Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Bread Baking - Flour

If there is anything that is going to affect the outcome of your bread, it is the flour. The kind, quality, and amount of flour in your bread will give you the result you do or do not want in your bread.

I'm not an expert, but here is a little bit of what I understand about flour. If anything I share is inaccurate, I hope someone corrects me.


When we talk of flour, we are usually referring to wheat flour. Of course there is other flours such as rice flour, rye flour, etc but wheat flour is what we commonly use for baking in America. This is changing as more and more cases of gluten intolerance are cropping up in the last few years. But for most of us, wheat flour bread is what we are accustomed to.

There is two types of wheat, hard wheat and soft wheat. Soft wheat is ground into flour for use as pastry flour. It is sometimes also called cake flour. It is good for any baking EXCEPT for yeast breads. 

Hard wheat flour is necessary for successful bread baking. It contains higher gluten content. Most flour sold is "all-purpose". This is a mixture of hard and soft wheats and can be used for all baking, including bread. Some flour is specified "bread flour" and is specifically for bread baking because of the higher gluten it contains. 

For making white bread, I prefer "unbleached" all purpose flour since it has a few less added chemicals. Usually I use Pillsbury brand or something similar. While I often use generic products, flour is one place that I refuse to buy the cheapest. If you are not pleased with your bread, trying a different type of flour is often effective. 

Whole wheat flour is where I really get picky. Wheat comes in red wheat and white wheat. Red wheat is darker in color and has a stronger flavor and is what you will find in typical grocery store whole wheat flour. I buy Prairie Gold wheat, a high protein white wheat grown in Montana. I grind my own wheat berries to have the freshest quality flour. You can sometimes find Prairie Gold flour at a bulk food's store. It is far more expensive then generic flour, but I think it is worth it! I also know bakers who really like Bob's Red Mill  and King Arthur flour. I'd love to hear what works for you.

If you are new at baking bread, I recommend making white bread first. Learn to work with yeast, knead dough and form your loaves with white bread. If your goal is to make whole wheat bread, you can slowly replace a few cups of white flour with whole wheat. Give yourself time to adjust to using new flours. Some people also need to allow their bodies time to adjust to eating more fiber.

For some reason, it seems that whole wheat flour is a little more challenging to work with. The area where the wheat is grown, the protein level of the wheat, and other factors will all affect the outcome of your bread. The bran in the whole wheat flour can act like little razors and cut the gluten of the dough and hinder the dough from rising. 


I don't want to scare anyone from making whole wheat bread because we love the 100% whole wheat bread that I make. It just may take a little more practice to perfect. I'll be sharing some things that have helped me in working with whole wheat flour.

Often bread recipes don't give a specific amount of flour. The recipe will sometimes say something like 5-6 cups of flour, or add flour until it makes a soft dough, or add flour until the dough cleans the side of the bowl. What does this mean? 


Unlike making cakes or cookies, bread dough's need of flour will vary depending on the humidity of your home. You will use more flour on a rainy humid summer day then on a cold winter day with the heat on. Adding too much flour will make your dough more dry and crumbly. 

Start by adding the smallest amount of flour listed in your recipe. Then slowly add flour, a half cup at a time. The goal is a dough which is soft and workable but not sticky and unmanageable. If you are mixing your dough by hand, add flour slowly and work it into the dough before adding more. Use the least amount possible while still being able to handle the dough. You will soon know by feel when you have added enough flour. 

If you have a mixer with a dough hook, add flour slowly until the dough pulls from the sides of the bowl. It is important to add all your flour before you begin kneading the dough. Stop your mixer and feel the dough. It should not be excessively sticky but it can feel a little tacky. Peter Reinhart describes "tacky" like a post it note that sticks but quickly releases, while "sticky" lets your finger covered in dough.  

When you determine that you've added enough flour, then begin your kneading. The advantage of using a machine to knead, besides being faster and less tiring, is that slightly less flour can be used resulting in a lighter loaf. One way to avoid adding to much flour when hand kneading is to oil your counter instead of flouring it.

That is everything I can think of concerning flour and bread baking. We'll be getting into other subjects, like kneading in another post - plus sharing more bread recipes! 


Happy Baking!

13 comments :

  1. Thanks for all the tips on flour...I am using spelt these days and occident flour. Both work well for bread, though the whole wheat spelt can be heavy so I mix it.

    I really enjoy your blog posts, and earlier I followed a post of yours about books (love books - I am a homeschooler, too!) to Naptime Seamstresses blog. Fun to find others with similar interests!

