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The Quality of Flour

The quality of flour, and discussions thereof involve numerous physical and chemical variables and indshe technical aspects of a wide variety of flours have been have been

covered in numerous texts and scientific papers. The more practical aspects of flour, vis-a-vis whether or not this or that flour makes a better loaf of bread are more subjective and will be discussed in another part of this treatise. The breadmaking potential of wheat is largely derived from the quantity and quality of its protein content. Genetic and environment each play important roles in determining protein quality. Protein quantity is influenced mainly by environmental factors, while the quality of the protein is genetically determined. In wheat varieties that are grown under comparable environmental conditions, a high quality wheat will produce good bread over a fairly broad range of protein levels, but a poor quality wheat will generally result in low quality bread even if the protein content is higher. For more on this topic the reader is referred to Pyler (3). In "Baking Science & Technology" Pyler also states that:

"Wheat is unique among cereals in that its milled product, flour, alone is capable of forming a dough that will retain the gas evolved during fermentation and, on baking, will yield a light, well aerated loaf of bread. This unique characteristic of wheat is derived from its proteins which, on combining with water during the mixing process, result in gluten, the actual substance that imparts the property of gas retention to dough. Because of the preeminent position that the wheat proteins occupy in baking, it is not surprising that a great deal of research has been expended on them, and it is indicative of the complexity of protein material in general that many basic questions still remain unanswered…"

The proteins in flour can be divided into two groups based upon their solubility in water. As indicated earlier, when the insoluble proteins in the flour are combined with water during the mixing process, gluten is formed. A number of noted sources describe gluten as a cohesive substance, somewhat rubbery and elastic, gray in color, with an insipid taste. Gluten is comprised of two insoluble proteins, glutenin (which is stable, and gives it its strength), and gliadin (which is soft and sticky, and gives it its elasticity). Italian law allows values of dry gluten that range from 7% in type 00 flour, to 10% in type 1, 2, and whole wheat flour. Strong flours, i.e. those with high protein content, have upwards of 13-14% dry gluten. Dry Gluten is the product of "washing" a specific amount of dough under gently running water while catching the dough pieces in a cheesecloth. A dough thus washed and prepared from 50 gr. of patent flour, 30 ml of water and 1 gr. of salt will yield about 15 grams of a cohesive, sticky and gummy substance or dough. The remaining dough consists of a moist sticky albumen (protein) which is insoluble inwater. This dough can be stretched without breaking and contracts when released. Weighing this dough, and then drying it in an oven at low temperature, results in what is termed "dry gluten". The difference in weight between the wet and dry gluten equals the absorption capacity of the gluten producing albumen. This is about one third of the weight of the original (pre-drying) dough. Of importance is the fact that the weight of the dry gluten made from 100 grams of flour equals the percentage of gluten producing albumen (protein) in the flour. Albumin is a gluten forming protein in wheat flour. In a given batch of flour about 12% of the albumen is gluten forming protein and approximately 1% is water soluble albumen. More details on this subject can be found in "Baking, The Art and Science", (6).

To continue from Baking Science & Technology (3):

"Bakers often use the terms protein and gluten interchangeably. Yet, these terms do not denote the same thing. Protein comprises all the nitrogenous substances present in flour and other food materials and is estimated by the Kjeldahl and other methods that are specific for nitrogen. Gluten, on the other hand, represents the end product obtained when a small piece of dough is worked and washed in water ....

....

The

concepts of flour quality and flour strength are difficult to define concisely. This is

largely because flour quality is expressed by a variety of chemical and physical properties of dough, none of which serves as an adequate index by itself, or is independent of other

variables. Thus, different physical and chemical testing methods, different baking test procedures, and different dough processing treatments, when applied to the same flour, will yield results that may lead to widely divergent conclusions as to the flour's quality. Moreover, the end use to which a flour is to be put enters importantly into any evaluation of its quality. The marked distinction between a soft wheat cake flour, and a hard wheat bread flour is clearly recognized by most bakers. On the other hand, a baker may be less certain in distinguishing between the specifications of flour intended for the production of white pan bread as against hearth breads. This difficulty accounts for the frequently observed fact that flours purchased by bakers for specific purposes, such as bread, pastry, cracker, or biscuit production, show wide quality variations within each group…"

In addition to the physical and chemical data briefly described above, bakers need to be aware of other criteria by which to judge their flours. The information provided below has been excerpted from "Special and Decorative Breads" (2) with additional technical information adapted from the Molino Sima (8) recipe booklet, "Il Manuale del Panificatore" (5), and "Baking Science & Technology" (3).

