The Fresh Loaf

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Pros and cons of high-gluten flour

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IBringThePain's picture

Pros and cons of high-gluten flour

I've been operating for several months under the assumption that the higher the protein level in the flour, the better the bread I make would be. I guess I can blame Daniel Leader for this a little bit. But in the past few weeks, I've finally started noticing all the recipes on TFL that call for AP flour, and when I saw Anis Bouabsa's baguette recipe I realized my assumption must be wrong. What I need help understanding is when to use high-gluten flour and when to use AP. I thought that higher gluten levels meant more elasticity, more strength, and a better rise. But if the best baguettes in Paris use AP, I have to be wrong. Right? Help me, please. I'm hopelessly confused.


Chuck's picture

I've been operating for several months under the assumption that the higher the protein level in the flour, the better the bread...

A very common misperception. Very high gluten flour is often used by professional bakers to reduce required processing time somewhat and/or to make bulk doughs a little more manageable (shaping loaves from 20 kilos of dough made with 9.5% gluten content flour because that's all that's available isn't for the faint of heart:-). So -simply because that's what they're used to- many book authors with a strong professional/commercial background call for extensive use of high gluten flours in home baking too. (In their hands they somehow get the advantages without the disadvantages  ...but I personally think the disclaimer "don't try this at home" should be used a little more often.)

Very high gluten really is needed and appropriate for things that need to stretch a lot without ever tearing (e.g. "pizza") and things that are supposed to be pretty chewy (e.g. "bagels"). It's also often appropriate for mixing with "whole wheat" or other grains that could use a little help to rise higher and stay together better. But using flour with much higher gluten content than needed can very easily lead to "toothy" breads. If your jaws ache after you eat some bread, try using lower gluten flour next time. 

The "too chewy" problem is especially noticeable with biscuits; it's very difficult to make a good biscuit with high-gluten flour. The "too chewy" problem is also noticeable with pastries and cakes - hence "pastry flour" and "cake flour".

(Also be a bit cautious that the name "All Purpose" is not standardized, and one particular brand of AP [King Arthur Flour AP] actually has about the same gluten content as many "bread" flours. And do note that high-gluten flours absorb a little more water if you switch down to AP you might need to reduce your hydration levels by 1-2%.)

When I first started the serious baking adventure a couple years ago, I was overjoyed to locate a nearby and relatively inexpensive and reliable source of KAF "Bread" flour. But now -although I still sometimes use it for special purposes- it's virtually never the first thing I reach for.

Mebake's picture

I wish i'am so fourtunate as you are chuck, reliably reaching out for quality bread flour when you feel like it.  I'am at the other end of the spectrum here, struggling to cope with inferior all purpose flours... which at best would make superior flat breads... and pastries.

copyu's picture

I've sent you a personal message about added 'gluten'.

Best regards,


dwfender's picture

You know you can always purchase quality bread flour online. In fact KA sells both 5 and 25 pound bags on their website. Also, you shouldn't hesitate to go to a local bakery for flour.

salma's picture

Khalid, you may not be fortunate with your supplies, but stop complaining because with your mastery you come up with some of the best breads!

ananda's picture

Very high gluten flour is often used by professional bakers to reduce required processing time somewhat

Hi Chuck,

This statement is not correct   In fact, the opposite is the case.   Stronger flours give greater tolerance during the rheological phases of the dough cycle, as the gluten is of greater quality, and so takes longer to break down to give the necessary extensibility in the dough for any machining purpose.

The professional baker may well enjoy working with dough with greater tolerance, but the methods used to give the advantage you mention are nothing to do with using high gluten flour per se.   For sure, the stronger flour will tolerate more intensive mixing, which will induce dough reduction, but there are other factors at play too.   These are a few: yeast levels in the dough; dough temperatures; hydration levels; salt levels; improver levels/types [if used]; the dough mass has a tremendous bearing, as large amounts of flour and water will mix more effectively in the commercial dough mixer than small amounts will due to more effective use of energy input.   During any bulk cycle a large amount of dough will develop and change more rapidly on account of far greater heat generation at the dough's centre, and relatively much less heat lost from the outer surface area in comparison to a small amount of dough made in the home kitchen.   The commercial leaven is also likely to be much more powerful than the home leaven too, in that a constant refreshment cycle is used, and the amount mixed at any one time is likely to be large in comparison to the amount used in the home kitchen.   Additionally a bakery is a favourable environment for yeast/bacterial activity.   Large scale use of leavens means lots of yeasts and microbes in the atmosphere.   Big ovens tend to generate plenty of heat.   There will probably be specialist kit such as provers in use.   All of these factors and more besides are what determine rate of rheology in dough.

