The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

French and American flour/ The 123 formula

Janedo's picture

French and American flour/ The 123 formula

Hi all! I've been one busy person what with the holidays, kids, etc. But now life is settling into a more calm and regular rhythm. So, I'm BACK!

Over the holidays, Steve from Breadcetera, and I did a flour swap (yes, it cost a fortune!). We sent each other dried samples of our starter and flour. I sent him some organic stone-ground T55 and T65 and he sent me some KA AP and bread flour. Not so much because he himself uses that particular flour, but he figured it would give me an idea of the type of flour many people bake with.

I was VERY excited to try the All-Purpose flour for two reasons. I wanted to see how it felt, how it worked and what it tasted like but also I wanted to test Flo's 123 formula because many people seemed to have trouble with it.

So, here are the results:

I did up a dough of 150g starter (100% hydration), 300g water and 450g KA AP and 9g salt.

There is obviously more or different gluten in the flour. It takes AGES to get developed. With the T55 or 65, you literally only need to knead a few minutes to get a good dough formed, but with the KA AP, at initial mixing (in a Kenwood) it was rough and together, then went gloppy and then got extremely elastic (TOO elastic). It took quite a while to mix. So, this leads me to believe that for those who found the dough too wet may have hand kneaded and found it gloppy, but it would take ages to knead by hand to get the right consistancy. With French flours, the dough is wetter than with American flour which is the opposite of what people believe. I think it just the kneading time. More flour would have made a dough that would be much too firm (to my liking).

When it was finally risen and baked, I took it out of the oven and to my surprise, it was SHINY and smooth crusted. It looked plastic. Now, I did everything exactly as I always do, no changes, no more steam than usual. It was really weird. Then, with my husband next to me, we smelled it. We looked at each other and said, It doesn't smell like anything! OK, then we left it to cool and cut it. I handed pieces to my family in different rooms. My son said, it doesn't taste like anything. I went to my daughter who smiled and said, "It's good!... but it doesn't have any taste". The overall concesus was that it really didn't taste like anything at all.

So, I got thinking, and I understand a lot of things now. I understand why preferments are so important and retarding and adding rye, etc. If you bake with KA AP as your basic artisan bread flour, well, it really needs help!

In France, the non organic flours that bakers use can lack in taste but it's still a lot tastier than the KA AP. So, the French organic flour is pure bread heaven.When a loaf comes out of the oven, it smells so incredible, a blend between deep wheaty aroma and the slight tangy, yet earthy sourdough. I did  up some Mike Avery's version of The Three Rivers bread that I spoke about on my blog for a cheese fondue and even though there is no sourdough, just poolish and retarding, it could have been mistaken for a sourdough, it smelled so incredible.

I guess I'm being French chauvinistic, but ever since I joined this group and have shared and learned so much from you, the huge question that has lingered for me has been all about American flour, how it reacts and tastes. I'm sure there are some better flours out there. Many speak of some organic brands, Guisto's and some other mills. I know it's more expensive, but if you're looking for something tastier, it's a good idea to try some of them. Oh, and remember, French wheat is soft, not hard. I think that makes a big difference.

So, I invite discussion and ideas or questions. I'm all ears.




holds99's picture

Mountaindog wrote: "...But I agree that the KA Bread flour is all structure and no taste, as are a lot of US bread flours."

When will this nonsense stop?


SteveB's picture

I think most of us would agree that in the U.S., as in France, there are good tasting flours and not so good tasting ones.  Although I haven't written a blog post about it, I finally made baguettes with the French T55 Jane provided.  The flavor was less than impressive.  I've used a number of U.S. white flours that had a better flavor.  The point here is that no one country has a lock on good tasting flour.  It just might take a little experimentation with the different flours available in your area/country to determine what tastes best to you.


