Low Protein Flours Make Great Bread, It's All About the Flour

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Anne Parry owner of Felin Ganol watermill told me about this stoneground white flour she had, a single variety called Amaretto that was low in protein 10.5%.  This flour is being sold as an All Purpose flour but she thought it had a great flavour.  I couldn’t wait to try it.  I did and love it.  Before I write my post on Amaretto flour I wanted to talk about the importance of growing, milling and baking with low protein wheats.

There is a myth in the baking world that low protein flours don’t produce good bread.  In Britain we grow wheat varieties which happen to be low protein and in order for millers to sell this wheat they believe they’re faced with two choices; either add gluten to 100% homegrown wheat or mix-in higher protein wheat from countries such as Canada or Kazakhastan. (sometimes up to 50%)

Low protein flour for bread doesn’t frighten me.  Have I mention I bought a 25kg sack of 9% protein roller mill white flour from Shipton back in the summer?

I bought it because John Liste, the owner of Shipton mill said it was a flour they developed for a London French Bakery.  Oooh I thought…was keen to try it.  Other sacks of flour have come and gone but this 9% sack is still here.  It’s bland.  OK, I know white roller mill flour is bland but I couldn’t see the point of this one.  Shipton mill make a white roller mill flour I really like, which I would happy recommend to you with lovely crust flavour.  You see, the allowances for error, or more likely neglect with low protein doughs are narrower, and being such a neglectful baker I need a reason to stay attentive.  This flour didn’t deliver for me.

The two loaves above were made back in August from the Shipton white roller mill flours I mention.

The left loaf was made from the flour I would recommend, their organic no.4 at 12% protein.  If you’re making an all-white loaf this makes a great tasting crust, lovely light crumb.

On the right is the loaf made from the 9% protein flour I tried but was very disappointed with it.  Obviously as you can see it still makes a good looking loaf.

Above the Shipton 9% protein.

Below the Shipton organic No.4, 12% protein.

Why Low Protein Flours?

The point I’m trying to make with the 9% protein flour is how I or anyone else can make good bread with them.  They require a slight different approach in handling and paying a little more attention initially while getting to know it.

It’s really important for me to get this across.  Why?

Because we in this country seem to be obsessed with high protein flours, as if only they are good enough to produce bread.

Why should we change?

Because if we bakers can develop our skills to work with lower protein British flours it will mean the millers won’t have to add gluten or add foreign high gluten flour.

Ultimately this is what it’s about:

Wouldn’t our bread be more interesting if we grew wheat for flavour rather than for its performance in a bakery’s mixer?

Above, 10.5% stoneground white Amaretto from Felin Ganol watermill in Wales.  This flour at this protein level being stoneground is not seen ideal for bread making.  It took me 2 goes at it, the first I was testing it out, under-proved it to see how far I could push the dough. The second attempt proving it for longer I produced this loaf with exactly the crumb I was hoping for.

Below is the crumb, light how I wanted it, full of holes…no not the big ones!  Look closer there’s lots and lots of little and medium holes, indication of the lightness I was aiming for.  I will write in detail about it in the Amaretto post next.

Crisp Crust

A tip from my experience; lower protein flours produce fantastic crust…good if like me you like crust.  Yes there are other factors too in good crust but generally as I’ve gone down on the protein percentages of my flour my crusts have improved significantly.  I’ll get a chewier crust using say a strong Canadian bread flour I buy in Waitrose.

Think about baguettes and they’re all about crust, it’s normal to use a T55 for them which sits at 11% protein.

White Roller Mill &  White Stoneground Flour

There is a difference between a 9% protein roller mill flour and one such as the stoneground Amaretto 10.5%.  It will be easier handling the 9% roller mill because it will have some of that extensibility you would expect, what I call chewing-gum-like stretchiness.

The stoneground flour suffers from having some of whole wheatberry in the white flour, it will have bits of the germ and outer layer.  The stones crush the whole berry and then the sieving process removes large particles.  From my experience this produces what I’ve described before as short gluten strands.  You might remember I used this term when describing Roland’s stoneground ancient grain dough here.

On the plus side it’s what makes this flour more flavoursome and more nutritious than the lean roller milled flour.

It would be easier if I could get you to feel both types of dough than trying to describe it.  I would compare the feel of stoneground dough like that of Emmer or Khorasan doughs I made back in the summer.

Dough from the white stoneground Amaretto.

