 Cups Flour 31/2 Tsp. Salt
Dissolve the yeast in 1/4 cup water in a 3 quart mixing bowl, and allow it to stand for 5 -10 minutes. Fill a measuring cup with 1 1/2 cups water. Add enough ice cubes for the water to measure 1 3/4 cup. Do not use the water until the ice cubes have dissolved. Add the remaining ingredients to the yeast mixture in the following order: 2 cups flour, 1 3/4 cups of cold water, 1 1/2 cups flour. Use a wooden spoon or plastic spatula to stir this mixture 100 times in the same direction. Cover the bowl and allow it to remain at room temperature overnight.
Transfer the starter to the bowl of an electric mixer and add the water (1cup at room temperature). Mix on low speed to dissolve starter. Add the flour (3 1/2 cups) to the mixer bowl and process on low speed for 45 seconds. Move the setting to medium speed for an additional 5 minutes. Allow the machine to cool and the dough to rest for 5 minutes. Add the salt (3 1/2 teaspoons) and process the dough on medium speed for 3 minutes. The dough has been properly mixed when stretching a small piece results in a transparent sheet of dough. The dough will remain slack due to its moisture content.
Place the dough in a large mixing bowl, and cover the bowl with a cotton towel. Allow the dough to rise for 1 1/2 hours. Punch the dough by rotating the bowl 1/4 turn at a time while scooping the dough from the sides and folding it down into the center. Turn the dough over in the bowl, cover the bowl with a cotton towel, and allow the dough to rest for an additional hour.
Gently turn the risen dough onto a flour dusted work surface. Divide the dough into two portions, gently shape each portion into a ball, and allow the dough to rest for 10 minutes. Dust a piece of canvas (untreated, 100% cotton), or a proofing board (lumber core plywood) with flour. Cup your hands beneath one portion of dough and gently fold sections of it toward the center as you roll it on the work surface until it is round. Turn the dough over; gently roll it on the work surface, and place it rough side down on the canvas or board. Repeat with the second portion. The dough will just hold its shape. Cover the dough with a cotton towel. Allow the dough to rise for 30 minutes. Ease your hands beneath the dough, turning each portion over as it is transferred to a lightly floured sheet of parchment paper. The dough will barely hold its shape, and will spread slightly as a result of being turned over. Allow the dough to rise for an additional 15 minutes.
As the dough is rising, place a baking stone in the oven and set the temperature to 500 F. Allow the oven to heat for 30 minutes.
Slide a bakers peel beneath the parchment paper. Lower the oven temperature to 450 F. Slide the parchment paper from the peel onto the baking stone. Quickly spray the oven walls using a plastic spray bottle filled with cold water. Spray again in 5 minutes intervals for the first 15 minutes. Turn the temperature down to 425 F and bake for another 5 minutes. Rotate the loaves from front to back. Bake for another 10 minutes. (Check the oven to be certain that the dough is not browning too quickly. If this is the case, cover the dough with foil.) Allow the dough to bake until the loaves are a deep golden color (approximately 5 more minutes).
Remove the bread from the oven and allow it to cool on a rack.
The photos seen here are from Giuliano Bugialli's "Foods of Italy". They were taken in a small bakery in Sesto Fiorentino, a city near Florence, Italy. We have included them for a number of reasons: The bread described in this recipe looks like this when it is proofing and when it comes out of the oven. Additionally we hope that these photos inspire bakers who visit this page as they have inspired us.
Flour Score Store Bought Amount Price Location Gold Medal (CA) 5.00 Albertson's 5 Lbs. $1.79 San Luis Obispo, CA. Gold Medal All-Purpose flour set the standard in this test. It develops into a soft dough, rising moderately as it ferments, and spreading as it proofs.
It took a combination of e-mail and telephone calls to the company to obtain information not readily available on the package label. Representatives of Gold Medal insist that the same flour is marketed nationally, but our test results do not support this claim.
White Lily 4.65 Kroger 5 Lbs. $2.15 Lexington, VA The White Lily Bread flour developed into a softer dough than that of the standard.
White Lily was accommodating and responded readily to requests for information via e-mail.
Gold Medal Better for Bread 4.65 Bristol Farms 5 Lbs. $1.99 Westlake Village, CA. The Gold Medal Better for Bread flour absorbed two additional tablespoon of water than the standard flour. It held its shape more than the standard during proofing.
A Gold Medal representative describes it as higher in protein than Gold Medal All Purpose flour, and as a blend of hard wheats .
Stone Buhr White
Bristol Farms 5 Lbs.
Westlake Village, CA.
The Stone Buhr White flour developed into a soft dough which did not hold its shape as well as the standard during proofing.
A telephone call to Stone Buhr did not produce additional information on the flour. Consumer Affairs has information on the wheat flour (7.5-19% protein), but not the white flour. An e-mail to Bestfoods web site resulted in a message that the e-mail was forwarded to the Technical Center. Thus far no additional information has been forthcoming.
Pillsbury All Purpose 4.5 Bristol Farms 5 Lbs.
Westlake Village, CA.
