Flour - A treatise
Attempting to describe the differences between flour in the Italy and the United States (US) presents a number of challenges because there is no single source of definitive explanations and definitions. What follows is a review of the literature and included information excerpted from a variety of Italian and English language texts.
Additionally, we include our own breadmaking experience. We have assumed that many visitors to The Artisan do not have access to the texts that we have used as the basis for this work. Consequently, we have taken the liberty to quote liberally from the source materials. We have also provided references for these works for those who may be interested in further research. The purpose of this research is to provide enough technical information to allow a baker, whether serious home or commercial, to make informed flour choices when attempting to duplicate Italian breads.
As presented throughout the remainder of this text, the evaluation of essential factors relative to the quality of flour is more often than not made by laboratory analyses. As a rule, both commercial and serious home bakers in the US are given minimal technical information regarding the majority of the wheat flours that are available for use. They are provided the type flour, i.e. patent, high-gluten, all-purpose, bleached or unbleached, pastry, etc., whether or not the flour is made up of hard or soft wheat, or a blend, and a per cent protein content. Other information, such as the results from laboratory analyses, is not readily obtainable. It has only recently become common knowledge to the general public that the characteristics and quality of a particular flour (such as all-purpose) may differ according to geographic region.
By contrast, Italian and other European commercial bakers have a greater variety of flours and more technical information available to them than do their American counterparts. For instance, a list of the flours available from Molino SIMA di Argenta includes 8 type 00, 9 type 0, and 1 type whole wheat flour, in addition to 2 type 00 flour for domestic use. Analytic data such as the "W", "P/L" and per cent dry gluten (discussed below) are provided with a description of each flour and its suggested use. Home bakers in Italy are given short shrift as Italian law does not require information about the particular flour being used to be published on flour packaging. We have provided as much information as we could locate in the section labeled "Criteria for Judging Flour". Many reading this treatise may find it disheartening that the flour quality indicators available to European and not readily available here. For quite a while only one company does provide information: Cooks Natural Products. As of late, more mills are providing that information to professional bakers. Some will provide these data to home bakers upon request. The Artisan's position is that every mill, large and small, should provide the information. It is up to you, our visitors to demand same.
Flour Descriptions & Definitions
Quaglia of the Instituto Nazionale della Nutrizione in Rome, Italy (1) informs us that when the wheat cultivated in Canada [Manitoba], and the US is milled, the result is strong flour characterized by elevated insoluble protein (gluten forming) content and diminished starch content. By contrast, when the wheat cultivated in Italy, France, England, and partly in Australia, is milled, the result is weak flour characterized by elevated starch content and a diminished insoluble protein content. Consequently, duplicating European bread using American and Canadian flours may be an exercise in futility unless the baker, whether at home or in a commercial bakery, understands the physical and chemical characteristics of the flours available to him or her and adjusts his or her formulas and recipes accordingly.
Exact US equivalents for European flours do not exist. Different categories are used in each country as universally accepted nomenclature does not exist in this field. A clear and concise description of the differences in flour in France and the US can be found in a text authored by Bilheux, Escoffier, Herve, and Pouradier (2). The discussion lends itself as much to the description of the characteristics of Italian flour as to French. To wit:
"Flour: There are many types of white wheat flours, each having its own particular characteristics. Although the recipes in this book were originally based on French flours, we have tried to find the best possible substitutes for the flours called for in each recipe; but keep in mind these are meant to be substitutions and in no way are they to be considered direct correlations.
In France, [Artisan Note: In Italy as well] flour tends to be softer and lower in gluten and protein than in the United States. Flour milled from soft wheat does not have the elasticity required for breads. Therefore the French wheat is sometimes milled with hard wheat imported from the United States or Canada. This makes it difficult to duplicate the same flour in another country. Flour in the United States with similar specifications as flour in France may respond very differently when used. This does not mean, as many frustrated bakers have thought in the past, that wonderful French breads are out of reach outside of France. Though identical results are difficult to recreate in another country, equally good bread can be achieved. We recommend that the reader try different brands and types of flours available to find the flour that works best for them ...
Below are descriptions of various types of white wheat flours available in the United States. The germ and bran are removed from the kernel when white flour is milled, even though they contain nearly all the fiber and B vitamins; they are removed because they also negate the elastic properties of the gluten, which is so vital to the texture and crumb of the bread. The flours discussed here are milled from soft spring and soft winter wheat, which are generally grown in eastern states, and hard spring and hard winter wheat, which are grown in the northern Midwest and Canada. Soft flour contains 8.4 to 8.8 percent protein, 0.44 to 0.48 percent ash, 1 percent fat, and 76 to 77 percent starch. Hard flour contains 11.2 to 11.8 percent protein, 0.45 to 0.50 percent ash, 1.2 percent fat, and 74 to 75 percent starch. The higher protein found in hard flour indicates a higher level of gluten, which results in a more elastic, better-textured bread. The ash content is the quantity of ash resulting after burning a given amount of flour. The lower the ash content, the higher the quality of the flour. The hard wheat flours most concern the bread baker.
In the United States, the improver azodicarbonamide is often added to flours to mature them. It is activated when the flour is mixed into the dough. This helps strengthen the gluten and consequently improves the elasticity and rising of the dough. Natural maturing takes from two to three months.
