Welcome To The Big Flour Test
(Why ARE we testing flour?)
There are few topics that focus a baker's attention like flour. We all know what the best flour is, it's the one we're using! But, we still want to hear about what other people say, and why. So, we try other flours, we read about other flours, and we look for the best flour.
The Artisan web page has a wealth of information about bread. They have a wonderful treatise on flour, as well as a test of a number of flours. Given this, you might ask why we're doing it again. In part, we like getting our hands wet. And in part, The Artisan is very pre-disposed to liking slack dough Italian breads. We like them also. But we also love dense, chewy breads that fight back when you eat them. As well as rye breads that sing with flavor. And ultra-sour white breads. So we are quite sure that a single flour won't meet all our bread making needs.
So, we are testing each flour in four recipes to see how it performs. We are also evaluating the composition of a dough made up at different hydrations with each flour. We have long felt that the claimed accuracy of weighing bread ingredients holds true only if you keep using the same flour. We'll see how much difference there is between different brands of flour at the same hydration.
We feel we should comment that each of these tests, with the exception of the Bohemian Rye bread, uses only the flour under test. Of course, the Bohemian Rye bread also uses rye flour. Some people often mix all-purpose and bread flour, or all-purpose, bread flour, and whole wheat flour. This lets them try to duplicate the flours used in Europe. We think that's a great idea. However, we want to see what each of the flours does by itself, so when we're ready to combine flours, we'll have a good idea of what each flour contributes to the mix, and what its strengths and shortcomings are for the breads we want to make.
For example, our test of Wheat Montana's Natural White revealed that it offers a remarkable light, soft crumb, and that it has a very neutral taste. This isn't so good for bread that is supposed to sing with flavor such as a San Francisco Sourdough, but it might be just the ticket for white sandwich bread for the kids. We've been told by one of our correspondents that he wouldn't dream of making bagels without this flour. Often what's a strength for one bread is a weakness for another.
We will test the flour with a Bohemian Rye recipe, our favorite Ciabatta recipe, our Three Stage French Bread, and Simple Sourdough Pan Bread from the Friends of Carl. In each case, we are scaling the recipe so we'll make a single loaf of each bread. We're doing this so we won't be overwhelmed with bread, and so we can run a test with a single 5 pound bag of flour.
Our full methodology is available here, but our general approach is to make sure you can repeat our tests and get the same results we do. To that end, we are using Carl Griffith's 1847 Oregon Trail Sourdough Starter. It's a great starter, and it's available for the cost of a stamped, self-addressed envelope. We start each test by taking a few tablespoons of an active specimen of Carl's culture and feed it with the flour under test. This insures that we are testing the flour we are testing instead of whatever we might have fed the culture most recently. We feed it until it is lively and frothy, and then start our testing.
We chose the recipes in question carefully. The Bohemian Rye Bread tells us how well the flour we are testing works with low-gluten rye flour, and it tells us how strong the taste if the flour is - some of the wheat flours overwhelm the taste of the rye and caraway in this bread.
The ciabatta recipe tells us how the flour works in a high hydration recipe, if it can make "big holey bread".
The French Three Stage bread is a no holds barred French bread that should sing with complex flavors. It should have hints of sourdough, and an ocean of rich wheaten tastes. This bread should age well, and its complex flavor should change over a period of days.
Finally, Simple sourdough pan bread is supposed to be celebration of the SOUR in sourdough. Some flours don't support that taste at all well. Also, it's a great sandwich bread.
We had some fun rising the Simple Sourdough Pan bread. We usually don't let pan breads rise quite so long, so we needed to make sure it wouldn't dry out. Saran Wrap Quick Covers came to our rescue again, but today we'd use the far less expensive (and still available) beautician processing caps we get at Sally Beauty Supply.