We cannot state too strongly that providing these data regarding the chemical and physical composition of flour to commercial bakers is standard procedure in Europe and, as far as we are aware, in Canada, but not so in the US. This must be changed if the artisan bread effort in the USA is to continue to move forward.

Criteria for Judging Quality

Flour Color

A very simple way to determine color differences in different batches of flour is to look at the

color of different types of flour under a sheet of glass. This can be done with more than one flour at a time. This method not only facilitates a comparison of the whiteness of different "

flours but allows for an inspection for impurities. The flour should have a

perfectly regular

... consistency and not contain any specks" (2). This obviously does not pertain to mixed grain or

to other than white flours.

Texture and Feel

The texture and size of the grains play an important role in kneading and also determine the speed at which the dough rises(3). In general, bread flour is slightly coarse and falls apart when pressed into a lump. Pastry flour is smooth and fine and can be squeezed into a lump. Cake flour is smooth and fine, can be squeezed into a lump, and stays in a lump more solidly when pressed.

Expansion and Extensibility

Several factors determine the rising ability and elasticity of a particular flour. In France, Italy and the US the Chopin Alveograph, or Extensopraph is used to determine the relationship between the elasticity of the dough and rising power. An example of an Alveograph reading on a number of dough samples is presented below.

Putting a sample of dough to the Alveograph test allows one to measures the resistance of the dough to expansion and the extensibility of a thin sheet of the dough. "P" expresses the resistance of the dough to deformation, and is related to the dough's tensile strength and stability (2). It is measured in millimeters (mm) and then multiplied by the factor 1.1. Flours with a high "P" value tend to have a high gluten content and absorb a relatively large quantity of water. The letter "L" measures the distance , in millimeters, from the start of the curve to the point where the dough bubble ruptures under the conditions of this test. "L" represents the extensibility of the dough or its ability to rise.

Measuring the area under the curve and then multiplying it by another factor (6.54) affords the value of "W". "W" is proportional to the baking strength of the dough. Values of "W" range from 45 for very soft flours to 400 for very strong, hard red wheat flours. The relationship between "P" and "L" expressed as a ratio serves as an index of gluten behavior. High values of "P" and "W" indicate a strong flour.

The following information (Table IX) is adapted from the Molina SIMA (8) recipe booklet, and represent the range of values for "W" as applied to Italian wheat flour and breads.

Table IX

W

Comments

<120

Poor quality flours, unusable for bread making

120

-

160

Weak flours, appropriate for the production of Biscotti

160

-

Medium or average strength flours, used for soft doughs (paste molli) in the production of

250

Pugliese, ciabatta, Francese, pane piuma, etc., for firm doughs (paste dure) in the production of pane ferrarese , and also for the refreshment of natural yeast (lievito

 

naturale).

250

-

Flours of strength obtained from high quality national wheat and strong wheat of national

310

or foreign origin, used in the production of maggiolino, baguette, rosetta, soffiato, & biove.

310

Flours extracted from strong wheat, used primarily for doughs with a long fermentation,

 

-

320

indirect method doughs employing a biga or lieviti (natural yeasts) with long rises, or for sweet raised doughs such as pandoro, panettone, veneziane, etc.

Capello (5), providing another view, states that if the formula or recipe calls for a long rise (indirect method, biga), a flour able to tolerate long rises and more work time (i.e. "W" of about 260-300) should be utilized. By comparison, if the formula calls for a shorter rise (direct method) it is appropriate to use a flour with a lower "W" lower (i.e. "W" of about 200-230 or lower). otherwise, the use of a stronger flour may damage the resulting product.

