Why it's important to know your bread flour

If I have a wish with my Sourdough book it would be to get the message across on the importance of flour.  Not in the way bakers think normally, ie T55 T65, ash content, protein, organic, not organic, French, Canadian, Italian etc, these are all good things to know but my intent is to explain why far more information is needed, I would hope this in turn would encourage enough bakers to ask the following questions from their millers, roller mills and stoneground mills:

– varieties of grains

-where the varieties where grown

-what year (conditions) was the grain harvested in

-was the grain aged before milling

-what date was the flour milled

It would be great if this information was routine.

 

The Loaf

This loaf is made with roller mill flour, a flour that I know like the back of my hand.  I know when it’s still green, I don’t have to ask for the milling date because it will tell me on first folding that it is a green flour.  I know it especially well with my sourdough, sourdough dough is unforgiving in certain respects.  How this dough was proving, the shape it was creating, its general demeanour said to me it was a recent milled flour, and not to expect a great rise from it.

 

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The resulting loaf with its unexpected ballooned shape, the uncharacteristic huge surge in the oven said to me that this flour has had help, more help than usual, a higher percentage of foreign strong flour or added gluten.  This flour is a mix of homegrown varieties and foreign imported grain.  It may be that this particular batch has had more of the foreign grain added than previous batches, or that this batch has had added gluten, whichever it is, it does not matter to me.  What does matter to me is that this amazingly high rising sourdough for a recently milled flour has performed its dizzying heights without any skill from me.

This is my point with this loaf, it required no skill on my part, when a flour has been blended/mixed/manipulated by the miller like this it will pop-up in the oven on cue.

The dough was slack as I expected, the last rising was sideways as I expected with green flour, but the rise in the oven did not match the dough.  A high gluten flour or a flour that has had gluten added to it, will have this unexpected huge oven spring in the first half of baking, it will pop-upwards with the sides lifting from the floor, producing a particularly rounded loaf, more rounded ballooned shape than with lower protein flours.  Sometimes the bottom of the loaf will be curved.

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Why building up knowledge of varieties, place and age of flour matter

The experience I have gained from experimenting with the same variety grown in the same place over a period of 3 years, the knowledge I have had of the age of that grain and the age of the subsequent flour were all invaluable in my ability to handle dough, these varying factors taught me what to expect and therefore change the treatment of the dough accordingly.

Bakers talk of the artistry of making a loaf, that there are things which knowledge in the science will not help you, that only feeling the dough, letting the dough talk back through your hands is the only way to learn, to gain experience.  I agree.  Feeling what the flour is telling my hands is a befitting stance to take – but why not do this with my eyes open?  With all knowledge of the flour in front of me?  The knowledge we receive now on flour I would equate to standing in a field painting that landscape blindfolded.  If we are able to gather good information on the flour and how it handles we will be able to picture better the course of action to take with the dough.