Straight flour is considered a good flour to use for bread making. It is 100 percent extraction flour. The extraction rate is the amount of flour obtained from wheat after milling, when the bran and germ are removed, leaving the endosperm, which contains most of the protein and carbohydrates. For example, based on 100 pounds of wheat, approximately 72 pounds of flour remains after extraction; the other 28 pounds is used for feed. The entire 72 pounds or 100 percent, of the remaining flour is straight flour. Straight flour is used to make patent, clear, and low-grade flours.
Patent flour is the purest and highest-quality commercial wheat flour available. Patent flour is made from the center portion of the endosperm. Patent flour is classified in five categories, depending on the amount of straight flour it obtains. Extra short or fancy and first patent flours are made from soft wheat and are used for cake flours. Extra short or fancy patent contains 40 to 60 percent straight flour. First patent flour contains 60 to 70 percent straight flour. Short patent flour made from hard wheat is the most highly recommended commercially milled flour for bread baking, it contains 70 to 80 percent straight flour. Medium patent flour contains 80 to 90 percent straight flour and is also excellent for bread baking, as is long patent flour, which is made with 90 to 95 percent straight flour. It is up to the baker to determine which of these flours best serves his or her purposes.
Clear flour is the by-product of straight flour that remains after patent flour is removed. Clear flour is graded into fancy, first clear, and second clear. Clear flour is darker in color than the other flours previously mentioned, as it is made from the part of the endosperm closest to the bran. Fancy clear flour, milled from soft wheat, is used to make pastry flour. First clear, milled from hard wheat, is often blended by the baker with low-gluten flours to lighten the texture of breads such as rye or whole-wheat yet maintain the deep color desirable in such breads. Second clear flour has a very high ash content, is very dark, and is not generally used for food.
Stuffed straight flour is straight flour with some clear flour added.
The following types of flours are made from some of the flours discussed above. They are often named by their application rather than how they are milled.
Cake flour has the least amount of gluten of all wheat flours, making it best for light, delicate products such as sponge cakes, genoise, and some cookie batters. Made from extra short or fancy patent flour, milled from soft wheat, cake flour often comes bleached, which gives it a bright, white appearance. In this book, flours are assumed to be unbleached unless otherwise indicated.
Pastry flour also has a low gluten content, though it contains a bit more than cake flour. Made from fancy clear flour, a soft wheat flour, it is used for making tart and pie doughs, some cookie batters, and muffins.
All-purpose flour is made from a blend of hard wheat flours or sometimes a blend of soft and hard wheat flours. All-purpose flour varies throughout regions in the United States; blends are often determined by the flours available and the cooking styles of the area. It is called all-purpose flour because it is intended for most baking needs for general household use, not commercial use, where having several different flours, each used for a specific purpose, is feasible.
High-gluten flour is milled from hard wheat and has an especially high protein content, making it high in gluten. It is often blended by the baker with other low-gluten flours to give them more strength and elasticity. It is also used for particularly crusty breads and pizza doughs. It does not darken the color of the final product, as does clear flour."
The information that follows reviews a variety of sources in an effort to present information relevant to the flours used in bread baking. One purpose that we hope to serve by including the detailed and technical sections that follows is to more clearly describe the properties of flour found in the US and in Italy, and to assist interested readers in developing insights into the complexity of our task --- making and baking breads. We have included this because a number of visitors to The Artisan have requested an in depth discussion of flours. Such a discussion is pointless without the technical details. Unfortunately much of the test information necessary to understand the flour with which you may be working is not provided by the manufacturer. It should be. The Bread Bakers Guild of America is attempting to remedy this situation. Should you wish to join in this effort, log onto their site (Click on the logo at Right) and let them know. It is important for the baker, whether a home or a commercial baker, to realize that the information is available at the mill. Perhaps if more of us demanded this information we would not have to bake breads in what amounts to "the dark".