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  2. This may be a silly question... but I'm a beginner! Do you use a mixer? I have a KitchenAide, but I went to a Bosch demo last night so of course now I think I need to be able to make 6 loaves at once. Do you think it makes a difference? I have 3 soon to be 4 littles, so think I would for sure get use out of it... but not sure! Thanks!!

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  3. Gina,
    Over at Tammy's Recipes, she had a list of bread conditioners that makes the bread so much softer and does not seem to dry out too soon.
    Debbie J

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  4. My husband has recently, of his own initiative, borrowed his parents' bread machine. He made a batch this weekend while I was away and used my unlabeled canisters. ha. He used whole wheat pastry flour instead regular whole wheat as part of the flour! I was very surprised that the loaf came out just fine! I would not have expected that and thought you would find it funny too. But I think bread machines are too mysterious to understand - I make our bread by hand. But it is enjoyable to see my husband having fun experimenting. I told him I would label my canisters :)

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  5. I like the definitions of sticky and tacky. Helps. Have four loaves of bread in the oven right now. What a wonderful smell!! ~Liz

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  6. It is fun to find so many of you that enjoy making bread!

    Anonymous-
    I actually have a Bosch mixer and love it. My mom had one and I knew it is what I wanted when I married. But I know lots of people who make GREAT bread in a KitchenAid. Bosch are expensive so I'd probably suggest baking bread with your KitchenAid first, if you decide that you really do want to get into baking in bulk, and have the finances, you can get a Bosch.

    Of course, it is also possible to make great bread completely by hand. It is harder to knead by hand than machine but recently there has been lots of no knead bread recipes that make baking bread even easier.

    Debbie -
    I use many of the same dough conditioners that Tammy does. She does a great job at explaining their purpose. I really do think they make a big difference.

    Margo -
    Now you make me curious to try bread baking with soft wheat flour! But it would certainly flop for me! Did he have some other flour as well? I need to do better at labeling, too.

    Gina
    Gina

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  7. What a great post! I've never made bread before. I'd love to try. Thanks for the tips!

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  8. I completely agree with you on the purchase of flour. I also grind the wheat I use in our bread/baked goods and I always use Prarie Gold mixed 3:2 with soft winter wheat. For white flour it is Gold Medal Unbleached and King Arthur bread flour to mix with the ground wheat for bread. I shop sales and use coupons but will not "go cheap" on the flour. I am already saving a lot of money by baking things myself, I can afford to buy the best ingredients possible to make the best product.

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  9. thank you for explaining this...I recently purchased a used grain mill, and want to make whole wheat breads etc., and was thankful for your explanation of Praire Gold etc. A friend led me to your page, and I am so thankful! Excited to try some of your recipes as well!

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  10. Your Sourdough muffins and cinnamon rolls look absolutely delicious! Is there a recipe posted somewhere? I seemed to have missed it and would love to try them.

    Also, I am local to the Lancaster area and I was wondering where I could buy Prairie Gold Flour in the area?

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    Replies
    1. I haven't posted a recipe for either of them. The muffin recipe I never was completely pleased with it. I should spend some more time perfecting it. The cinnamon rolls, I just use a basic sourdough bread recipe.

      Any bulk food store that carries Dutch Valley products should have Prairie Gold flour, or be able to order some for you. You can check the Dutch Valley website to find stores that carry their products.
      Gina

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  11. Marjorie R NicholsJanuary 6, 2015 at 7:55 PM

    I have had a flour mill for several years and have used exclusively the hard red winter wheat and liked it very much. I decided to try something new and ordered Prarie Gold grain. I am not having much success with it and my loaves turn out more crumbly and dry. What setting do you put your mill on? Do I need a sour dough starter or anything special? Do you use more water or oil or yeast or sugar with the Prairie Gold whole grain bread? I am looking for a good Prarie Gold home ground wheat recipe.

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    1. Marjoire -
      I have used Prairie Gold flour for years. I have been pleased with it. I use this recipe http://homejoys.blogspot.com/2011/03/whole-wheat-honey-bread-small-batch.html I mill the wheat rather fine (next to the last setting) I often make sourdough bread but the link above is not sourdough. This recipe contains some dough enhancers that help with crumbliness. I wrote about dough enhancers here. http://homejoys.blogspot.com/2011/03/bread-baking-dough-enhancers.html I have no experience with red wheat so don't know how you would adjust a recipe for white wheat.

      Hope some of this helps and you can find some answers.
      Happy Baking,
      Gina

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I'm still learning how to be a joyful homemaker and I'd love to hear from you!

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