P.S. - Beautiful baguettes, Jane!  

mountaindog's picture

Howard, sorry if I misspoke or hit a nerve on the bread flour, that just happended to to have been my experience with it and what I had heard from many other bakers in the past about bread flour, but I certainly claim no authority on the subject. Are there high gluten or bread flours that you feel have a particularly nice flavor? I'd like to try them if I can find them. In terms of other KA products, I am a pretty loyal KA AP flour user for many years, and I appreciate that it is so readily available here in NY.

holds99's picture

Thanks Mountaindog.  I think it might be helpful to put things into perspective by quoting what Professor Calvel et al said about the subject of various flours:

"It has been put forth in some circles that French flours can be imitated by "cutting" the extra strength of North American bread flours with weaker cake of pastry flours.  The logic of this is attractive, but it does not pan out. 

No North American flour is an exact equivalent of French type 55 bread flour, and bakers must look carefully for an appropriate flour and make certain adjustments...  Professor Calvel has had great success in North America with both "bread" flours on this lower end of the protein range and also with "all purpose" (hotel and restaurant) flours of above average strength.  Significantly, many months of flour testing conducted by Didier Rosada and Tom McMahon at the National Baking Center in Minneapolis corroborates this, for 12.5% appears to be the maximum percentage of protein desirable for hearth breads.  Much work remains to be done, an artisan bread movement has begun to spark an interest on the part of [flour] mills to produce appropriate flours.

The high gluten flours are too high in gluten despite Professor Calvel's mention of stronger flour for certain recipes.

Clear flours can add strength to rye doughs when used as the wheat portion, and where their darker color is of little importance. 

Stone ground whole-wheat flours are of uniform granulation and contain no additives, but must be used before the wheat germ oil oxidizes and causes rancid flavors."

Here is a link to an award winning site that contains some amazing information re: various flours (Italian, French and American/French flours).  This link provides answers to at least some of the questions/issues raised by TFL bakers on this thread. 

Flour – A treatise

Flour Classifications:
Table VI - Italian Table
VII – French
Table VIII - American/French

At the bottom of the page, showing the various awards, click on the first award: "Award of Excellence Study Sphere" - Flour Treatise. 

Now, I'm going back to the kitchen, turn on the oven, give my dough a couple of stretch and folds and do what I love to do best...


mountaindog's picture

Thanks Howard, good info...DH just ordered Calvel's book for me so I look forward to reading up more on his work. Great link to the Artisan, a lot of good flour info there, and I think we are in basic agreement on blending flours available here to get great results. Hope your baking today goes well, I liked your past blog on the Swiss Mountain Bread BTW, that looked awesome.  --MD

Janedo's picture

That is some really interesting info and I'll read the info on the web site when I get some time. What you talked about makes me think about Maggie Glezer and her recipes in Artisan Baking that blend AP with Bread. That doesn't necessarily solve the flavor problem, but it does the strength problem. It all comes back to using excellent quality flour.

Sorry our conversation miffed you so much. I do feel like I have some big questions that have niggled me for a long time now figured out and I can read the posts on American bread with a much greater understanding. If I didn't participate on this forum or read American bread books, I really wouldn't care. But since I do enjoy this site and all the wonderful recipes and experiments that people do here, it is so much more interesting to really know what you're all talking about. And also be able to  modify American recipe when need be.


Janedo's picture

I'm sure we could go on forever about the different flours, brands that are great, not so great, blends that work, etc; Steve is right about the T55 being less flavorful and that comes back to what was said about the higher ash content in the T65. White flour is white flour in the end, I'd say, even if some are better than others. It is just very interesting that in France a flour with higher ash content is a basic flour while in the States it is a specialty product or not even available.

I understand what your saying, MD. The bread flour does seem to garantee results. The lack of flavor again comes from the low ash content, I guess. A T65 bread flour could be paradise for many a baker!

Is the nonsense that white flour has little taste or that there are a lot of bad flours in the States? There are a lot of bad flours in France! I sent Steve "la crème de la crème".