By illustration, we could consider what the benefits of a stiff biga may be over a liquid poolish.   I have to thank nicodvb  for his input on threads past here, especially his wonderful sweet breads.   It is the use of strong flour, in a very tight biga [50% hydration is common, and I have seen it as low as 45%], with minimal mixing and slow cool fermentation that brings increased strength and tolerance.   Use of weaker flours in pre-ferments will cause the leaven to break down more quickly, and not the other way round, as would be the implication from your original statement.   So by extension, if the recipe/formula being used required mixing some weaker flour into the blend, then that should be added at the final dough stage, and not used to make the original pre-ferment.

My experience with Italian-type [I emphasize "type" here, as it rarely comes from Italy] flour is that it produces very extensible dough, rather than highly elastic.   Pizza dough made with very strong flour is generally counter-productive, as it is difficult to roll out the bases and then spin them to stretch them for that lovely thin base.   Personally, I would use a stiff biga, as above, then mix strong and plain flour into the final dough to give that greater extensibility needed, and avoid the pinning problems associated with very strong flour.   Retarding the dough in a chiller can be the most effective means to achieve tolerance in these dough types, along with use of very small yeast quantities.

I hope you don't mind me adding these points as clarification.   An additional point may be to bear in mind what the intended purpose of the particular author is when refering to books.   As an example, Hamelman's book is a magnificent resource, and I know many home bakers here on TFL lap up the contents.   However, the main purpose of the book is to communicate his own "Techniques and Recipes", as a "Baker".   As such, I would argue this book meets the needs of the professional baker first and foremost.   Disclaimers about "don't try this at home" don't really apply if the author is primarily targetting bakers working in a professional environment. 

I obviously don't have direct experience of working with North American AP flour, but from what I have read on TFL, plus looking at the specifications of these flours online, I am sure you are quite correct about these flours not being "standardized", and yes, the King Arthur brand would be considered as a good quality bread flour here in the UK.

Khalid, I know your frustration comes from lack of consistency in the flour you are able to buy in Dubai.   However, I use Hovis flours a lot, both in the bakery and at home, and their bread flours are nearly always reliable and consistent.   The dough testing you did recently was a really valuable exercise, and I am so glad you posted on it.   I would just add that the result you achieved for your AP sugested to me that you actually had a flour of very good quality.   Whilst I know you are are really seeking other benefits, such as consistency [and probably flavour and character in the finished bread?], if I were you, I would be re-assured that at least this particular batch of flour was up to, and even way beyond, the quality specifications you could reasonably expect from a flour labelled as "All Purpose".

Best wishes


Mebake's picture

Why, thank you salma! It consistency, and reliable+inexpensive supply of Bread flour that i seek. I never complain when i (incidentally) come across a discounted batch of Organic Waitrose Bread flour. I sincerely wish, that there can be 1 decdent inexpensive brand of bread flour i could reliably use. Man, this has become one really expensive hobby! Hovis Strong white bread flour is my savior, for now, as i finally found carrefour selling them for 2.2$ per 1.5 Kg. Waitrose organic, though far more superior, sells for a wopping 4$ per 1.5 kg bag!

Thanks for the elaborate explanation, Andy. If you recall our latest discussion, my primary concern was the quality of the gluten and its ability to stretch within a dough, thus creating a seamless, smooth dough that rises effectively in the oven. The All Purpose Flour i  was referring to is a perfect fit for recipes like Flat breads, or Pita. Thanks for the reassurement, though , Andy. i need to remember your words of comfort when i next bake with my all purpose.

Yes, i can make hearth loaves with all the Wet gluten my all purpose contains, yet, the finished result will always be inferior to breads made from Bread flours such as Hovis.


Mebake's picture

Thanks for the advice, dwfender. Purchasing online is best, only if you don't live half way across the globe from the source. Shipment costs would make them prohibitive.