The Milling of Flour
The following discussion of the milling process is quoted from Pyler (3). A full description of wheat types, wheat class differentiation, wheat grades, and the structure of the wheat kernel, is beyond the scope of this presentation. The following information is presented as background to the topic of the classification of flours in the US and Europe. The botanical species under discussion is Triticum aestivum (T. vulgare), or common wheat:
"The wheats selected for milling must be adapted to the requirements of their intended end uses. Thus, bread flours are milled from hard wheats, cake and pastry flours from soft wheats, and pasta flours from durum wheats. Moreover, given the variations in character among varieties within the major wheat classes, another vital operation of the miller is to blend wheats of different varieties and from different sources to yield flours of the desired protein content and uniform baking performance
The series of individual break and reduction operations in the milling process gives rise to as many as 150 different product streams in a modern flour mill
Depending on which flour streams are combined to yield the final product, [Artisan Note:the separation of the grades of wheat is accomplished by a sifting process] different commercial flour grades are obtained. When all the streams are combined, the result is a so-called "straight" flour. Frequently, the more refined streams are kept separate and sold at a premium as patent flours, while the remaining lesser streams yield so-called "clear" flours. The most common types of commercial flours include "fancy patent," which contains 40 to 60% of the total flour yield; "short patent," which comprises [the next 20%] or the 60 to 80% [percentile] of the straight flour; "medium patent," with [the next 10%] 80 to 90% [percentile] of the straight flour; and "long patent" with [the next 5%] 90 to 95% [percentile] of the total flour. The clear flours that remain after each separation of the patent flours are designated as "fancy clear," "first clear," and "second clear," respectively, the degree of refinement decreasing in that order. The lower grade clear flours are too dark in color and too poor in baking quality to make satisfactory bread flours. Some of the better grades are used for admixture with rye flour, while the lower grades find uses outside the baking industry. The various grades of flour differ in their chemical and physical characteristics and require different treatment in the bakery
The relationship and the percentages of the various flour grades obtained from wheat can be seen in Chart 1 by clicking on the "Extraction Rate Sample Window". [NOTE: To print the contents of the window, right click your mouse, then click "Save image as..". Once saved the image can be printed as usual.] Of interest is the fact that 100 lb. of cleaned wheat yields 72 lb. of flour and 28 lb. of feed material. Wheat, on an average, contains about 85% of endosperm. It is evident, therefore, that an extraction rate of 72% falls short of the potential yield. This failure to extract all of the endosperm as flour, even with advanced milling methods, is caused by the fact that the peripheral zones of the endosperm adhere so firmly to the aleurone and bran layers that complete separation is not practical under commercial milling conditions "
The following information relative to the ranges to be expected in various batches of wheat flour was obtained from Quaglia, in the Manuale del Panificazione (3), and is summarized in Table I. It summarized by Professor Quaglia as follows:
"The chemical composition of the flour depends upon the characteristics of the wheat and the extraction rate; in general the variations can range in the following manner:
64 - 71%
Insoluble Proteins (Gluten)
9 - 14%
2 - 4%
1 - 2%
1 - 2%
0.3 - 0.7%
1 - 15%
Manuale de Panificazione (1) and Professor Quaglia's book Scienza e Technologia Panificazione (4) are gold mines of information about bread making and flour. Neither has yet been translated into English.
The information presented in Table II was excerpted from a text by Capello (5) and displays these variations according to specific rates of extractions:
Whole Wheat Extraction
6 - 7.5
8 - 11
8 - 13
9 - 14
10 - 15
72 - 74
65 - 70
64 - 69
64 - 68
60 - 65
1 - 2
1 - 2
1 - 2
2 .0- 2.5
1.6 - 2.0
0.4 - 0.6
0.8 - 1.0
1.0 - 1.5
1.2 - 2.0
2.0 - 3.0
0.15 - 0.20
0.2 - 0.4
0.6 - 1.0
2.0 - 5.0
0.2 - 0.5
0.3 - 0.6
0.6 - 0.8
1.5 - 2.5
The variations above, while seemingly small are not insignificant and are responsible for some notable differences found in flour quality.
The Classification of Flour
Diverse flour classification systems exist in North America and Europe. Table III is adapted from a text by Schunemann and Treu (6). The original German edition of this textbook was published in 1986 to meet the technical requirements of the West German educational program for apprentice bakers. The English edition was published in 1988. Where appropriate, the techniques and terminology were adapted to North American standards. Table III depicts the types of wheat flour. Please note that Rye and Other Flours, while depicted in Table III, are not part of this discussion.
Hard Wheat Flours
0.35 - 0.40% ash content: 11.0-12.0% protein
Uses: - Danishes, sweet doughs, yeast doughnuts and smaller volume breads and buns.
0.50 - 0.55%. ash content: 13.0-13.8% protein
Uses: All purpose strong baker's flour, breads, buns, soft rolls and puff pastry
0.70-0.80% ash content: 15.5-17% protein
Uses: A dark very high protein flour used as a base for rye bread production; poor color not a factor in finished product.
Low grade flour, not used in food production. Constitutes less than 5% of flour produced by a mill.
Soft Wheat Flours
0.36-0.40% ash content: 7.8 - 8.5% protein, chlorinated to 4.5- 5.0 pH.
Uses: High-ratio cakes (cakes with a high amount of sugar and liquid in proportion to flour), angel food cakes and jelly rolls.
0.40-0.45% ash content/8.0-8.8% protein, chlorinated to 5.0-5.5 pH, (also available unchlorinated).
Uses: Cake, pastries and pies.
0.45-0.50% ash content: 9.0 - 10.5% protein
Uses: Cookies and blended flours. For large-scale manufacturers, flour can be chlorinated to the user's specifications.
Whole Wheat Flour
Various bran coat granulations produce coarse to fine whole-wheat
(75% extraction) 0.55-0.65% ash content [See Note below]
Uses: Can be blended up to 40% with white flour without a major loss of loaf volume.
(87% extraction) 0.65 - 1.00% ash content.
Uses: Up to 30% blend with white flour
(100% extraction) Limited to 20% flour blend before significant volume reduction occurs in the product.
Fine/medium/coarse/pumpernickel and flaked. Consist of a variety of broken or cracked rye grains after being classified in a series of sieves.
(100% extraction) Usually untreated and, because of germ content, is subject to limited shelf life.
Available in coarse, medium or fine granulations
Semolina A fine meal consisting of particles of coarsely-ground durum.