The following information is also adapted from the Molina SIMA (8) recipe booklet, and describes the "P/L" ratio which serves as an index to the behavior of the gluten.

The P/L expresses the relationship between the tenacity and extensibility of the dough, connoting a value of equilibrium or unbalance between these two factors. The equilibrium is expressed (according to the type of production and technique employed) between 0.40 and 0.70. These values indicate that, in relationship to the "W", a baker will be able to produce a bread with maximum volume and a well proportioned inside structure. While this may sound esoteric, it is not.

When The Artisan receives recipes from baker colleagues in Italy, the "W" value of the flour used is also provided. Since we do not have equivalent information about American flours, we test bake until the process produces a bread similar to that described in the recipe. Our task would be much easier if we had access to the "W" values of our American flour. An example of an Italian recipe using the "W" values in the recipe (formula) may be seen in the recipe for a Croccantina (Ciabatta) provided by our colleague Sergio Agosti of Il Fornaio in Salo, Italy.

Higher P/L values indicate flours that are more difficult to work and that result in a bread less developed with a compact crumb. Lower P/L values indicate flours that will be weak, too extensible, and difficult to work because they are often sticky. The bread which results will be flattened because the dough has not succeeded in holding back the developing gases. The indices most often used for appraising the plastic qualities of the flour are the "W" and the "P/L".

The "W" is utilized in conjunction with information obtained from the data afforded by measuring mixing resistance of dough on an instrument called a Brabender Farinograph and results in a Farinogram. The information presented below, including the Farinogram (Chart 2), is from Pyler (3) The Farinograph uses the resistance of the dough against the kneading arm during the mixing process as its means of measurement. The purpose of this test is to determine the amount of water the dough can absorb as this indicates the dough's firmness and dough yield. Additionally the Farinograph determines the degree of softening of the dough when mixed for too long. This provides information about the doughs stability. Specifically, Farinograph tests determine the following:

Water absorption is indicated as the amount of water needed to develop a standard dough of 500 Brabender Units (BU) at the peak of the curve. In the case shown on the graph Absorption is 60.7% The absorption rate is the quantity of water, expressed in percentage, that is required to give a sample of dough a fixed consistency.

 

The Peak Time is the time needed for the curve to reach the peak or maximum dough consistency, and indicates the relative strength of the flour.

The Arrival Time is the time required for the top of curve to first intersect the 500 BU consistency line.

 

The Departure Time is the time required for the tip of the curve to drop below the 500 BU.

The Mixing Tolerance Index (MTI) is represented by the difference between the Peak Time and the Departure Time, and is a measurement used to indicate the mixing requirements of the flour. Stability Time -- the horizontal line directly under the Peak Time -- is 11.0 minutes in this sample, and represents the interval between the Arrival and Departure Times (see abive definitions). It is often referred to as the tolerance of the flour to "over" or "under' mixing. Chart 2 below includes Stability times.

Chart 2

.
.

The Stability of the dough is the interval of time that it remains at maximum

consistency, and is very important relative to the type of fermentation and mechanical stress to which a dough can be subjected. The Stability Time (S) or mixing tolerance is an important index of flour quality.

All dough eventually break down on sustained mixing. Excellent quality flour breaks down at between 0 and 30 Brabender Units and has a Stability Time, expressed as "S" of greater than 10 minutes. Poor quality flours breakdown between 70 and 130 BU's and have a Stability time of not less than 3 minutes. It has been noted (8) that a strong flour with a "W" > 250 and an "S" > 10 will tolerate long processes of varying times, while a weak flour will not. Table X compares Brabender Units and stability factors for a variety of flour qualities (9).

