Choosing your Flour

For new bakers, the choice of flours available can be daunting.

A basic bread flour ground from high protein wheat is the basis for most Western bread baking. The gluten contained in these flours helps with the texture of the dough and the finished loaf. But there are almost endless variations and blends of flour, including those from different grains, some with different levels of refinement, and even non-cereal based flours.

Your choice of flour will alter the character and taste of the finished loaf. The following examples will help you understand the characteristics of some different flours.

Don’t be afraid to experiment, there are no hard and fast rules!

All Purpose

As its name suggests, All Purpose, or AP flour, is a wheat flour, blended to be used in a wide variety of applications, including bread and cakes. 

An AP flour in Europe will not be the same as that found in the US. Canadian AP flour is different again. Everything depends on the wheat varieties used, but as a general rule, these flours have the advantage of producing a good standard loaf. They lack the character of many others, but are worth having in the cupboard either to blend with other flours, or in case you run out of a preferred product.

FLAVOUR PROFILE

Neutral.

Wholegrain

Wholegrain flours refer to those ground from the whole grain, including all the natural nutrients and fibre. The sieving process after grinding permits larger elements of the grain to pass, retaining the bran and the germ which are otherwise removed in white flours.

Wholegrain flours will be coarser than white, and tend to produce a less open crumb. Breads made using wholegrain flours will have a richer, and nutty taste.

FLAVOUR PROFILE 

Rich, nutty flavor

Dark Rye

Dark Rye flour is rich in colour with a traditional full flavour. Rye flour creates a softer, moisture texture that helps with shelf life though and typically creates a more dense crumb when baked. Dark rye retains more nutrients as most of the bran and the germ in the flour remain.  

Rye is not as capable of gluten formation so is often mixed with wheat flour to help produce a lighter style of loaf.  

Rye flour recipes often need more water to flour as rye flour is rich in water-absorbent carbohydrates called pentosans, which allow it to hold ten or more times its weight in water. 

FLAVOUR PROFILE 

Distinct, rich, and with a slightly sour taste.

White Rye

White rye flour is ground from the center endosperm of the rye berry. This flour does not contain any of the outer seed coat, the bran, or the germ, so the flour (and the bread it eventually makes) stays fairly light in color.

FLAVOUR PROFILE 

Distinct, and rich with a lighter taste.

Kamut - Khorosan

Kamut is a brand name for a strain of the ancient khorasan wheat grain. It is also known as Oriental wheat.  This grain is twice the size of modern-day wheat.  This golden coloured flour is high in protein so ideal great for breadmaking.

FLAVOUR PROFILE 

Smooth, buttery, nutty, and flavorsome.

Rice Flour

Rice flour is made from ground raw rice and is used to make rice noodles and some types of South Indian pancakes. It can be used as an alternative to wheat flour in cakes and biscuits but as it’s gluten-free it is not widely used to make leavened bread.

However, being gluten free makes it ideal for flouring your proving containers – rice flour won’t stick to your dough flour so this makes it much easier to get your bread dough released.

Strong White

Strong wheat flours contain high levels of protein, and when worked into a dough produce an elastic texture that helps retain the gasses released during proofing. Breads made using stronger flours will rise better, giving them a lighter texture.

Strong white flour is an excellent general purpose bread flour, and is good also for some pastries, including choux or filo.

FLAVOUR PROFILE 

Neutral.

Spelt

Spelt, also known as dinkel wheat or hulled wheat, is a species of wheat cultivated since approximately 5000 BC. In its original form, spelt has a light reddish-brown color and a nutty flavor. Spelt is a member of the same family as wheat, barley, and rye, but despite it being a whole grain, it does not produce heavy products. Instead, it has a light and airy texture, similar to wheat.

Nutritionally, it is very similar to wheat. However, comparisons have shown it to be slightly higher in zinc and protein. Spelt contains small amounts of calcium, selenium, and vitamins B1, B6 and E. Like most whole grains, it is also high in carbs and an excellent source of dietary fiber. 

