Want some more? Sure thing, bread is made up of just four ingredients; flour, water, yeast and salt, or three if you’re baking with a natural levain like sourdough starter. Certainly, from the perspective of quality the two that change or improve your breads’ characteristics the most are the flour you use and the yeast or levain/Sourdough starter. In this post we are concentrating on the flour.
Let’s not geek-out on this subject and talk about hard and soft wheats or absorption rates, we’re all about keeping it practical at Love Your Loaf, so if you’re standing in a supermarket looking at an isle of different bags of flour – what should you pick? We’ve got you covered with these three important take-outs that any bread maker should know…
First, your flour needs to have a sufficient amount of protein to create the gluten that gives your dough strength and elasticity, trapping gas made during fermentation and creating nice pockets in the bread. Take a quick glance at the nutrition label and go for a flour with a protein content of around 13%.
Note: Flours with protein contents lower than 10% are great for biscuits and pastry but avoid them for bread.
Second (and harder to identify), bakers talk about a flour classification called the T number, with T65 widely spoken about as great for white bread, including Sourdough. It’s worked out by burning the flour and seeing what minerals and nutrients are left in the remaining ash content – the higher the number the more complex the flavour. However, most flour sold in the UK don’t carry this grading, so you’d need to be invested enough to contact the mill.
Third, avoid bleached flours. In an attempt to artificial age and whiten the flour producers have striped away some of the goodness and added more chemicals. You’ll still get a loaf of bread out of using bleached flour, but as bread purists we want to stick to flour, water and salt. Our advice is to assume it’s bleached unless is says otherwise and go for organic where you can.
With flour, perhaps more than our other three (basic) bread ingredients, you get what you pay for and an organic, stone ground, unbleached strong bread flour is always going to cost a bit more than a commercial alternative – but when you’re talking an extra 50p per bag, live a little, treat yourself.
OK, just one bread geek flour fact…
In Europe they use hard wheats grown locally to make bread, but the proteins are lower and less water is absorbed. Bread goes stale when it loses moisture, so breads like the French baguette go stale quicker. To overcome this they bake regularly during the day, which is why it still tastes great – it’s always fresh.
In the UK we tend to use stronger wheats from the Commonwelath and Americas, think Candian Strong Bread Flour, which absorbs more water. This means they have a longer shelve life and our bakers tend to bake bread once a day.