“Baking bread, it can be a dangerous passion…primary requirement is free time for the soul…[where the] daily miracle of flour and poetry ensue”–Isabel Allende
In Isabel Allende’s memoir, Aphrodite: Memoir of the Senses, she found, like many of us who become enamored by artisan bread baking, that the act of crafting artisan bread can become a rather consuming passion. While Ms. Allende eventually cast this articulation of passion aside for more amorous expressions, she poetically elucidated the thaumaturgy of bread baking.
Alluring and sensuous, the magic of baking bread is often overlooked because of its mere simplicity of ingredients. However, it is in the alchemy of these ingredients that the baker is bewitched. With the tap of a whisk and the beat of a rolling pin, the elements of powdery flours, aqueous liquids, and yeast swirl together into unique loaves and flat breads individuated by their terroir at the point of creation. The baker soon realizes that this process of creation is deceptively simple.
“I brought you flours”–Mr. Crick
Will Ferrel’s character (Mr. Crick) in the movie, Stranger than Fiction, understands that the way to woo the heart of his baker/IRS client is to bring her flours. Similarly, the way to reach the heart of bread is to understand the language of its flour. As the fundamental ingredient, flour begins the story of each bread. Flour communicates its quiet language through scent, texture, and body. It is the responsibility of the baker to listen to this language in order to will elicit the type of bread that is desired.
These wheat flours say what?….
- Whole wheat flour says, “I’ve got all my parts”. This flour contains 100% of the original bran, wheat germ, and wheat kernel of which whole wheat is comprised. In its complete form, whole wheat flour is crammed with energy, protein, vitamins, and minerals, which contribute to a highly nutritious flour. Because whole wheat flour contains so many elements, it operates as a bulky material, creating a heavier, denser bread. If the baker desires less body with a whole grain bread, she should choose a grist of hard and soft wheat grain.
- Variations: Organic whole wheat, stoneground whole wheat (traditionally milled between 2 stones and with fullest wheat flavor); strong whole wheat (highest proportion of wheat gluten and highest protein at 13.5%)
- Types of Breads: whole wheat loaf, anadama, sour dough…
- White Flour says, “I work off of the inner core”. This flour contains 75% of the wheat grain that resides in the wheat kernel. The bran and wheat germ extraction are initially extracted and later returned at the end of the milling process. White flour produces a lighter bread and it is often applied to other baked goods such as scones, cakes, and other pastries.
- Variations: all purpose; unbleached (flour is not artificially whitened by chlorine and oftentimes fortified with B1, nictinic acid, calcium, and iron); strong(often labeled bread flour, is high in protein, and is usually the best flour to use for white breads), fine french plain (french-style flour that combines bread flour and all-purpose).
- Types of Bread: white loaf, focaccia, pita bread, ciabata, sourdough, baguette….
- Brown says, “I take the heavy out of whole wheat”. This flour is comprised of 85% of the original wheat grain. It produces a lighter loaf than whole wheat flour while retaining a significant percentage of the flavorful component of wheat germ.
- Granary and Malthouse say, “We’re a little smaltzy in my malty overtones”. Granary and Malthouse flours blend the best elements of brown and rye flours along with malted wheat to create a slightly sweet and sticky flavor and texture. The Malthouse flour differs by adding malted wheat flakes. Granary cobs and granary loaves use both flours
- Graham says, “You can’t have s’mores without me”. This flour is similar to whole wheat flour in nutrients but contains a coarser grain. While it is more traditionally associated with graham crackers, graham flour is also used in graham loaves and honey wheat graham bread.
- Semolina says “I’m a kin to white”. Similar to white flour in its extraction of the bran and wheat germ, semolina flour arises from the wheat kernal or endosperm. What makes it different from white is that the endosperm has not been fully milled before it turns into semolina. This flour is used in Italian breads.
- Spelt says, “I’m my own grain”. This flour arises from the spelt cereal grain and is often a worthy substitute for whole wheat flour because of its rich nutrients and gluten. This flour has a nutty and slightly sweet flavor. Spelt is used in potato breads and spelt loaves.
- Barley says, “I’m not for everyone but the Russians still love me”. As a flour low in gluten, barley flour is rarely used in breads produced in the west without the aid of whole wheat or white bread flours. However, in Russia and other Eastern European countries, barley flour (ground pearl barley) is used in traditional barley loaves.
- Buckwheat says, “I’ll meet you for breakfast wearing black”.Buckwheat is a fruit derivative of the sorrel plant family. As a flour, buckwheat is earthy and adds flavor to whole wheat breads.This flour is traditionally used for pancakes, blinis, and crepes.
Cornmeal says, “Enjoy my sunny shades and don’t be disappointed by my lack of gluten”. Cornmeal or maize is ground white or yellow corn. Produced in coarse, medium, or fine grounds, cornmeal is best used in corn breads if it is finely ground.
- Millet says “I’m more than just bird seed”. Millet is a high protein, low gluten flour that requires the substance and heft redolent of whole wheat flour to make fuller bread.
- Oatmeal says, “I work best as an accessory”. Finely ground oatmeal can be used in making traditional Scottish flat oatmeal biscuits or oatcakes. Typically, this flour is added to whole wheat or acts as a beautiful accessory to the surface of bread loaves.
- Rice says, “I’m polished and fine and won’t make you ill”. Rice flour has become increasingly popular as there has been more awareness around gluten allergies. Made from polished rice that is finely ground, rice flour can substitute for other flours. However, it is devoid of gluten and does not rise or have the airation of gluten-rich flours.
- Rye says, “I may be sticky and a little difficult, but I’m just as good as wheat”. Rye flour is produced from ground rye. While it contains a strong gluten content, rye flour typically produces a sticky dough that makes it challenging with which to work. Rye flour works best when partnered with wheat flours.
While this list is indicative of the many dialects to the language of flours, it certainly is not exhaustive. Like other languages, it takes a lifetime of practice to understand flours’ syntax, grammar, and body language. It is in these intimate conversations with flour that the baker engages in that consuming passion to which Isabel Allende aptly refers.
*Artisan breads (top) image from Village Bakery Cafe
*Stranger than Fiction image from No More Dramas (tumblr)
*Anadama bread image from Food Network
*Granary Cobb bread image by McCloskey’s Bakery
*Semolina bread image from Wild Yeast Blog
*Mixed flour image from Anula’s Kitchen
*Cornbread image from Apple Pie, Patis, & Pate
*Source of information: Bread