The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Bread Flour vs All-Purpose Flour

Peggy Bjarno's picture
Peggy Bjarno

Bread Flour vs All-Purpose Flour

I’ve been working since September to produce my own “perfect” sourdough bread. Three weeks ago I was pretty much there, but you know, I keep tweaking, trying to make it more sour, and the recipe more reliable. Well, my tweak this time was changing flour. I’d been using KA Bread flour, but kept reading about people using KA All-Purpose flour and it was “just the same,” “worked just as well,” etc., etc. They never said it was just as good but different. . .

I had promised to bring two loaves to the Easter Dinner party we were invited to, so I took my starter out of the fridge Thursday night and started feeding it: quarter cup of bread flour, two tablespoons purified water, twice a day. This starter is happy, vigorous, bubbly, and I’ve come to understand that the fault lies with the baker in this house, not with the starter. It’s been very patient with me as I’ve struggled to learn.

This morning I started my bread, using about 1/2 cup of starter, along with some preferment, and adding those to 500 gm warm purified water. I added 750 gm flour (350 each of bread flour and AP flour, with 50 gm of rye flour) and 15 gm salt. It was very shaggy, much more than I remembered. Hm. Can’t be all that different, right? It’ll come along. I rolled it into a ball and put it into an oiled container in my rising area. Did hourly stretch-and-folds four times. The dough was so wet I ended up working on a floured surface, with floured hands.

I cut it in half, shaped it into two loaves and put them into my floured couche. An hour into the rise I started to preheat my oven to 500 degrees. And put my cast iron Dutch oven in there as well, hoping it would be my life saver. (It was. . .)

An hour and forty-five minutes of proofing and they were ready to go, but I could see that they were still soft and would not likely maintain their shape. The first loaf basically de-gassed as I rolled it onto the Silpat mat I use for baking. Bummer.  I poured the other loaf into the heated Dutch oven, sprayed it with water, and covered it. I dropped the temperature to 470 and baked them for thirty minutes. The loaf was done, but pale and misshapen.  I took the cover off the Dutch oven and gave it another ten minutes at 450. It was a glorious honeyed mahogany color, with a few surface bubbles and some shallow thin streaks of cracking (I’ll bet there’s a term for that that I don’t know. . . I never slashed the surface, but it did break open beautifully with these feathery trails.)

I’d love to say that the pictures are here, but the loaf traveled to our dinner party on the cooling rack in the back seat of the car. It was consumed in total with oohs and ahhs, enjoyed by all. I’ll do it again. WOW!  The flavor was full, nutty. Not “sour” enough, but probably sour to some.  The crumb was grayish (the rye, probably) beautiful, with smaller holes than I had hoped for but lots of them, and that lovely translucence that some bread gets.

So. . . questions and comments:  Did the change to 46.6% AP flour make the difference in wetness? If so, I will go back to 100% bread flour. Is the success of Dutch oven baking more reliable? (I was desperate that at least ONE of my loaves “work!” and the Dutch oven did it with dough I thought was a loss.) With dough that wet, how could I have increased the flour after the first stretch-and-fold with any reliability, to something that would have worked as loaves. . . ?

. . . and how do I make it more sour? I’ve been reluctant to go to the citric salt that I understand is used by many commercial bakers, but maybe it’s time. 

Thanks for any comments or suggestions – love hearing from the experts and hard-working wannabees on this site. It’s awesome!



ehanner's picture


You have a lot of variables going on in your build. You are using a starter in a fairly large percentage, there is also another pre fermented amount, the BF and AP flours with the addition of rye. I would call that a complicated formula.

I would suggest that you simplify the component mix first so that you can evaluate the change to a blend of flours. You could eliminate the second prefermented dough altogether. After all, what is sourdough if not pre fermented? You didn't give details of how it was prefermented but it is a variable that could affect the quality of gluten development.

The amounts you detailed above indicate a hydration of 66%. Even using 100% AP flour, the dough should have been able to be developed to a point where it would stay in place free form. A 50/50 mix of BF and AP should have been manageable.This is making me wonder if either the starter was past the maturity point and expended or the prefermented dough was spent. Either situation would have the result of deteriorating the gluten strands in the dough.

I think I would make a single batch using just AP flour. Make sure your starter is active, smells good and hasn't collapsed. You need to understand the water absorbing qualities of a lower protein flour. Keep track of how much flour it takes to get the dough into a familiar state as when you were using Bread Flour. You will find that the AP isn't so quick to get muscle bound and tight. AP has a nice silky feel to it that responds well to stretch and fold development, giving you time to work and properly develop the dough without over doing it. AP flour can be developed into a beautiful condition and give you great oven spring using sourdough as a riser. Try this and check back with results.


Peggy Bjarno's picture
Peggy Bjarno

Eric, thank you so much for this sensible, well thought out reply! Yes, I see how complicated it was, and am happy to leave out the preferment. That was likely to have been spent, not the starter, which looked/smelled/felt entirely happy. I will definitely do a single batch -- I will have to wait until Saturday -- with the AP flour and see what happens. (I NEED to do that to feel better about my bread-making!) I am still very much a beginner, which I think is what leads me to complicate what should be fairly simple: I watch a video or read someone's blog, and I think, oh, wow, that looks great, I'll try it! I should have left well enough alone.

Many thanks again,


davidg618's picture

...I believe the dough's final hydration was closer to 69 or 70 percent. I guessed your starter's hydration was 100% based on your 1/4 cup (approx. 30g) and two-tablespoons of water (approx. 30g)feeding schedule. One half-cup of 100% hydrated starter contributes 60g of flour and 60g of water making your final dough 810g flour and 560g water which yields 69% hydration.  I frankly don't understand what "along with some preferment means" in your post. However, if it was in addition to the 1/2 cup of starter, and it's hydration was also 100% than the final doughs hydration increases. I guessed to 70%, but it might have been higher. 

Nonetheless, neither of these final dough hydrations are unmanageable. I routinely make my sourdoughs at 68% hydration, and a 45%:45%:10:% AP:Bread:Rye flour mixture. I also make baguettes with a 72% hydration, and 100% AP flour.  I also do stretch-and folds of both these doughs on an unfloured board. I do the first one or two in the bulk fermenting tub I use. I preshape, and shape on a lightly dusted board, using no more than a couple of tablespoons of flour. Neither of these doughs are "pour-able".


Mixing volume measurements and weight measurements, as you did in your post, makes it impossible to accurately estimate what might have happened, but here's some things to consider.

1. Is there any possibility you miss-measured?

AP flour absorbs less water than higher protein flours, your final dough should have been more extensible, but not "pour-able".

2. Although 4 vigorous Stretch-and-Folds should have been enough to develop the gluten, your description of the final dough implies the gluten network was weak. Did you do any preliminary kneading, after autolyse, and before rolling it into a ball for bulk proofing? 

For all doughs I prepare, I incorporate the flour and water (sometimes with, sometimes without the salt), autolyse, add the salt if not done, and then do 60 to 100 frasiage strokes in the bowl (68% - 72% hydration dough), or 100 to 200 "slap and fold" for higher hydrations. I've found this approach strengthens the gluten network. Subsequent Stretch & Folds develop the networks extensibility, perhaps even more so than contributing to the glutens strength, but that's only my perception from the feel of the doughs.

I've only baked in Dutch ovens outdoors, using wood embers, so I can't speak to its efficacy compared to oven-with-steam baking.

I think Eric's suggestions to simplify your basic recipe, and to get familiar with handling all AP flour doughs are right on. 

David G.