I've been on a baking spree lately - determined to bake the perfect loaf. It seemed no matter how many recipes I followed however, or the myriad of techniques, I always ended up with woeful results. Oh sure, it looked like bread, but it tasted like heavy and dense yeast!
Don't believe me? Compare the results for yourselves!! Below is a loaf I made yesterday (right) and a loaf I made today (left).
What did I do differently? Unbleached flour. It actually allows the yeast to do it's job properly, which is lift the dough to twice it's size. Normal flour (although not marked "bleached" in the list of ingredients) will counteract the yeast, and defy the biological reaction required for making bread. That's what bleaching does to flour. It kills off the vital living components needed.
Did you know that unless labelled "unbleached", chances are, the flour listed on the packets ingredients, has been bleached.
Not very good if you're attempting to bake bread as good as the local bakery. But isn't a freshly baked loaf of bread, a thing of beauty when done right?
Figuring out exactly how to get the perfect loaf, can be a bit of a mystery though. I have to let you in on a little secret however. I used to be a bakery assistant many years ago. Surprising? Well, you have to do something for a crust! (*wink-wink*) Seriously though, we used something called "bakers flour" in the bakery, and I always wondered what was so different about it. Something magical must have been in there, because I could never bake things as nice at home, as I could in the bakery.
Being a bakery assistant and not a trade-qualified (TQ) baker however, I didn't understand much of what I was doing. It all just came in bags and I put it together the way the TQ bakers told me to. It all seemed to work exactly how they said it would too. So why-o-why couldn't I get the same results at home?
I'll tell you why. Plain flour. It's actually labelled a flour, but I doubt very little of the whole food required to be classed as one, is present. That's really why two distinct types of flour have emerged. Labelled either, "bakers flour" or, "plain flour". I'm sure you've seen both on your supermarket shelves. Baker's flour is meant to have magical voodoo powers that turn average kitchen cooks into budding professional bakers. Plain flour is for people on a budget. Who would actually know the difference of what goes into them however?
Isn't flour just flour? Well, in our dumbed down, in the name of profit, society, flour is the sole ownership of the flour producing companies. They can put whatever they want in it, and you as the consumer, pay more or less for the kinds of results you want in your kitchen. If you want great bread, pay for the "bakers flour" with the picture of a golden loaf on the front. If you want great pancakes, pay for the "pancake mix" in the convenient plastic pouring bottle.
Have you smelled flour that is alive when you cook with it? It's a thing of beauty. All living things are. But if you've never used whole foods before, you will always fall short of the mark. Bakers flour is just code for real ground wheat that will work as a living product should. And bread is a living product.
I guess I've had the luxury of working in a bakery however, and that really gave me the input to not just make bread, but also feel the tactile pleasure of yeast and flour, wofting smells and finally the satisfaction of a customer as they approached the counter - wanting the freshest loaf you could put in a bag, that didn't burn straight through it.
I felt that same sensation this morning, when both my daughter and I marvelled at a magical golden loaf that somehow came out of our oven. There was nothing magical about it's creation however, we've known for centuries how to make bread - but our flour has gone into the hands of professional marketers who want to provide a value added "packet of solutions", that really just comes from less processed foods.
Yet they still sell us the powdery artificial residue (ie: plain flour) at a cheaper price. I wonder why? Make of it what you will. ;)
My advice, next time you're looking for a mid-range but not heavily processed flour option for bread making purposes - look to the very bottom shelves, where you'll see bulk flour often labelled, "unbleached".
I recently purchased 5kg of unbleached bakers flour for $10 (AUD) which works out to about $2 per kilogram. The best flour to use is the stuff you grind yourself, but I think that takes a particular dedication not all of us can adopt. Pricing of grain mills being one major hurtle.
But "I" don't want to kid you either...there's a lot of practice involved in making a good loaf of bread too. Patience is a vital ingredient, and it's free - but you need plenty of it if you are to get anywhere making bread. Just don't necessarily fall for the marketing of "bakers flour", when it's basically just less processed flour with fewer chemical additives. Organic doesn't necessarily mean unbleached either. Make sure it says organic AND unbleached.
The list of ingredients I had on my bulk purchase of flour recently, was unbleached wheaten flour and thiamine. While it sounds so simple, the results speak for themselves.
Makes you wonder why they sell the other stuff? Being cheaper doesn't necessarily mean it works, or even that it can be classed as a proper food group. Now that I've gotten reaquainted with my unbleached bakers flour however, I can see me using it for practically everying. I may even start getting lighter pancakes again!
Can't you just smell it now...?