Flour Power

I had something of a realization this past week when reviewing various videos highlighting folding and shaping techniques. I was constantly impressed by how easily stretched the doughs were, or how extensible the dough was – extensibility being one of two key factors in developing a good loaf of sourdough bread.

In seeing the man himself, Chad Robertson, folding in this video, it shocked me with the ease in which he could stretch out his dough in folding and shaping. My dough is typically far more resistant to stretching so I got to thinking… I wonder if this has something to do with the type of flour that I’m using. This of course ignores any number of variables and techniques that I could be doing wrong or just poorly, but dialing in variables is part of the process so picking away at the low hanging fruit is an obvious choice, right?

Unbleached all purpose flour, at times organic at times not, has generally been my mainstay as I’d just assumed originally that all purpose would be suitable, though not necessarily ideal, while unbleached seemed a little more ‘kosher’ with a more pleasing colour. Over time, I think we all generally get used to the status quo in any number of avenues so we stop questioning things like using bread flour or all purpose flour for… baking bread. It seems that unbleached all purpose has a fairly low protein content in general, around 10.5%, though I am certain it varies by manufacturer and, apparently, by bag at times as well. My frugal nature was a driver in this respect I must admit, as the local supermarket variety had been the most economic option – plus I could use it for baking other things as well!

Bread flours, it seems, trend higher in protein content to the 12-12.5% range, and so are more suitable to the style of bread that I’m shooting for. Unbleached all purpose is primarily the friend of sandwich bread. After all of the baking that I’ve done in the past few years, I’m honestly somewhat embarrassed that it has taken me this long to consider at least trying bread flour, but c’est la vie I suppose.

According to the San Francisco Baking Institute, flours between 10.5% and 12% protein content should produce a good ratio of elasticity and extensibility. With too high a protein content, doughs will be highly elastic and not very extensible. This made me question whether my all purpose flour was in fact on the low end of the protein range as I’ve typically had a more elastic dough. Conversely, too low a protein content will result in a more extensible and less elastic dough; I plan on going into more detail on this stuff in a future post. Good extensibility, as noted earlier, is one key to a quality loaf, and apparently a key to a good oven rise. As I’ve noted in previous posts, I’ve had a somewhat less desirous oven rise so this may be a factor.

I plan on experimenting with bread flour at some point in the near future. There are days when I wish I could try a different method, technique, or flour every other day. Today, in thinking about my potential results and improvements utilizing a change as simple as flour, is one of those days.


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