The Pillsbury All-Purpose flour developed into a soft and more sticky dough. It proved more difficult to shape than the standard, and spread considerably during proofing.
An e-mail response from Pillsbury indicated that Pillsbury All-Purpose flour is a blend of hard and soft wheat. Telephone conversations with two Pillsbury representatives indicated that the all-purpose, unbleached flour is made from hard red winter wheat and the all-purpose, bleached flour, is a blend of hard and soft wheat. Pillsbury also has a bread flour in its line of products.
Hodgson Mill All Purpose 4.3 Kroger 5 Lbs. $2.89 Lexington, VA. The Hodgson Mill All-Purpose developed into a soft dough that spread more than the standard during proofing. The dough had a slightly chalky feel and the baked crust was light in color as compared to the standard. The flour package suggests the addition of vital wheat gluten when using this flour to make yeast breads.
Hodgson Mill was obliging during a telephone conversation when asked to provide additional information about Hodgson Mill All Purpose. Hodgson Mill also has a bread flour in its line of products.
King Arthur All Purpose 4.2 CostCo 25 Lbs. $7.59 Milford, CT. The King Arthur All-Purpose flour developed into a moderately firm but sticky dough compared to the standard. This was the only dough which, when baked, broke open in the center of the loaf during baking. It also had a salty taste.
Information regarding protein content and wheat type is available in The Baker's Catalogue published by King Arthur Flour in Norwich, Vermont.
White Lily All Purpose 3.85 Kroger 5 Lbs. $2.15 Lexington, VA. The White Lily All-Purpose flour developed into a soft dough, somewhat chalky in feel. Additionally, the crust was lighter and the crumb was whiter as compared to the standard. This was the only bread to have both an unusual and salty taste. Big Springs Mill A No.1 Patent 3.6 Kroger 5 Lbs. $1.79 Lexington, VA. The Big Spring Mill A No. 1 Patent flour developed into a soft dough which broke apart when stretched. If felt spongy as it was being shaped. The crust was lighter and the crumb was whiter than the standard.
Big Spring Mill was cooperative and forthcoming when answering questions regarding its flour. Big Spring Mill A No. 1 Patent flour is best used for pastry dough. Big Spring Mill volunteered to send a list of products available by mail.
Hudson Cream Short Patent 3.30 Kroger 5 lbs. $1.49 Lexington, VR The Hudson Cream Short Patent flour developed into a soft dough. The crust was lighter and the crumb whiter than the standard.
Hudson Cream stated that the Short Patent is an all-purpose flour used for bread or pastry. The Hudson Cream representative volunteered that if the bread doesn't rise, two tablespoons of gluten can be added to each batch of bread. Hudson Cream is about to add a bread flour to its line. the composition will include Hudson Cream Short Patent flour to which gluten has been added.
Gold Medal All-Purpose (TN) 2.30 Kroger 5 lbs. $ .99 Knoxville, TN The Gold Medal All-Purpose developed into a soft and a more sticky dough than the standard. It required three-quarters cup of extra flour when compared to the standard, and the dough still spread considerably during proofing. See the notes above in reference to the Gold Medal All-Purpose flour available in California, assigned the value of the standard in the work presented here.
The bread made from each of the flours was rated on a scale of 1 - 5, except for the height and width. These were measured using actual dimensions. The ratings for each flour used and obtained when using these criteria may be found in the far right hand column of Table 1, as well as in the table just after the Brief Notes section above.
Dimensions Height, width (2 measurements across diameter of each loaf) Crust Appearance including color; resistance was also considered Crumb Size and distribution of cells in the crumb, including structure and color, and crumb firmness. The "squeeze" test was applied and the resistance of the crumb to deformation was assessed. Crust and Crumb Subjective assessment of the eating qualities Texture Subjective assessment of the eating quality Taste Subjective assessment of the flavor
The information presented above, in our judgment, provides a few insights relative to the best uses of some of these flours. It would seem that the best use of the four least rated flours (White Lily All-Purpose Big Spring Mill A No. 1, Hudson Cream Short Patent and Gold Medal All-Purpose (Tennessee) is for making pastries or biscuits. We cannot account for the very poor showing of this last flour in light of the fact that General Mills maintains that all their flour is consistently the same across the Country. Obviously, that is either not the case, or during the baking process something went mysteriously wrong. We saw nothing different in the process, nor did we have any reason to believe that these loaves would be so different from other Gold Medal loaves. We have no explanation for the extremely poor showing of the Gold Medal flour purchased in Tennessee. Interestingly, General mills sells the same flour in California for $1.79/5 Lb. and $.99/5Lb in Tennessee. We can only wonder if these flours are indeed the same, especially if this flour was not on sale at the time.
The differences between the remaining flours may best be described as subjective differences in texture/eating quality and flavor. The flours in the above chart (White Lily Bread and Gold Medal Better for Bread) afforded quite acceptable breads, Stone Buhr White, Pillsbury All-Purpose, Hodgson Mill All-Purpose and King Arthur All-Purpose resulted in breads more similar than different. Of note is the fact that the Hodgson Mill All-Purpose flour scored well without the addition of vital wheat gluten. To have added it to this bread and not to any of the others would have skewed the results.