Importance of Feeling Dough

This is where feeling your dough all of the time comes in.  You should feel all doughs, not because it’s “magic” as I’ve heard said once, but because knowing how it feels you’re learning how to feel for differences, therefore adjusting your approach.

There’s differences with varieties of grains like common wheat, Emmer, spelt, rye but differences will also occur within those varieties.  This single variety of Amaretto wheat will have its own characteristic which may well feel different to a variety like Tybalt Spring.   There’s also other differences I don’t hear bakers talk about, the seasons.  The same wheat variety will change according to the growing condition and the weather pattern it’s had.

I’ve mention in my French posts with Roland how the change of climate and soil can have an effect in the resulting wheat, and millers in this country will say the same.  I’ve been told by John Liste, Michael Stoates or Anne Parry about weather differences.

The same grain grown by the same farmer can change because of the weather it has received while growing, the weather conditions around the days of its harvest and then the conditions of how it’s stored.

Relationship Between Miller & Baker

The variables of the wheat is why a miller has an important and difficult job the way I see it.  The miller wants to sell the flour  and therefore has to make it to a standard the baker will be happy using.  The miller becomes the alchemist, they pick and decide which wheat to buy, and which varieties to combine depending on the end use of the flour.  Most of the time bread flour will be a combination of wheat varieties.

My whole point of this post is about the relationship between Miller & Baker.

If we bakers, stopped being so hung up on chewing-gum-like flours and learnt the skills of dealing with all kinds of wheats, then the miller will have a larger window of choice of interesting varieties to mill for us.  What a richer baking world that would be.

We have learnt the skill of turning the most unpromising rye-weed into great breads, therefore we can turn what may appear unpromising low protein home grown wheat into a fantastic tasting loaf.  Help the millers pick wheat for flavour and this in turn will drive the farmers to grow more interesting varieties.

At one point during Dan Lepard’s workshop, Dan said something very compelling which was, we can look through history and see paintings of great bread being made, this bread would’ve been made with the local grown wheat, there’s nothing stopping us from doing this now.

In these photos I’m trying to convey across the short gluten strands of the stoneground Amaretto, as soon as you pull it apart it breaks.

The White Stoneground Challenge

If you’ve followed my baking journey you will know how much I love white roller mill flour but I said I was going to tackle white stoneground, and to add to the challenge I’m using a low protein one, this Amaretto variety. In my next post I will write in detail of my experience.

Seek Out Interesting Flours Not Formulas

I’ve noticed amongst some bakers the constant search for formulas of particular breads perhaps with a fancy name.  So what.  The flour you’re using will be different to that of the original baker.  You’re not going to get the same result, same taste.  I’m not saying don’t follow a recipe, I do, I have bread books and I’ll follow a recipe.  That’s not what I mean.

I want to read enthusiastic bakers writing about a particular flour and why they liked it or didn’t like it.  What adjustments they’ve made and the difference it had in the resulting crumb.  Find your flour, work with it, making your own formulas for it.

Please don’t think I’m having a go at people who want to bake a loaf for their family.  I’m really appealing to those who see themselves as serious bakers.  I’m appealing to serious baker, enthusiastic baker, semi-professional baker, professional baker…choose to obsess about the flour.

As Jean-Philippe said to me in Paris back in June, “It’s the flour, Azélia”.  I listened.

Be Demanding of Your Miller

If we at the consumer end show a demand for interesting flours this will eventually feedback into the chain of miller and farmer.  I’m not saying it has to be stoneground, I still bake and eat roller mill flour.  I’m saying find your flours, seek millers or sellers and ask them the questions.

Ask where is the wheat from?  What variety?  What harvest even…just ask.  Having the dialog is the start of a good relationship between you and the supplier and if the supplier doesn’t know and is not prepared to find out change to another.

All mills I’ve bought flour from will email if asked details of the flour, the flour specification, listing things like protein, moisture and whether it has added gluten or enzyme, what calories, starch etc.  I haven’t seen one that says where the wheat is from or what variety it is.  Ask them.

A good miller will want the relationship.  A good miller will know where the wheat is from and what variety it is.  I think most of us complain how everything has become universal and the consequences are blandness and monotony.  It’s happen to the wine industry and the baking world is no different.

We, as bakers do have a choice and maybe there will be a time when Anne Parry’s dream will come true, when bakers talk of flour in the same terms as wine, “Do you remember that Tybalt Spring flour of 2011? That was a good year wasn’t it?”