One of the things we have tried not to do on The Artisan is to try and convince visitors that there is a single method by which Italian style bread should be made. We have spent more years than we like to remember unlearning techniques that were presented as authentic and irrefutable in texts published in this country, and we try not to repeat that experience. To a certain extent, we have an advantage when attempting to reproduce Italian regional breads, because we have experienced these breads ourselves during numerous visits to Italy. We know how breads were made, and tasted, nearly 30 years ago, and how they are made, and taste, today. We have eaten the breads of artisan bakers, and those of a more industrial persuasion. We know the look and taste of regional breads and we know when a recipe or a bread falls short of the original. This knowledge is a benchmark for everything that we do.
Because so many of the texts, magazines, and catalog product literature prominent today "think" for us, we have shied away from thinking for you, our visitors. We have and will continue to present as many basic formulas (recipes), techniques, and variations as are available to us. It is our desire that you, the baker, decide for yourself which breads you prefer to bake time and again. That being said, we will now present our own personal preferences in respect to flour suitable for making Italian style bread.
We do not prefer organic, unbleached, high protein, or all purpose flour over other flour. We have not found that bread made with organic unbleached flour is necessarily superior any other. This surprised us, because we often read that organic grains and methods produce a tastier, higher-quality flour. It may be that organic flour production is still in its infancy, and as it develops so will its performance and consistency. We do prefer organic flour in recipes which call for whole wheat flour.
We have tried conventional flours categorized as both high-protein and high-gluten. Although high-protein flour, commonly referred to as bread flour, works well for the style of bread produced in the US, we have not found it to work well for European, and in this instance, Italian style breads. Prof. Raymond Calvel of France is quoted on this topic in Volume 1, Number 4, of The Bread Bakers Guild of America Newsletter, published in July of 1993.
"It is a common belief that high gluten, spring wheat is the best choice for hearth baked breads. But Professor Calvel questions that belief, pointing out that, although spring wheat does have a high quantity of gluten, it does not have the quality of gluten needed for the long-fermentation, non-machined, hearth baked breads made by most Guild members. Instead, he feels the gluten in hard winter wheat provides the best possible combinations of performance characteristics..."
It is on this last point that we differ from Prof. Calvel regarding Italian style bread. We have tried a variety of unbleached all-purpose flours, milled from 100% hard red winter wheat, and have not found these flours preferable, especially as these wheats relate to the texture and taste of the resulting bread.
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 wnter 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
We have seen it suggested, in more than one instance, that either pastry or cake flour can be blended with unbleached all-purpose flour to approximate Italian flour. We have also seen it suggested that high-protein flour be utilized in starters, especially for breads with long fermentation. While we know the blending of a variety of flours and the use of more than one type of flour can be effective in a commercial setting, we have not found it to be the case when working with those flours available to the serious home baker.
In our opinion, the best way in which to judge flour quality is to experiment with a number of flours and determine which produces the most favorable results. We also recommend that time be spent becoming acquainted with the concepts we have presented. They are not terribly exciting in that they do not tempt one's sense of smell as a freshly baked loaf of bread might, but the end result of knowing the "W's", "P's" and "L's" of your flour may well be a better loaf of bread.