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Getting the Most of Your Flour


Some of the most common questions that we have are to do with the difference between stoneground and roller-milled flour and the impact that they have on recipes. I know from personal experience that the same recipe can turn out quite differently according to the flour used. Why do they behave differently and what should we do when switching flour in a recipe? Over to Vanessa.

 

Top Tips

I am frequently asked which is my favourite flour. I do have preferences, but choosing just one above all others is impossible since they vary in flavour, texture and suitability for different baking jobs. I really love baking a traditional sourdough with a British stoneground flour such as the lovely Stoate’s Strong White, but then I also love the Buratto Type 2 and the PandiSempre from Mulino Marino. The latter produce fabulous Italian style breads with a light, sweet flavour and a moist golden crumb. Thankfully I don’t actually have to choose just one...and my flour cupboard is like an Aladdin’s cave of flour. So my top tips and considerations when choosing flour are as follows:

1. Use Fresh Flour Don’t buy more flour at one time than you can use before it expires. Not only will you get better flavour and nutritional value from freshly milled stoneground flour, but it will perform better too. Patrick relayed a conversation the other day with a customer complaining about duff yeast and went on to describe how, during the conversation, he established that the flour used was over a year out of date and “looked a bit funny” – this the best bread does not make. Over time the flour loses flavour and nutritional benefits as the natural oils (lipids) in the germ begin to degrade, and turn into triglycerides. Get a regular delivery like I do with a flour subscription at BakeryBits – just choose your flour in the normal way and click to have it on a regular basis.

2. Buy Organic There is divided opinion and cost implication on the issue of organic flour and some also think it is simply being worthy by purchasing it. However, I think that there is much more to it than that. The EU regulates the use of chemicals in food production but I cannot find any constraint on combining chemicals where the long-term cocktail effects are unknown. Something that really surprised me recently after doing some research is that chemicals not approved for use in EU/UK may be used on cereals produced in other countries as long as they are approved in that country and then they may be imported into UK. This doesn’t sound very clever to me – I would hope that these are caught when screened for maximum residue levels.

3. Blend Blending flour can be fun and can give really interesting results, great for the inquisitive baker. Experiment for yourself, thinking about how light or heavy a loaf you are looking for: rye, wholemeal wheat or spelt will tend to make the loaf heavier but will add texture and flavour when combined with a white flour.

One of my favourite and most reliable blends is:

   10% rye 30% wholemeal 60% strong white (roller-milled) – such as 00 Soffiata

The rye adds flavour, the wholemeal adds great texture and the 00 is great to lighten the crumb. So if you want bigger holes, then use stronger flour. If you want the best of all possible worlds, then try blending a 50:50 mix of stoneground such as Stoates and 00 roller-milled Mulino Marino.

4. Choose the Right Flour for the Job

Use a flour intended for the job you want it to do.

You wouldn’t complain that a 1958 Ford Anglia (my first car) doesn’t have ABS brakes. You accept the car for what it is, and drive it accordingly. It is the same for flour. Asking a stoneground British flour to behave like the Italian 00 flour (highly refined white flour) to give the same open crumb white loaf is just silly, and yet many still seem to hope that it will, one day a bag of British stoneground flour might just surprise them!

Stoneground flour is the best in terms of nutritional value since the wheatgerm is retained. Milling with stones works at a lower temperature than roller-milling so that the flour retains much of the naturally occurring wild yeast and does less damage to the flour. I often find freshly milled wholegrain is as lively, if not more then any comparable imported white flour. This is because generally you can expect to find higher levels of enzymes in British flour due mainly to our harvest conditions; we are in a maritime climate and while we might complain about the terrible British weather, rain will actually increase the levels of enzymes at harvest time. Therefore stoneground British flour can be quicker in its fermentation, referred to by millers as a low Hagberg (high enzyme activity).

5. Work to the Flour’s Strengths When dough is kneaded, gluten is formed which is what traps the gases during fermentation, forming little pockets. If there is too little then the dough can rise very quickly as the action of the yeast is unrestrained but the dough can be a bit weak – a good reason to blend if inexperienced with British flour as it tends to be weaker...or blend with some 00 to add strength.

6. Think About Water Flours absorb water differently, whether stoneground, roller-milled, white or wholemeal. So, if you are using a standard recipe then it will probably be for a roller-milled flour and you want to use an equivalent stoneground, use 10% less water to begin with. Wholemeal uses more than white too so if adapting a recipe from white to wholemeal, use about 10% more water – you need to get to know your flour and record what you used last time.

I advise bakers to start by limiting the hydration to about 65% when first using a new stoneground flour, which does give your bread a slightly less open crumb however it does mean that you have a dough that is easier to handle. This means that for a yeast-based recipe, use 325g water for 500g flour. Bakers experienced in handling wetter dough will increase the water content giving a more open crumb, but it can be tricky to handle – so get practicing!

FEATURED PRODUCTS

Stoate’s Strong White | £2.40

Stoate's Organic Strong White Flour is made from their brown flour which is sieved to remove almost all of the bran particles producing a stoneground white flour with a creamy colour and exceptional flavour.

Stoate’s Maltstar | £2.55

The "Granary" style flour from the award-winning Stoates mill based in Dorset. Milled at Cann Mills in Dorset, this wheat flour is blended with malted wheat flakes, rye flour and malt flour for a distinctively malty flavour with a moist, grainy texture.

Mulino Marino 00 Soffiata | £2.75

Type "00" flour from strong organic wheat suitable for ciabatta, baguettes, brioches, croissants and as a general bread flour.

Do you have a sourdough question for Vanessa? Send it to us and the best ones will appear in our next postbag edition and receive a dough whisk.

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