It’s possible that you, like me, have thought in the past or continue to assume that flour is flour, and that’s all there is to it. This faulty line of thought could not be further removed from the reality of the situation. When you as a baker realise that flour is a science in and of itself, you will be one step closer to generating bakery-quality bread on your very first effort. The sooner you come to terms with this fact, the better.
Although flour can be made from a variety of grains and vegetables, including rice and potatoes, we will focus our attention on wheat flour for the purpose of this conversation. The primary reason for this is that wheat flour is the foundation of the vast majority of the traditional recipes that we are all so familiar with, including baguettes and brioche.
And despite the fact that it would be simple for us to get lost in the agricultural science that underpins wheat flour, we are going to avoid doing so and instead focus on the one component that will have the biggest influence on the bread that you bake: the amount of gluten.
Gluten is a protein that is made up of two different components: glutenin, which is what gives gluten its elasticity, and gliadin, which is what gives gluten its extensibility, or resistance to being stretched. These two components work together in a harmonious manner to build a structure inside the dough, which, in turn, offers the framework for gas to become trapped within the dough. When the internal structure of the dough and the gas that is trapped within the dough come together in just the right way, they generate what bakers refer to as a “crumb” which is lovely. In contrast to what most people think of when they hear the word “crust,” which refers to the exterior of the loaf of bread, the term “crumb” refers to the interior of the bread. For the sake of this discussion, we are going to concentrate on the gluten content of bread flour because it is the type of flour that is most frequently used in bread baking.
Bread flour must have a gluten content of between 11 and 13 per cent according to the standard. (As a point of reference, cake flour has between 6% and 9% gluten content, whereas all-purpose flour has somewhere between 8% and 12% gluten concentration.) When using flour with a lower gluten concentration, bread may absolutely rise and bake, but the rise may be so small that the baking process creates something that is more similar to a flatbread than it is to a well-raised loaf of bread.
Because flour is a powder that is tightly packed, it is critical to use a kitchen scale when measuring it. Using a measuring cup is a very convenient choice, but the amount of flour packed in 1 cup can range from 90 grammes per cup to 180 grammes, and if we use more or less than what the recipe calls for, we may get unsatisfactory results.