About 80% of the protein in spelt is gluten, a protein that essentially acts like a glue to hold food, like bread, together. The gluten in spelt flour is a little more delicate than wheat gluten, so you want to pay special attention when using spelt in your cooking and baking. It’s important to know that spelt is not a gluten-free flour, and it may cause discomfort or allergic reactions in those who have celiac disease or a gluten intolerance.

FLAVOUR PROFILE 

It has a deep, nutty flavor.

White Spelt

Spelt flour which has been finely sieved to remove the bran and the germ of the grain.

Spelt flours have a weaker gluten content than modern wheats. Your dough will need less kneading and shorter proofing to produce a light airy loaf. Spelt has a nutty flavour which gives character to your baking.

Excellent for general baking, including breads and pizza doughs.

FLAVOUR PROFILE 

It has a deep, nutty flavor, much lighter in colour.

Einkorn

Einkorn, triticum monococcumis one of the earliest cultivated varieties of wheat. It differs from modern wheat in that it is genetically distinct and only has single grains on either side of the ear, hence its name Ein’korn from the German meaning one.

Einkorn Flour makes great rustic style breads and pizza bases, either on its own or blended half and half with white bread flour.

FLAVOUR PROFILE 

Semolina

Semolina from the latin word simila, meaning ‘flour’ and the Italian word semola, means bran. Semolina is a coarse flour milled from durum wheat (or other hard wheat). It is high in gluten.

FLAVOUR PROFILE 

Slightly nutty, sweet.

Disclaimer: Whilst we hope the information provided is helpful and informative, we cannot guarantee that all details will be 100% accurate.  There are many schools of thought and conflicting ideas on many of the sourdough processes and methods.  This site is simply meant as a broad guide to baking sourdough, and is not a scientific reference.

Also, please forgive the mixed US and UK spellings throughout. We have a team from various countries working on this site.This site may contain affiliate links. 

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Made with Sourdough ❤

Lame

noun

A special sharp knife, or tool which holds a razor blade, in a curved or straight manner. You use it to score the dough before baking.

Dutch Oven

A Dutch Oven is generally understood to be a covered earthenware or cast-iron container for cooking casseroles. They are ideal for bread as they can accommodate bread dough and be covered to help generate the steamy environment requiredto encourage the dough to rise. Enamel roasters with a lid, covered pyrex dishes, or even a flat tray with a bowl over the top of the dough, are equally effective.

Bakers’ Percentages

Sometimes called baker’s math, this is a method to express the different ingredients as a percentage of the total amount of flour. It makes scaling a recipe or building a recipe very easy once you know the total weight of the flour, and also allows you to know the ‘hydration’ of your dough.

Example: If you build your dough with 1000 gram flour, 670-grams water, 20-gram salt, and 8-gram yeast. According to bakers percentages, that will be 100% flour (the amount of flour is always 100%), 67% water, 2% salt, and 0.8% yeast.
You divide the amount of the different ingredients with the amount of flour.

Banneton / Brotform / Proofing Basket

A type of basket or container used to provide structure for shaped loaves of bread during proofing. Banneton baskets are also known as ‘Brotform’ or ‘proofing baskets’. It is normally used for doughs that are too soft or wet to maintain their shape while rising. They come in a range of sizes and shapes. Look for ones that fit the size of loaves you want to bake.

They are often made of natural rattan, or wood fiber. You can also use any container lined with a well-floured tea towel.

Oven Spring

The final burst of expansion of dough upon being introduced to a hot oven and where the yeast activity is increased during the first few minutes. At approximately 60C/140ºF degrees the yeast is killed off, but up until that point, dough can expand in the oven in the first phase of baking if it’s not over-fermented and still has dough strength. Many factors can impact oven spring including the length of fermentation, gluten development, and the hydration of the dough.

Stretch-and-Folds

An alternative to traditional kneading used to develop gluten. The process is performed periodically in the bowl throughout the bulk fermentation. Take a side of the dough and gently stretch it up and over, to fold it upon itself, rotate the dough 90º, and repeat, then turn the bowl 45º and the same stretch and fold. Once all four corners of the dough have been stretched and folded, gluten development and a smooth, elastic dough are underway. Also, see ‘Folding’ and ‘Coil Folds’.

