The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Strong flours absorbence

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nicodvb's picture
nicodvb

Strong flours absorbence

The thread about 00 flour finaly woke up a doubt that I've been willing to ask you about for a long time.

In italy strong and high kluten flours are obtained milling north american and australian wheats, blended most of the times with german and austrian flours (supposedly because they have a high tenacity that english speaking wheats :-) lack). Ash content is always 0.55-0.65% max, never more.

The fact is that those flours generally absorb less flour that one would expect judging from the spec sheet and the from the protein content (ranging from 14 to 18% on a 15.5 max moisture rate). Those flours are really strong, but in order to develop all the gluten they can they have to be kneaded for ages. Kneading by hand (for example refreshing my firm starter) I have to use 50% hydratation or less to get a firm dough, while I assumed that those flours could drink at least 60% water.

Do your flours behave the same? I have the feeling that they are very different from the flours I use. If so, do you have an idea of the reason for the huge difference in absorbence? 

  Nico

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

those of the North American and Australian flours before blending with the European flours, or of the blended flour?  My experience in the U.S. with flours whose protein content is above 14% is that they do want a lot of water to make a soft dough.  At or near 50% hydration, the doughs are extremely stiff.  While they can be kneaded by hand, it is a strenuous workout for the baker.  The dough is very elastic and has very little extensibility.

What you describe is more nearly what I would expect of the blended flour, if it has a protein level closer to 10%.

Paul

nicodvb's picture
nicodvb

Paul, I'm referring to the final product, so to the blended flour.

Yesterday night I asked the same question to a flour technician now retired. He told me that nowadays manitoba wheat is almost never used for cost reasons and that most of the times millers use just strong austrian and german wheat tout-court. Moreover, since profit margins are extremely low, they embed as much water as legally possible (15.5%), especially by winter.

In short my conclusion is that we are being cheated! This is italy.

ananda's picture
ananda

Indeed you are being cheated Nico,

With moisture content at this level, the shelf life of the flour is seriously compromised too!

Very best wishes

Andy

nicodvb's picture
nicodvb

Andy, I had to adapt to this sad state of affairs and take countermeasures: store flour in the basement in double bags (paper inside and plastic outside) and use old flours. In few months time those flours dry and -fortunately- don't grow worms, insects nor anything bad. Of course I sift them a couple of times before using them. They drink A LOT, in my opinion they drink much more water than they lost (atm 70% water by hand).

  Nico

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

fill weight is written on the bag.

I thought whole grain is brought up to around 14% moisture to mill.

rjerden's picture
rjerden

I suspect there are several factors that affect absorption in addition to the flour strength. Certainly milling has to be one of those. Italian 00 flour typically has an extraction rate of 50% or less, what is called Fancy Patent in the USA, so it is the softest part of the wheat grain, whether the wheat is hard wheat (manitoba) or soft wheat, hence it would absorb less than higher extraction wheats in any case. In addition, Italian mills use a gentle slow milling process, which causes less starch damage than the high speed milling process used in the USA. It also means that the H20 will be absorbed more slowly, and bread dough will also rise more slowly, a good thing for European style breads.

nicodvb's picture
nicodvb

For sure my flours absorb water *very* slowly. Many times I'm forced to retard them exactly for that reason, to permit them to absorb all the (much) water  I use.

Are you saying that american flours have a higher percentage of rye damage? But still, this should not affect elasticity, if I'm not mistaken. My flours surely don't show that tenacity that Paul mentioned.

(Mini, wth do Austrian give to wheat to make austrian flours so tenacious?)

rjerden's picture
rjerden

Nico, I was referring to starch (amido) damage, not rye damage. In any case, my suggestion, when using strong flours, is to change your method. Instead of adding more fresh flour (rinfresco) to your preferment (biga), try the folllowing suggestions:

1. Use all your flour in the preferment. Adding fresh flour re-strenghens the dough and makes it more elastic and you want an extensible dough, so don't add more flour to the mix after the first fermentation. This is an old Italian technique, but it was done to re-strenghen the dough made with the weak Italian flour. It's not necessary with strong flours.

2. Lengthen the time of your preferment several hours. Stronger doughs can take a longer preferment without becoming too slack.

3. Increase the hydration of your final dough if necessary. It might not be necessary if you don't add fresh flour.  You'll have to test.

4. Add some diastatic malt powder (malto di orzo) - about 1% - to the final mix. The enzymatic action of the malt powder will weaken the dough and make it more extensible. The maltose in the malt will also improve the Maillard effect and give a deeper color to the crust. If you don't have any malt, use a bit of sugar.

nicodvb's picture
nicodvb

Rjerden I wrote "rye damage", but I meant "starch damage". I was already half asleep:)

Those techniques (especially 1, but also 2) are very interesting. Recently I found a recipe for a panettone that uses it. Panettone is similar because 80% of the flour is in the first dough and 20% in the second dough, but 100%-0% is something that really fascinates me.

Now that I think of it I used it once, to make a bread. It came out wonderfully light and tasty, really an old-times bread.

I'll try. Thanks

PeterS's picture
PeterS

Having a large percentage of the flour in the first dough for a Panettone also helps get the gluten fully developed before the butter is incorporated.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

as in sticking to objects?  I do know that the wheat takes a bit of work to develop gluten.  In my area it is winter wheat that is grown.  Many recipes rely on a method where the dough is worked until it "stops sticking" to hands and work bench.  Is the fine flour and the coarse (griffig) equally tenacious in your experience?  I'm kind of helpless here so far away.  

rjerden's picture
rjerden

If I can jump in, I suspect that Nico translated the Italian "tenace" as "tenacious", correct in some contexts, but which is likely to be interpreted as "holding on", or "sticky", which is not what he intended, I think.  A closer translation  might be "tough" or "strong". In the case of dough, it means elastic, i.e., hard to work, with lots of springback.

Cheers,

Roy

nicodvb's picture
nicodvb

I find it too elastic, impossible to roll because it springs immediately back.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

until both Stan and my local baker suggested substituting one third of the flour with starch.  Try it.  I suppose this should be considered when using Austrian recipes with less elastic flours, they may need added strength.  The flour does work well when combined with nut flours and packed full of ingredients.