Extraction Rate is defined as the percentage of flour obtained from a given amount of grain.
The data in Table IV was obtained from Boriani, Guido, Fabrizio Ostani (7). Italian law 4.7. 1967. n. 580 establishes that common wheat flours destined for commercial use can only be produced in the following types and with the following characteristics:
Per 100 Parts of Dry Substance
Type & Denomination
Maximum Moisture %
Flour Type 00
Flour Type 0
Flour Type 1
Flour Type 2
1.40 - 1.60
The table below is adapted from Calvel, Raymond, James MacGuire, and Ronald Wirtz, "The Taste of Bread", Gaithersburg, MD; Aspen Publishers, 2001.
Classification for Six Types of Flour in
Ash content as % of Dry Matter Rate of Extraction (Correlative Method)
from 0.50 to 0.60/0.62
from 0.62 to 0.75
from 0.75 to 0.90
from 1 to 1.20
Likewise the information below is also from Calvel et al. This chart compares North American flour grades and offers comments relative to French flour.
Flour Grade Protein Level Comments
7 to 8.5 protein
8.5 to 9.5 protein
It has been put forth in some circles that French flours can be imitated by “cutting” the extra strength of North American bread flours with weaker cake or pastry flours. The logic of this is attractive, but it does not pan out.
Hotel and Restaurant (all purpose)
10 to 11.5 protein
11.5 to 12.2 protein
No North American flour is an exact equivalent of French type 55 bread flour, and bakers must look carefully for an appropriate flour and make certain adjustments … Professor Calvel has had great success in North America with both “bread” flours on this lower end of the protein range and also with “all purpose” (hotel and restaurant) flours of above average strength. Significantly, many months of flour testing conducted by Didier Rosada and Tom McMahon at the National Baking Center in Minneapolis corroborates this, for 12.5% appears to be the maximum percentage of protein desirable for hearth breads. Much work remains to be done, and artisan bread movement has begun to spark an interest on the part of mills to produce appropriate flours.
Premium High Gluten
Medium High Gluten
13.8 to 14.2 protein
13.3 to 13.7 protein
The high gluten flours are too high in gluten despite Professor Calvel’s mention of stronger flour for certain recipes.
Strong Spring Patent
13 to 13.3 protein
14 plus protein
Clear flours can add strength to rye doughs when used as the wheat portion, and where their darker color is of little importance.
14 plus protein
Stone ground whole-wheat flours are of uniform granulation and contain no additives, but must be used before the wheat germ oil oxidizes and causes rancid flavors.
Italian flour is classified by ash content. Ash content refers to the mineral content of a flour, and is determined by burning a given quantity of flour under prescribed conditions and measuring the residue. The mineral content varies and depends on many factors, such as the variety of wheat, the terrain, the fertilization, and the climate. The greater portion of minerals found in a kernel of wheat is contained in the germ, and husk, or bran, and the least amount in the endosperm. As a consequence, if a flour contains a greater number of bran particles, it has a more elevated ash content. The determination of the ash content serves to estimate the degree of the endosperm separation from the bran during milling, i.e. the grade of flour. Generally, flours thought to be of higher quality are more refined and produce less ash.
In spite of the fact that there is a positive correlation of ash content with the extraction rate of flour, and that European bakers make great use of this indicator, Pyler (3) states:
"The ash content of flour cannot, however, be taken as an unequivocal index of flour extraction for two previously mentioned reasons: (a) the mineral content of wheat varieties cultivated under different growth conditions can vary markedly, and (b) not all wheat varieties have the same mineral content gradient from the peripheral tissues of the wheat kernel to the endosperm. Since the bran portions of wheat contribute to the color of flour, the objective measurement of flour color may be a more reliable indication of its quality"
The following tables are provided for the readers general interest. Table VI and table VII are excerpted from Il Manuale del Panificatore (5). Table VI compares Italian and German flour types relative to ash content. Table VII describes French flour types according to ash content and extraction rate. Table VIII is excerpted from Special and Decorative Breads (2), and compares French and American flour relative to ash content and extraction ratio.