Bulk Ferment

Most loaves have two fermenting cycles. One before and one after the loaves are formed. Bulk fermentation is the first cycle, with a long fermentation period of the dough after the initial mixing of flour, water, starter, and salt and often comes during and after a period of kneading or ‘stretch and folds’.During this stage we are aiming to create dough strength, structure and flavor. The dough should feel alive, strong, airy, spongy and the surface shouldn’t feel sticky.

The bulk fermentation generally takes place at room temperature, unless otherwise noted in the recipe and is a longer period of time (4 -12 hours) than the final proofing period. This step may be referred to as the first prove or first rising. Acetic acid, an organic acid is produced by bacteria in the sourdough culture during the fermentation process. The presence of acetic acid helps to gives sourdough its characteristic acidic tang. The warmer the environment, the faster the development of the dough will be

Window Pane

The window pane test is one of the best ways to tell if you’ve sufficiently stretched and folded your bread dough. Pull a small piece of the dough and using both hands and your fingers stretch the dough very thin if it holds its shape without tearing the gluten is well-developed and your dough is ready to be pre-shaped, shaped and rest for it’s final prove.

Starter / Starter Culture / Sourdough Starter

A mixture of flour and water used to leaven bread that contains bacteria, yeast, and organic acids. Made either by inoculating with an established colony of bacteria or by capturing wild bacteria and yeasts over a longer period. Sometimes also called Leaven / Levain.

Autolyse

verb

Autolyse (pronounced auto-lees) is a process in which a portion of (or total) water and flour in a bread recipe are gently pre-blended and set to rest for a period of time.

This resting period gives the dough special processing characteristics and improves the overall quality of the baked goods.

During autolyse process, several events can occur in the pre-mixed water/flour mixture:

  1. Continued flour hydration. Water molecules work their way into damaged starch, intact starch granules and proteins.
  2. Protein bonds continue to develop as a consequence of adding water, creating more gluten strands without mechanical work. This leads to better gluten structure and gas retention.
  3. Flour enzymes (mainly proteases) acquire time to adapt and work on the gluten by breaking down protein bonds.Protease activity is higher at low pH (acidic conditions). This is why autolysed doughs that contain yeast or pre-ferments (e.g. poolish) often experience greater protease activity. Such doughs are more extensible, weaker, softer and show less resistance to deformation than autolyzed non-fermented doughs.2
  4. Finally, as a result, the dough feels less sticky and very smooth after the autolyse.

As a general rule, the longer the autolyse time:

  • The shorter the dough mixing time (less mechanical development of gluten-forming proteins in needed). This means less energy consumption during mixing.
  • The shorter the dough stability duration
  • The less tolerance to overmixing. Breakdown is more pronounced once peak (maximum strength) is attained.
  • The smaller the P value in the alveograph test
  • The more extensible and less elastic the dough becomes at the end of autolysis
  • The better the sheetability and machining of dough during lamination of croissants
  • The easier and faster the dough expands during oven spring (better volume)
  • The lower the need for dough conditioners
  • The better the flavor and aroma of the finished product
Leaven/Levain/Sourdough Starter
noun
  1. A substance, in this case a wild yeast starter, that is used in sourdough baking to make dough rise.
  2. Some methods of baking, such as ‘Tartine Method’ require a sourdough leavening agent be made from a sourdough ‘mother culture’ (aka your Starter). This technique is often employed to boost the yeast activity of the sourdough starter by feeding a small amount of starter a larger quantity of flour and water. For instance, if a recipe calls for 1 cup of sourdough starter, a leaven can be prepared 8-12 hours before the dough will be mixed by combining 1 Tablespoon of sourdough starter with ½ cup flour and a scant ½ cup of water. This leaven can then be used as the sourdough starter and will be quite active come baking time.
verb
  1. cause (dough or bread) to rise by adding leaven.