Do I Really Need Strong Flour?

homemade doughballs
What sort of flour makes the best bread?

There are dozens of types of flour on the market. and it's nice to try different varieties.

Not all of them will give great results though and it's important to understand what makes a particular flour good for bread.

When trying a new recipe, it's tempting to substitute whatever flour you have handy, instead of going out to buy a particular sort.

This article will help you to understand what type of flour is best for bread making and the reasons why, so you can make an informed decision about whether to use that old bag of flour from the cupboard or whether you really need to pop to the shop.

What Is Meant By 'Strong' Flour?

Bread recipes usually call for ‘strong’ flour. 

What this means, actually, is flour with a high protein content.  You can check how much protein is in the flour by reading the nutritional information on the packet.  Generally, the higher the protein content, the better the flour will be for bread baking.

That’s because bread needs to rise.  Other than the need for a raising agent (yeast, in most cases), the rising depends on the presence of gluten.

Gluten is a combination of two types of protein (prolamin and glutelin if you want to know).  When you mix your dough, these proteins absorb water and form strands.  The strands lengthen and stick together as the dough is kneaded, creating a sort of stretchy net.

As the yeast ferments, it releases carbon dioxide gas.  The bubbles of gas are trapped by the gluten strands, causing the dough to rise.

When the dough is baked, the trapped gases expand, initially, causing the gluten strands to stretch further (and the bread to rise more).

As the dough cooks, the gluten sets, (in the same way that egg-white sets when you cook it) becoming firm and chewy.  It is this that gives the bread its texture.

If a weak flour is used, there won’t be as much gluten to trap the gases and make the dough rise.  This can result in denser bread.

What Do You Recommend?

My basic bread recipes all use wheat flour. At the time of writing this, I have little experience of other types of flour. I have tried rye flour and found it to make a denser loaf, which is not to my taste (although others have said they prefer this, so please try it for yourself!)

I buy cheap, supermarket-own-brand flour. My current packet of plain flour says nothing about being 'strong'. It contains about 10% protein and is producing great bread. My wholemeal flour has 15.9% protein, which is obviously stronger but seems to rise less readily, due to the presence of the wheat husks.  I have even sometimes used my self-raising flour, which says it has about 8% protein, to make decent dough-balls, although it's not so great for a larger loaf.

More Know-How

This article is part of a series on Understanding the Keys To Success - to help you learn what's really essential and what, frankly, is not.

And, as ever, let me know if there's something else I can help you with.

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