Patissier's picture


First you will excuse my bad english. English is not my mother tongue.

My name is Berry, and I Pastry Chef and author of a technology pastry French Book.

With this message I will try to explain the differences between french and american flour.  

First the big difference between French Flour and American Flour is the wheat. In north America the wheat is usually hard spring wheat and In Europe the wheat is usually a medium soft winter wheat (in english medium soft means semi-hard wheat). This difference play on the extensibility and the elasticity. French Flour is more extensible and less elastic and American flour is the contrary. That is why It is suggest to add a small amount of starch to improve your dough.
Recently, I discovered that medium-soft or semi-hard wheat is culitvated in Canada and in the United States and the french kind of wheat used in France is cultivated in the United States. Unfortunatly, I don't know what is done with this wheat. I read that this flour is maybe export in Asia for the noodles. 
The other point is the Falling Number in Europe the falling number is less than the one in the American flour (it is to complecate for me to explain in english what Falling Number means. :-) This indicate if the flour have enzyme to transform damaged starch in sugar). That is why in America they add malt and in Canada Amylase. These ingredient are enzyme wich help to have better volume and color. These enzymes help to generate the sugar necessary for the yeast. I am not sure but in America the malt is at 0.5% and in Europe when it is used it is at 0.3% (Diastic Malt) . You can also add suggar but not more than 2%. In Canada a copany use for their Pita bread a combination of sugar and malt. It has a very good taste and a better smell than other pita bread.
The spring Hard Wheat give a more dry taste than the medium wheat which is more sweet. To have a better taste in direct method your dough must proof at a lower temperature which means longer time for proofing. 
The other point is the protein in France the gluten for the bread is about 9% to 11% max 12% ( about 11% to 13% American protein) But don't forget The protein depend of the kind of wheat and the component of the protein (gliadin and glutenin). That is why 9% french protein on dry matter wich means about 11% North America protein based on 14% water is not the same !
There is another difference is texture of the crumb I you have noticed the french one is more thin than the one made with the American or Canadian flour. It is much more evident with organic wheat especially the wheat we have in Quebec. This difference is maybe due to the hydratation quantity.
More Hydratation modify the structure of the crumb.  

The best result is a combination of hard spring wheat and hard winter wheat with amylase and 11% of protein which is sometimes call Artisan Flour. You can add for better taste and better result about 15% of T80 or T110 or T150. Unfortunatly, this seems not avaiable in America or Canada but you can found it in Quebec. It is usually called Organic Bread Flour. The non organic bread flour are not T80 or T110 or T150. The problem is that you never know if it is T80 or T150 you have to call the compagny. In Canada and America ask the company who make organic wheat flour if they can sell you this kind of flour. Uusually OrganicFlour made with Stony grindstone (I am not sure if it is the right translation) is T65 or look like T65. T65 doesn't mean better taste as I explain before. The taste depends on the kind of the wheat. That is why hard White wheat have so much success in North America. 

If French have a better flour for bread, American flour have much better flour for pastry! I am surprised to see people using All Purpose flour, especially french chef, to make cakes and other pastry product. Pastry Flour is the best for all your pastry except enriched dough and puff pastry (pate feuilletée). In France they don't have soft flour ! The soft flour is just for the industrial. That is why some French Chef use the same flour that they use for the classic bread T55 for their pastry and other prefer to use much stronger flour wich look like All Purpose flour or the bread flour In that case they have to add more butter and or more eggs to have a tender and moister cake as we have with the pastry flour even if the gluten don't make a big difference in cakes. For people who live in France and want to found a pastry flour like the one we have in north America ask for farine de blé biscuitier à 11% proteines (Usually is 10.5% protein). This flour is quiet similar as the pastry flour at 9% protein.