Table X

Excellent Quality

Breakdown of dough between 0 and 30 BU: S>10 minutes

Good quality

Breakdown of dough between 30 and 50 BU: S not less than 7 minutes

Fair quality

Breakdown of dough between 50 and 70 BU: S>not less than 5 minutes

Poor quality

Breakdown of dough between 70 and 130 BU: S>not less than 3 minutes

Inferior quality

Breakdown higher than 130 BU

All of these data are used at the mills to determine the quality of the flours produced. We have discovered only one mill which provides these data. That is Cooks Natural Products. Log onto their Internet site and see how they present their wheat and flour information. It includes, Alveograph and Farinograph data, the Falling Number, Ash content and a lot more!

Fermenting Ability and Enzyme Content

The quantity of enzymes (amylases) contained in flour determines the rate at which starch is converted to sugar and thus rendered accessible to the yeasts. Alpha-amylase is the specific enzyme measured in this test relative to its ability to liquify starch. Too high an amylase content results in high fermentation sugar values in the dough, whereas too low an amylase content results in a dough with little gassing power(2). The alpha amylase activity and its relationships to the bread baking process are measured by "The Falling Number". Another amylase, Beta-amylase is also involved in the breakdown of starch into sugars, especially maltose. Readers interested in an exhausive discussion of enzymes and baking are referred to both volumes of Pyler (3)

The Falling Number (or Hagberg Index) is indicative of the amylase (specifically alpha- amylase) activity and the fermentation process taking place in a wheat flour dough. It is based on the rapid gelatinization of flour suspended in water and measures the degradation of starch made available from alpha-amylase activity in rising temperature conditions similar to those of bread making.

The following Falling Number values are inversely proportional to the amylase activity. The information provided below (Table XI) is meant as a guide. Contact your flour mill to ascertain specific numbers for the flour you use.

Table XI

Falling

Number

Comments

6- 150

Elevated amylase activity. This flour is derived from germinated grain, and its use results in a bread crumb that remains sticky and under baked. It is nearly unusable unless it is adequately mixed with other flour with a higher Falling Number.

150 - 220

Superior amylase activity to that which is normal. This flour requires a correction by

 

being blended with flours of a higher Falling Number or using particular bread making methods during production.

220 - 280

Normal amylase activity.

>280 - 300

Weak amylase activity. The use of this flour results in bread that is not well developed, with low volume and too dry a crumb. It requires the addition of diastatic malt.

Moisture Content

If the moisture content of a flour is elevated, the flour will have a shorter shelf life and lower yield. A guide to water content and flour relative to storability is as follows: A water content greater than 16% cannot be stored. A water content of about 15% has limited storage potential. A water content of less than 15% indicates good storage potential (6).

Absorption Ability

Absorption measures the amount of water that can be absorbed by a given quantity of flour. In bread making, it is usually preferable to have flour that can absorb a large amount of water. Measurements of absorption are done to determine the amount of water the dough can absorb, which in turn indicates dough yield and shelf life. Optimum absorption represents the maximum amount of water, as a percent of the flour weight, that will produce a high yield of bread during the baking process (1). Other tests exist which measure a flour's ability to absorb water, but we shall not discuss them here. They are beyond the scope of this presentation, but may be found by examining the references provided.

The Maltose Number relates directly to the gassing power of the flour. Stronger flours have higher gassing power.

A graphic display of some of the information presented above is contained in Table XII below, which was excerpted from Baking, The Art and Science (6).

Table XII

 

Weak flour for biscuits,sponge cakes and tart doughs

Standard-type flour for white bread, wheat/rye bread and rolls

Strong or high protein flour for white bread, French bread and soft rolls.