Our personal preference is Gold Medal all-purpose, enriched, unbleached flour. That said, in an attempt to remain open and well-advised, we will attempt to obtain Hodgson Mill and Pillsbury Bread flour, and make the test bread from them.
NOTE: We were recently offered an opportunity to try Hodgson Mill Best for Bread flour. In our opinion, the Hodgson Mill All-Purpose flour performed better than the Hodgson Mill Best for Bread when used in the Flour Test recipe ( Added 5/12/2011)
In this brief effort, we make no claims to which flour is "better". We leave that to those of you who bake and who may like to try different brand names as you perfect your breads.
Addendum to The Flour Treatise and The Flour Test
There have been many advances in the flour industry relative to artisan bread baking since The Flour Treatise was first written. The Introduction to The Flour Treatise includes the following: “Many reading this treatise may find it disheartening that the flour quality indicators available to European are not readily available here. One company does provide information. It is Cooks Natural Products.” We are pleased to say that this is no longer the case. Information such as flour specifications and baking test results are currently available to a much wider audience, via flour purveyor websites and knowledgeable technical and sales personnel.
The Artisan was informed that General Mills Gold Medal flour was about to launch a new consumer product, Harvest King flour. We contacted General Mills and they graciously agreed to send us flour prior to its availability to the consumer. We have been using this flour to make many of the recipes posted on The Artisan (including the recipe used for The Flour Test), as well as recipes from our favorite bread making books; Artisan Baking Across America, and Bread, A Baker’s Book of Techniques and Recipes. The Conclusion to The Flour Treatise states, “Our preferred flour is an unbleached all-purpose flour, ranging in protein content from 9.8 - 11%. This unbleached, all-purpose flour is a blend of hard red winter wheat flour and soft winter wheat flour. This flour has proven to be the most dependable relative to performance characteristics and consistency. It is our flour of choice when making Italian style bread.” As a result of our working with Harvest King flour, it has become our preferred flour when making bread.
For your convenience we have included a copy of a news release posted on the General Mills website:
Harvest King Flour Fuels a Baking Renaissance
Flour formulated for artisan baking now available to home bakers: Dateline -
MINNEAPOLIS — An artisan bread renaissance is emerging with an emphasis on quality ingredients, proper fermentation, hand shaping and craftsmanship. And now, artisan breads aren't achievable just by professional bakers. They can be created at home as Gold Medal brings Harvest King flour, specially developed for the artisan bread industry, to consumers in September 2006.
"With Harvest King, we created domestic flour that is perfectly suited to the discerning style and methods of artisan baking," said Tim Bennett, Gold Medal marketing manager. `We are excited to offer Harvest King to the growing number of home bakers who want to participate in this rich tradition and create perfect, beautiful loaves of bread every time they bake."
Harvest King will now be available to home bakers. Previously available only to professional artisan bakers, Harvest King is specially formulated to produce wholesome, full-flavored artisan breads. Harvest King flour is milled from 100 percent select hard winter wheat. In addition to imparting a golden crust, winter wheat provides the perfect balance of strength and tolerance required for artisan baking's long, slow fermentation process. Harvest King wheat is specially milled to the ideal ash and protein level, which provides optimum baking characteristics and delivers the desired crumb structure and crust texture. And Harvest King flour is unbleached and unbromated, making it ideal for the unique techniques that are the key to artisan baking.
Preserving a Tradition
Gold Medal set out to create a flour that would enable American bakers to create European style artisan breads with a domestic flour. To achieve this, the Gold Medal team visited the National Baking Center to better understand the process of artisan baking and the needs of artisan bakers. Because artisan breads are hand-formed and slow-fermented, they require a flour with unique characteristics and specifications. After learning from master artisan bakers and conducting numerous tests, Gold Medal found that its Harvest King flour, available to professional bakers on the West Coast for many years, offered the perfect characteristics for artisan baking.
As a result, Harvest King flour became Gold Medal's professional artisan baking brand. After decades of use by professional bakers, Harvest King flour will now become part of the home baker's pantry, delivering the consistency of professional baking in every loaf.
About Gold Medal
Gold Medal is "America's No. 1 Flour." Founded in 1881, it was the first product of General Mills, delivering unsurpassed consistency and quality for generations. The tradition continues today in 2006 with more than a dozen Gold Medal products, formulated specifically for perfect results in every type of baking.
Gold Medal® and Harvest King® are registered trademarks of General Mills, Inc.
Technical Data and Specifications for Harvest King flour may be accessed at: Product Specifications on the General Mills website.
Gold Medal Harvest King will replace Gold Medal Better for Bread as stores across the country order flour to replenish their inventory. Please let us know whether or not you agree that Harvest King is a welcome addition to the pantry of artisan bread bakers. Our special thanks to General Mills, to those who helped develop Harvest King flour and to those who are currently making Harvest King available to consumers.
Last updated on:05/12/11 06:20:03 PM