In France they use the name T55 and T65 and T45 which means nothing about rheology of the flour. It indicates only the % of ashes and give an indirect information avout the flour extraction. That is why when the french chef say use T55 or T45 that's means nothing if you don't know the technical flour information. It just say that the flour is more white than other which means that the gluten will react better.  That is why french home baker or sometimes confuse when they buy flour from the supermarket because T45 is not the T45 use by  the Pastry Chef. 

I hope this message will help you to understand more the differences between the North American Flour and French flour.

Sorry again for my english. If you have other question write me.


Soundman's picture

Welcome to TFL, Berry!

Thanks for your helpful description of the flour differences in France, Canada, and the U.S. I didn't know there was a medium-soft designation of wheat, though it makes sense. In the U.S. the strength issue is generally broken down simply into hard and soft wheats.

I recently swapped some flour with French baker Flo Makanai, and one of the most obvious differences on my side was that the French T65 flour was milled to a degree of fineness I'm not used to in U.S. flours. It was like talcum powder. Dipping a measuring cup into this flour left a coating all over the cup.

Also, as you say, the French flour was naturally more extensible than the higher-gluten U.S. bread flour.

By the way, I agree with you completely about using pastry flour for cakes. (I only use all purpose flour for dusting the bench, or for bringing down the gluten percentage in strong flours.)

Hope to see more from you on TFL!


Patissier's picture


Patissier's picture


Yerffej's picture

Thanks to Jane and Steve for providing a wealth of information on the entire flour subject.

In Bread Alone, Daniel Leader talks about switching from organic flour to conventional flour and seeing all the flavor disappear from his bread.  I think that the organic factor is an enormous one when the subject is flavor.  As a gardener/cook/baker I have seen the incredible difference in flavor from a conventional product to its organic counterpart.  We use 95% or more organic food and on the rare occasion when a conventional item is used we are often quite surprised at the lack of flavor.

The supermarkets in the USA are loaded with some of the most beautiful picture perfect non organic produce that one could ever hope to see.  Regrettably this all comes at the expense of any real flavor.  To know that this could also be true in the case of flour is certainly no surprise.


GlutenAficionado's picture


I'm trying to order T65 from French importers in the U.S. If you'd like some, please check out my forum post below. Thanks!



zygomorph's picture

Just to add a nugget of experience to this very old thread:

I was struck by the description of the "plastic, shiny" crust texture. It happened to me once while making Basil's pain au levain. It was after I had let my starter go for a long time in the refrigerator without feeding. I used it after only one refresh, and the resulting bread was quite a lot like a bad American supermarket bagel, including the insipid sweetness! (It is also worth noting that I had poured off the hooch.)

The next batch produced an extremely successful result, however. If it was in fact the dynamics of the starter, which I suspect is the case, then I attribute the quick recovery to the the story that this particular starter strain is over 200 years old. Whether or not this true, I have found it to be incredibly reliable and very quick to recover from prolonged neglect... :P

angiechia's picture

Hi all bread enthusiasthiasts

This has been a great discussion.  Came with such alot of info as I am now also trying my hands on t65.

First of all,  I must say that I am comparing between Asian brad flour and French. I have no info on spec of local flour as Millers seem unwilling to provide these.  The only thing I know  is its high protein maybe even 13.5 -14%. To "correct" the protEin,  I usually do a mixture of this bread flour and the slightly lower plain flour 

I have been using them without any problem except that I am unable to achieve the big holes which I now understand is due to its high gluten.  

angiechia's picture

Oops post was sent before I am done.  

So here comes the  interesting part.  Recently I managed to get my hands on some t65 n went on to Do some tests.  Despite cuttingdown on the hydration,  I am still getting dough that goes flat n unable to have a good rise in the oven.  I added water slowly till  the dough feels similar  to test I made using local bf and pf. But it does get rather sticky during the bulk ferment as I stretch n fold. Can anyone offer any explanation? 

Well I guess my ultimate bread is one that is of great flavor. I am in love with big irregular holes too. How do I achieve these