60 - 70 %
0.5 - .60%
78 - 80%
0.62 - 0.65%
0.75 - 0.90%
88 - 90%
1 - 1.20%
Approximate Extraction Rate
Cake & Pastry/Type 45
70 % (65 - 75%)
All Purpose & Bread/Type 55
75% (70 - 78%)
0.5 - .60%
80% (74 - 82%)
0.62 - 0.75%
Light Whole-Wheat/Type 80
82% (78 - 85%)
0.75 - 0.90%
Whole Wheat/Type 110
85% (79 - 87%)
1 - 1.20%
Dark Whole Wheat/Type 150
90% (90 - 95%)
Ash and Protein Comparisons: The United States and France
The following is a technical note about ash and protein percentagesin flour of the United States and of France. The figures below, originally found in Professor Calvel’s text, "The Taste of Bread"(*), are expressed as a percentage of dry matter, which is customary in
. In the France and United States , figures are calculated on a basis of 14% flour humidity. This means that a fairly normal seeming 11.5% protein French flour would in fact have a 9.5% protein content in North American terms, and that a high-seeming .62% ash would be .525 in North American terms. Canada
Read the charts below from top to bottom, then go to the next column and continue. The charts are provided courtesy of National Baking Center,
(*) Calvel, Raymond, James MacGuire, and Ronald Wirtz, "The Taste of Bread", Gaithersburg, MD; Aspen Publishers, 2001
The Quality of Flour
The quality of flour, and discussions thereof involve numerous physical and chemical variables and indshe technical aspects of a wide variety of flours have been have been covered in numerous texts and scientific papers. The more practical aspects of flour, vis-a-vis whether or not this or that flour makes a better loaf of bread are more subjective and will be discussed in another part of this treatise. The breadmaking potential of wheat is largely derived from the quantity and quality of its protein content. Genetic and environment each play important roles in determining protein quality. Protein quantity is influenced mainly by environmental factors, while the quality of the protein is genetically determined. In wheat varieties that are grown under comparable environmental conditions, a high quality wheat will produce good bread over a fairly broad range of protein levels, but a poor quality wheat will generally result in low quality bread even if the protein content is higher. For more on this topic the reader is referred to Pyler (3). In "Baking Science & Technology" Pyler also states that:
"Wheat is unique among cereals in that its milled product, flour, alone is capable of forming a dough that will retain the gas evolved during fermentation and, on baking, will yield a light, well aerated loaf of bread. This unique characteristic of wheat is derived from its proteins which, on combining with water during the mixing process, result in gluten, the actual substance that imparts the property of gas retention to dough. Because of the preeminent position that the wheat proteins occupy in baking, it is not surprising that a great deal of research has been expended on them, and it is indicative of the complexity of protein material in general that many basic questions still remain unanswered "
The proteins in flour can be divided into two groups based upon their solubility in water. As indicated earlier, when the insoluble proteins in the flour are combined with water during the mixing process, gluten is formed. A number of noted sources describe gluten as a cohesive substance, somewhat rubbery and elastic, gray in color, with an insipid taste. Gluten is comprised of two insoluble proteins, glutenin (which is stable, and gives it its strength), and gliadin (which is soft and sticky, and gives it its elasticity). Italian law allows values of dry gluten that range from 7% in type 00 flour, to 10% in type 1, 2, and whole wheat flour. Strong flours, i.e. those with high protein content, have upwards of 13-14% dry gluten. Dry Gluten is the product of "washing" a specific amount of dough under gently running water while catching the dough pieces in a cheesecloth. A dough thus washed and prepared from 50 gr. of patent flour, 30 ml of water and 1 gr. of salt will yield about 15 grams of a cohesive, sticky and gummy substance or dough. The remaining dough consists of a moist sticky albumen (protein) which is insoluble inwater. This dough can be stretched without breaking and contracts when released. Weighing this dough, and then drying it in an oven at low temperature, results in what is termed "dry gluten". The difference in weight between the wet and dry gluten equals the absorption capacity of the gluten producing albumen. This is about one third of the weight of the original (pre-drying) dough. Of importance is the fact that the weight of the dry gluten made from 100 grams of flour equals the percentage of gluten producing albumen (protein) in the flour. Albumin is a gluten forming protein in wheat flour. In a given batch of flour about 12% of the albumen is gluten forming protein and approximately 1% is water soluble albumen. More details on this subject can be found in "Baking, The Art and Science", (6).
To continue from Baking Science & Technology (3):
"Bakers often use the terms protein and gluten interchangeably. Yet, these terms do not denote the same thing. Protein comprises all the nitrogenous substances present in flour and other food materials and is estimated by the Kjeldahl and other methods that are specific for nitrogen. Gluten, on the other hand, represents the end product obtained when a small piece of dough is worked and washed in water....
....The concepts of flour quality and flour strength are difficult to define concisely. This is largely because flour quality is expressed by a variety of chemical and physical properties of dough, none of which serves as an adequate index by itself, or is independent of other variables. Thus, different physical and chemical testing methods, different baking test procedures, and different dough processing treatments, when applied to the same flour, will yield results that may lead to widely divergent conclusions as to the flour's quality. Moreover, the end use to which a flour is to be put enters importantly into any evaluation of its quality. The marked distinction between a soft wheat cake flour, and a hard wheat bread flour is clearly recognized by most bakers. On the other hand, a baker may be less certain in distinguishing between the specifications of flour intended for the production of white pan bread as against hearth breads. This difficulty accounts for the frequently observed fact that flours purchased by bakers for specific purposes, such as bread, pastry, cracker, or biscuit production, show wide quality variations within each group "
In addition to the physical and chemical data briefly described above, bakers need to be aware of other criteria by which to judge their flours. The information provided below has been excerpted from "Special and Decorative Breads" (2) with additional technical information adapted from the Molino Sima (8) recipe booklet, "Il Manuale del Panificatore" (5), and "Baking Science & Technology" (3).
We cannot state too strongly that providing these data regarding the chemical and physical composition of flour to commercial bakers is standard procedure in Europe and, as far as we are aware, in Canada, but not so in the US. This must be changed if the artisan bread effort in the USA is to continue to move forward.
Criteria for Judging Quality
A very simple way to determine color differences in different batches of flour is to look at the color of different types of flour under a sheet of glass. This can be done with more than one flour at a time. This method not only facilitates a comparison of the whiteness of different flours but allows for an inspection for impurities. The flour should have a..." perfectly regular consistency and not contain any specks" (2). This obviously does not pertain to mixed grain or to other than white flours.