RMT-

 

Volume

400 - 670

620 - 730

710 - 760

Yield

 

Protein

 

Content

8

- 11.75

11.2 - 13.5

12.7 - 14

Maltose

 

Number

1

- 2

2 - 3

2 - 3.5

Fall

 

Number

200

-

300

Note: The Volume Yield is done by the RMT = Rapid Mix Test, a Standard Baking test for bread

Summary

As presented above, scientific evaluation of essential factors relative to the quality of flour can be, and usually is made, by laboratory analyses. As a rule, both commercial and serious home bakers in the US are given minimal technical information regarding the majority of the

wheat flours that are available for use. More often than not, they are provided the type flour, i.e. patent, high-gluten, all-purpose, bleached or unbleached, pastry, etc., whether or not the flour is made up of hard or soft wheat, or a blend, and a per cent protein content. Other information, such as the results from laboratory analyses, is not readily obtainable. In fact, many bakers are not aware that the information derived from the various tests and analyses described here are available in the laboratories of the commercial millers. We have not ascertained why these results are not generally available, nor why bakers have not demanded why they are not made available.

By contrast, Italian commercial bakers have a greater variety of flours and more technical information about these flours available to them. For instance, a list of the flours available from Molino SIMA di Argenta includes 20 types of flours and their technical and analytic data. These data include the "W", "P/L" and percent dry gluten [gluten producing albumen(protein)] and are provided with a description of each flour and its suggested use.

American flour companies provide only sparse information about the flours they sell. The following discussion is excepted from a text by Corriher (10) regarding current domestic flour product labeling practice in the US:

"The amount of protein in a particular flour is an indicator of bread-baking quality for plain white flour alone because rye flour, oat flour, and rice flour contain proteins unconnected with gluten, as does whole wheat flour with the proteins in the wheat germ. That means reading the label on these flours relative to their protein content will not reveal much about the bread they will make."

Unfortunately, new US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations have made labels less informative even for white flour. The protein content stated on the label of a bag of flour is subject to a round-off rule, so flour labeled as having 9 grams of protein per serving actually can have from 8.50 to 9.49 grams. Under the old regulations (before May 1994), the serving size was 1 cup, and the protein content on the label effectively showed what the best use of a flour was. Thus, a flour labeled as 9 grams (protein) was indeed a low-protein flour, ideal for pie crusts and quick breads whereas a flour labeled as 14 grams protein (13.50 to 14.49 grams per cup) was a high-protein flour, excellent for yeast breads.

Under the new regulations, however, the serving size is 1/4 cup or about 30 grams. With rounding, any flour containing 2.50 to 3.49 grams of protein per 1/4 cup can be labeled as containing 3 grams of protein. This means both moderately low-protein Southern flour (about 9 grams per cup) and high-protein unbleached flour (about 14 grams per cup) can be labeled as 3 grams per 1/4 cup. In fact, most flour on the market now says 3 grams of protein, telling you almost nothing about the protein content so important to baking and to cooking.

You can call the flour company and ask the exact protein content, but in the experience of

The Artisan staff what you are told by a consumer representative is not always reliable.

We have provided the following table (Table XIII) from Corriher as a general guide. This provides approximate values for protein in both grams per cup and percentages. The measure of flour strength that is used professionally is percentage protein, and this same parameter is important to home bakers.

Summary As presented above, scientific evaluation of essential factors relative to the quality of flour can

In Conclusion

One of the things we have tried not to do on The Artisan is to try and convince visitors that there is a single method by which Italian style bread should be made. We have spent more years than we like to remember unlearning techniques that were presented as authentic and irrefutable in texts published in this country, and we try not to repeat that experience. To a certain extent, we have an advantage when attempting to reproduce Italian regional breads, because we have experienced these breads ourselves during numerous visits to Italy. We know how breads were made, and tasted, nearly 30 years ago, and how they are made, and taste, today. We have eaten the breads of artisan bakers, and those of a more industrial persuasion. We know the look and taste of regional breads and we know when a recipe or a bread falls short of the original. This knowledge is a benchmark for everything that we do.

Because so many of the texts, magazines, and catalog product literature prominent today "think" for us, we have shied away from thinking for you, our visitors. We have and will continue to present as many basic formulas (recipes), techniques, and variations as are available to us. It is our desire that you, the baker, decide for yourself which breads you prefer to bake time and again. That being said, we will now present our own personal preferences in respect to flour suitable for making Italian style bread.