Texture and Feel
The texture and size of the grains play an important role in kneading and also determine the speed at which the dough rises(3). In general, bread flour is slightly coarse and falls apart when pressed into a lump. Pastry flour is smooth and fine and can be squeezed into a lump. Cake flour is smooth and fine, can be squeezed into a lump, and stays in a lump more solidly when pressed.
Expansion and Extensibility
Several factors determine the rising ability and elasticity of a particular flour. In France, Italy and the US the Chopin Alveograph, or Extensopraph is used to determine the relationship between the elasticity of the dough and rising power. An example of an Alveograph reading on a number of dough samples is presented below.
Putting a sample of dough to the Alveograph test allows one to measures the resistance of the dough to expansion and the extensibility of a thin sheet of the dough. "P" expresses the resistance of the dough to deformation, and is related to the dough's tensile strength and stability (2). It is measured in millimeters (mm) and then multiplied by the factor 1.1. Flours with a high "P" value tend to have a high gluten content and absorb a relatively large quantity of water. The letter "L" measures the distance , in millimeters, from the start of the curve to the point where the dough bubble ruptures under the conditions of this test. "L" represents the extensibility of the dough or its ability to rise.
Measuring the area under the curve and then multiplying it by another factor (6.54) affords the value of "W". "W" is proportional to the baking strength of the dough. Values of "W" range from 45 for very soft flours to 400 for very strong, hard red wheat flours. The relationship between "P" and "L" expressed as a ratio serves as an index of gluten behavior. High values of "P" and "W" indicate a strong flour.
The following information (Table IX) is adapted from the Molina SIMA (8) recipe booklet, and represent the range of values for "W" as applied to Italian wheat flour and breads.
Poor quality flours, unusable for bread making
120 - 160
Weak flours, appropriate for the production of Biscotti
160 - 250
Medium or average strength flours, used for soft doughs (paste molli) in the production of Pugliese, ciabatta, Francese, pane piuma, etc., for firm doughs (paste dure) in the production of pane ferrarese , and also for the refreshment of natural yeast (lievito naturale).
250 - 310
Flours of strength obtained from high quality national wheat and strong wheat of national or foreign origin, used in the production of maggiolino, baguette, rosetta, soffiato, & biove.
310 - 320
Flours extracted from strong wheat, used primarily for doughs with a long fermentation, indirect method doughs employing a biga or lieviti (natural yeasts) with long rises, or for sweet raised doughs such as pandoro, panettone, veneziane, etc.
Capello (5), providing another view, states that if the formula or recipe calls for a long rise (indirect method, biga), a flour able to tolerate long rises and more work time (i.e. "W" of about 260-300) should be utilized. By comparison, if the formula calls for a shorter rise (direct method) it is appropriate to use a flour with a lower "W" lower (i.e. "W" of about 200-230 or lower). otherwise, the use of a stronger flour may damage the resulting product.
The following information is also adapted from the Molina SIMA (8) recipe booklet, and describes the "P/L" ratio which serves as an index to the behavior of the gluten.
The P/L expresses the relationship between the tenacity and extensibility of the dough, connoting a value of equilibrium or unbalance between these two factors. The equilibrium is expressed (according to the type of production and technique employed) between 0.40 and 0.70. These values indicate that, in relationship to the "W", a baker will be able to produce a bread with maximum volume and a well proportioned inside structure. While this may sound esoteric, it is not.
When The Artisan receives recipes from baker colleagues in Italy, the "W" value of the flour used is also provided. Since we do not have equivalent information about American flours, we test bake until the process produces a bread similar to that described in the recipe. Our task would be much easier if we had access to the "W" values of our American flour. An example of an Italian recipe using the "W" values in the recipe (formula) may be seen in the recipe for a Croccantina (Ciabatta) provided by our colleague Sergio Agosti of Il Fornaio in Salo, Italy.
Higher P/L values indicate flours that are more difficult to work and that result in a bread less developed with a compact crumb. Lower P/L values indicate flours that will be weak, too extensible, and difficult to work because they are often sticky. The bread which results will be flattened because the dough has not succeeded in holding back the developing gases. The indices most often used for appraising the plastic qualities of the flour are the "W" and the "P/L".
is utilized in conjunction with information obtained from the data afforded by measuring
mixing resistance of dough on an instrument called a Brabender Farinograph and
results in a Farinogram. The information presented below, including the Farinogram
(Chart 2), is from Pyler (3) The Farinograph uses the resistance
of the dough against the kneading arm during the mixing process as its means of
measurement. The purpose of this test is to determine the amount of water the dough
can absorb as this indicates the dough's firmness and dough yield. Additionally the
Farinograph determines the degree of softening of the dough when mixed for too long.
This provides information about the doughs stability. Specifically,
Farinograph tests determine the following: Water absorption is
indicated as the amount of water needed to develop a standard dough of 500 Brabender
Units (BU) at the peak of the curve. In the case shown on the graph Absorption is
60.7% The absorption rate is the quantity of water, expressed in percentage,
that is required to give a sample of dough a fixed consistency. The Peak Time is the time
needed for the curve to reach the peak or maximum dough consistency, and indicates the
relative strength of the flour. The Arrival Time is the
time required for the top of curve to first intersect the 500 BU consistency line. The Departure Time is the
time required for the tip of the curve to drop below the 500 BU. The Mixing Tolerance Index (MTI) is represented by the
difference between the Peak Time and the Departure Time,
and is a measurement used to indicate the mixing requirements of the flour. Stability Time -- the
horizontal line directly under the Peak Time -- is 11.0 minutes in this
sample, and represents
Water absorption is indicated as the amount of water needed to develop a standard dough of 500 Brabender Units (BU) at the peak of the curve. In the case shown on the graph Absorption is 60.7% The absorption rate is the quantity of water, expressed in percentage, that is required to give a sample of dough a fixed consistency.
The Peak Time is the time needed for the curve to reach the peak or maximum dough consistency, and indicates the relative strength of the flour.
The Arrival Time is the time required for the top of curve to first intersect the 500 BU consistency line.
The Departure Time is the time required for the tip of the curve to drop below the 500 BU.
The Mixing Tolerance Index (MTI) is represented by the difference between the Peak Time and the Departure Time, and is a measurement used to indicate the mixing requirements of the flour. Stability Time -- the horizontal line directly under the Peak Time -- is 11.0 minutes in this sample, and represents
The Stability of the dough is the interval of time that it remains at maximum consistency, and is very important relative to the type of fermentation and mechanical stress to which a dough can be subjected. The Stability Time (S) or mixing tolerance is an important index of flour quality.
All dough eventually break down on sustained mixing. Excellent quality flour breaks down at between 0 and 30 BrabenderUnits and has a Stability Time, expressed as "S" of greater than 10 minutes. Poor quality flours breakdown between 70 and 130 BU's and have a Stability time of not less than 3 minutes. It has been noted (8) that a strong flour with a "W" > 250 and an "S" > 10 will tolerate long processes of varying times, while a weak flour will not. Table X compares Brabender Units and stability factors for a variety of flour qualities (9).
Breakdown of dough between 0 and 30 BU: S>10 minutes
Breakdown of dough between 30 and 50 BU: S not less than 7 minutes
Breakdown of dough between 50 and 70 BU: S>not less than 5 minutes
Breakdown of dough between 70 and 130 BU: S>not less than 3 minutes
Breakdown higher than 130 BU
All of these data are used at the mills to determine the quality of the flours produced. We have discovered only one mill which provides these data. That is Cooks Natural Products. Log onto their Internet site and see how they present their wheat and flour information. It includes, Alveograph and Farinograph data, the Falling Number, Ash content and a lot more!
Fermenting Ability and Enzyme Content
The quantity of enzymes (amylases) contained in flour determines the rate at which starch is converted to sugar and thus rendered accessible to the yeasts. Alpha-amylase is the specific enzyme measured in this test relative to its ability to liquify starch. Too high an amylase content results in high fermentation sugar values in the dough, whereas too low an amylase content results in a dough with little gassing power(2). The alpha amylase activity and its relationships to the bread baking process are measured by "The Falling Number". Another amylase, Beta-amylase is also involved in the breakdown of starch into sugars, especially maltose. Readers interested in an exhausive discussion of enzymes and baking are referred to both volumes of Pyler (3)
The Falling Number (or Hagberg Index) is indicative of the amylase (specifically alpha-amylase) activity and the fermentation process taking place in a wheat flour dough. It is based on the rapid gelatinization of flour suspended in water and measures the degradation of starch made available from alpha-amylase activity in rising temperature conditions similar to those of bread making.
The following Falling Number values are inversely proportional to the amylase activity. The information provided below (Table XI) is meant as a guide. Contact your flour mill to ascertain specific numbers for the flour you use.
Elevated amylase activity. This flour is derived from germinated grain, and its use results in a bread crumb that remains sticky and under baked. It is nearly unusable unless it is adequately mixed with other flour with a higher Falling Number.
150 - 220
Superior amylase activity to that which is normal. This flour requires a correction by being blended with flours of a higher Falling Number or using particular bread making methods during production.
220 - 280
Normal amylase activity.
>280 - 300
Weak amylase activity. The use of this flour results in bread that is not well developed, with low volume and too dry a crumb. It requires the addition of diastatic malt.
If the moisture content of a flour is elevated, the flour will have a shorter shelf life and lower yield. A guide to water content and flour relative to storability is as follows: A water content greater than 16% cannot be stored. A water content of about 15% has limited storage potential. A water content of less than 15% indicates good storage potential (6).
Absorption measures the amount of water that can be absorbed by a given quantity of flour. In bread making, it is usually preferable to have flour that can absorb a large amount of water. Measurements of absorption are done to determine the amount of water the dough can absorb, which in turn indicates dough yield and shelf life. Optimum absorption represents the maximum amount of water, as a percent of the flour weight, that will produce a high yield of bread during the baking process (1). Other tests exist which measure a flour's ability to absorb water, but we shall not discuss them here. They are beyond the scope of this presentation, but may be found by examining the references provided.
The Maltose Number relates directly to the gassing power of the flour. Stronger flours have higher gassing power.