We do not prefer organic, unbleached, high protein, or all purpose flour over other flour. We have not found that bread made with organic unbleached flour is necessarily superior any other. This surprised us, because we often read that organic grains and methods produce a tastier, higher-quality flour. It may be that organic flour production is still in its infancy, and as it develops so will its performance and consistency. We do prefer organic flour in recipes which call for whole wheat flour.

We have tried conventional flours categorized as both high-protein and high-gluten. Although high-protein flour, commonly referred to as bread flour, works well for the style of bread produced in the US, we have not found it to work well for European, and in this instance, Italian style breads. Prof. Raymond Calvel of France is quoted on this topic in Volume 1, Number 4, of The Bread Bakers Guild of America Newsletter, published in July of 1993.

"It is a common belief that high gluten, spring wheat is the best choice for hearth baked breads. But Professor Calvel questions that belief, pointing out that, although spring wheat

does have a high quantity of gluten, it does not have the quality of gluten needed for the long- fermentation, non-machined, hearth baked breads made by most Guild members. Instead, he feels the gluten in hard winter wheat provides the best possible combinations of performance

characteristics

"

...

It is on this last point that we differ from Prof. Calvel regarding Italian style bread. We have tried a variety of unbleached all-purpose flours, milled from 100% hard red winter wheat, and have not found these flours preferable, especially as these wheats relate to the texture and taste of the resulting bread.

Our preferred flour is an unbleached all-purpose flour, ranging in protein content from 9.8 - 11%. This unbleached, all-purpose flour is a blend of hard red wnter wheat flour and soft winter wheat flour. This flour has proven to be the most dependable relative to performance characteristics and consistency. It is our flour of choice when making Italian style bread

We have seen it suggested, in more than one instance, that either pastry or cake flour can be blended with unbleached all-purpose flour to approximate Italian flour. We have also seen it suggested that high-protein flour be utilized in starters, especially for breads with long fermentation. While we know the blending of a variety of flours and the use of more than one type of flour can be effective in a commercial setting, we have not found it to be the case when working with those flours available to the serious home baker.

In our opinion, the best way in which to judge flour quality is to experiment with a number of flours and determine which produces the most favorable results. We also recommend that time be spent becoming acquainted with the concepts we have presented. They are not terribly exciting in that they do not tempt one's sense of smell as a freshly baked loaf of bread might, but the end result of knowing the "W's", "P's" and "L's" of your flour may well be a better loaf of bread.

Bibliography

 

Quaglia, G.B. Manuale del Panificatore, an edition from the publishers of Panificatione & Pasticerria. Bilheux, Roland, Alain Escoffier, Daniel Herve, and Jean-Marie Pouradier, Special and Decorative Breads, Vol 1, New York:Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1989.

Pyler, Ernst J. Baking Science & Technology, Third Edition. Kansas City: Sosland Publishing Co., 1988.

Quaglia, G.B. Scienza e Technologia della Panificazione, Pinerolo Chiriotti, 1984, Italia.

Capello, Roberto. Il Manuale del Panificatore, Bergamo: Editrice San Marco s.r.l.,

 

1993.

 

Schunemann, Claus and Gunter Treu. Baking, The Art and Science. Calgary:Baker Tech Inc., 1986.

 

Boriani, Guido, Fabrizio Ostani. Il pane, Milan: Ottaviano, 1986.

Molino SIMA, Ricettario , a recipe booklet published by Sima di Argenta. This booklet indicates that it used Quaglia, G.B., Scienza e Technologia della Panificazione, Pinerolo: Chiriotti, 1984, and Manuale del Panificatore (1) as its major sources of reference.

 

Giorilli, Piergiorgio and Laura, Simona, Il Pane, Un Arte, Una Technologia. Milano:

 

Franco Lucisano Editore, 1996.

 

Corriher, Shirley. CookWise, The Hows & Whys of Successful Cooking, New York:

 

William Morrow and Company, lnc., 1997.

Cantore, Claudio, a series of Personal Communications during 1996-1998 . Claudio's Specialty Breads, Castroville, CA.

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