A graphic display of some of the information presented above is contained in Table XII below, which was excerpted from Baking, The Art and Science (6).
|Weak flour for biscuits,sponge cakes and tart doughs||Standard-type flour for white bread, wheat/rye bread and rolls||Strong or high protein flour for white bread, French bread and soft rolls.|
|RMT-Volume Yield||400 - 670||620 - 730||710 - 760|
|Protein Content||8 - 11.75||11.2 - 13.5||12.7 - 14|
|Maltose Number||1 - 2||2 - 3||2 - 3.5|
Note: The Volume Yield is done by the RMT = Rapid Mix Test, a Standard Baking test for bread
As presented above, scientific evaluation of essential factors relative to the quality of flour can be, and usually is made, by laboratory analyses. As a rule, both commercial and serious home bakers in the US are given minimal technical information regarding the majority of the wheat flours that are available for use. More often than not, they are provided the type flour, i.e. patent, high-gluten, all-purpose, bleached or unbleached, pastry, etc., whether or not the flour is made up of hard or soft wheat, or a blend, and a per cent protein content. Other information, such as the results from laboratory analyses, is not readily obtainable. In fact, many bakers are not aware that the information derived from the various tests and analyses described here are available in the laboratories of the commercial millers. We have not ascertained why these results are not generally available, nor why bakers have not demanded why they are not made available.
By contrast, Italian commercial bakers have a greater variety of flours and more technical information about these flours available to them. For instance, a list of the flours available from Molino SIMA di Argenta includes 20 types of flours and their technical and analytic data. These data include the "W", "P/L" and percent dry gluten [gluten producing albumen(protein)] and are provided with a description of each flour and its suggested use.
American flour companies provide only sparse information about the flours they sell. The following discussion is excepted from a text by Corriher (10) regarding current domestic flour product labeling practice in the US:
"The amount of protein in a particular flour is an indicator of bread-baking quality for plain white flour alone because rye flour, oat flour, and rice flour contain proteins unconnected with gluten, as does whole wheat flour with the proteins in the wheat germ. That means reading the label on these flours relative to their protein content will not reveal much about the bread they will make."
Unfortunately, new US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations have made labels less informative even for white flour. The protein content stated on the label of a bag of flour is subject to a round-off rule, so flour labeled as having 9 grams of protein per serving actually can have from 8.50 to 9.49 grams. Under the old regulations (before May 1994), the serving size was 1 cup, and the protein content on the label effectively showed what the best use of a flour was. Thus, a flour labeled as 9 grams (protein) was indeed a low-protein flour, ideal for pie crusts and quick breads whereas a flour labeled as 14 grams protein (13.50 to 14.49 grams per cup) was a high-protein flour, excellent for yeast breads.
Under the new regulations, however, the serving size is 1/4 cup or about 30 grams. With rounding, any flour containing 2.50 to 3.49 grams of protein per 1/4 cup can be labeled as containing 3 grams of protein. This means both moderately low-protein Southern flour (about 9 grams per cup) and high-protein unbleached flour (about 14 grams per cup) can be labeled as 3 grams per 1/4 cup. In fact, most flour on the market now says 3 grams of protein, telling you almost nothing about the protein content so important to baking and to cooking.
You can call the flour company and ask the exact protein content, but in the experience of The Artisan staff what you are told by a consumer representative is not always reliable.
We have provided the following table (Table XIII) from Corriher as a general guide. This provides approximate values for protein in both grams per cup and percentages. The measure of flour strength that is used professionally is percentage protein, and this same parameter is important to home bakers.
In ConclusionOne 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.
Quaglia, G.B. Manuale del Panificatore, an edition from the publishers of Panificatione & Pasticerria.
Bilheux, Roland, Alain Escoffier, Daniel Herve, and Jean-Marie Pouradier, Special and Decorative Breads, Vol 1, New York:Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1989.
Pyler, Ernst J. Baking Science & Technology, Third Edition. Kansas City: Sosland Publishing Co., 1988.
Quaglia, G.B. Scienza e Technologia della Panificazione, Pinerolo Chiriotti, 1984, Italia.
Capello, Roberto. Il Manuale del Panificatore, Bergamo: Editrice San Marco s.r.l., 1993.
Schunemann, Claus and Gunter Treu. Baking, The Art and Science. Calgary:Baker Tech Inc., 1986.
Boriani, Guido, Fabrizio Ostani. Il pane, Milan: Ottaviano, 1986.
Molino SIMA, Ricettario , a recipe booklet published by Sima di Argenta. This booklet indicates that it used Quaglia, G.B., Scienza e Technologia della Panificazione, Pinerolo: Chiriotti, 1984, and Manuale del Panificatore (1) as its major sources of reference.
Giorilli, Piergiorgio and Laura, Simona, Il Pane, Un Arte, Una Technologia. Milano: Franco Lucisano Editore, 1996.
Corriher, Shirley. CookWise, The Hows & Whys of Successful Cooking, New York: William Morrow and Company, lnc., 1997.
Cantore, Claudio, a series of Personal Communications during 1996-1998 . Claudio's Specialty Breads, Castroville, CA.
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:
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: 09/02/06 02:35:18 PM