The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Adjustments for type of flour

GregS's picture
GregS

Adjustments for type of flour

I like to make standard hydration sourdough and french-type breads.  Here in Hawaii, the only bulk-type flour I can reasonably afford is the ConAgra Harvest Blend bread flour, sold by COSTCO. I can purchase 25 pounds for the price of 10 pounds of national brands. Does any one have an opinion about how much quality I would gain by paying about $7 for five pounds of King Arthur bread flour.

The ConAgra also contains Ascorbic Acid. Do I need to compensate for that in some way? Some days I think the problems are with the baker and some days I wonder about the ingredients! If I keep improving my skills (which I'd say are intermediate) can I work around a less than ideal flour?

Any experiences or advice would be welcomed.

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

and suggest that you keep using the ConAgra flour so long as you are getting the kind of results that you want.  I usually don't buy KA flours when I'm on the mainland, unless they run a really serious sale.  Their products, while very high quality, don't offer enough perceived advantage to justify the price differences that I am accustomed to seeing.

Paul

pjaj's picture
pjaj

Here in the UK we can get neither KA nor ConAgra, so I'm speaking generalities. I don't think it matters what flour you buy so long as the results satisfy the people for whom you are baking.

If your cheap flour performs well during mixing, rising, forming, proofing and baking to give a loaf that has good taste, crumb etc then lucky you! I wish we had your version of COSTCO here.

On the other hand, if KA flour has some property that gives you a better loaf, and you think it's a worth while improvement, then you'll have to stump up the extra cash.

Personally I find that white flours labelled "Hard Canadian Red Wheat" or similar give me a better tasting loaf than other white bread flours, but maybe that's because they usually cost more and I'm a bit of a flour snob! Again, it's a matter of personal preference.

The Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C) is a "flour improver". try Googling "Ascorbic Acid Flour Improver" you'll get more information than you'll ever want, including several hits on this site including

http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/24817/citric-acid-bread-preservative

 

copyu's picture
copyu

Ascorbic acid is not usually a problem...the amounts used by the mill are so tiny! Jeffrey Hamelman says 20-40ppm (parts per million) is usual. That means every hundred pounds of flour should contain less than 1/4 teaspoon of ascorbic acid.

As long as you have enough of the quality gluten-forming proteins in your flour, then I'm with Paul and I'd also suggest sticking with the flour you can get cheaply. (I suppose shipping fees are shockingly high...)

Best,

Adam

 

davidg618's picture
davidg618

I use KA flour for most of my breads. I get noticeably better flavor, especially in baguettes, than with cheaper flours I've intenionally tried specifically to lower my costs. That said, I'll add even at $3.69 to $3.99 per 5 lb. bag of KA, I'd be happier if it was less expensive. 

You might want to try your favorite/most frequently baked breads with KA at least once, and then decide.

David G

HeidiH's picture
HeidiH

The person who first taught me to make bread told me that flour made no difference and that she learned this directly from Bernard Clayton in a live class.  I accepted this as gospel but I was always unable to get the flavor I wanted from bread.  I am a girl from the Northeast US and grew up on breads that were from 1st generation Polish, German, and Italian bakeries.  She was from Indiana, a lovely place I've lived twice but not, by any means, a place known for Italian neighborhoods with basement bakeries.  Her bread had melted butter, sugar and other additions in it.  Classic Italian bakery bread is flour, water, yeast and salt. 

Last Spring someone gave me a bag of Caputo 00 flour so I made a loaf of bread with it.  There was that flavor I was missing.  The scales fell from my eyes.  Flour does make a difference!  It's so logical.  If flour is far and away the main ingredient in breads, why wouldn't different flours make different breads?  To me and my taste buds, flour makes all the difference.

Recently I suggested in another conversation on TFL that someone having trouble with getting the flavor they wanted from their pizza crust try pizzeria 00 flour.  Another poster poo-pooed that and said flour is the last thing to worry about.  It's all in the technique.  So the world of bread bakers is divided on this issue.

Yes, I find KA bread flour tastes different from the grocery store brand here and the price difference is not out of sight for us.  I also find each different flour I order online has a different taste and reacts differently to the addition of water, yeast and salt.  I'm becoming a flour snob as I bake my way through Stan's offerings at nybakers.com and other online finds but I'm only cooking for two and don't pay Hawaii prices. 

The difference between KA bread flour and cheap AP flour in flavor and dough consistency is significant.  You will taste it, at least in a yeast bread where much of the taste is from the flour.  In a sourdough bread with a strong taste from the starter?  Maybe not so much.  In something like an anadama?  Not at all.  But I'm still pretty well convinced that if you are making bread with just flour, water, salt, and yeast, the flour makes all the difference.

 

patnx2's picture
patnx2

I've used this flour with great sucess. I do believe I get all I want from this flour and we,wife and I and friends, enjoy my bread. Perhaps if I spent time with great bakers I could be convinced I'm missing a bunch but for now this works well for me. I  have not purchaced any mass produced bread for about 3 years. If your taste buds say you need more then try the KA. Enjoy   bread Patrick

Just Loafin's picture
Just Loafin

Many years back, after I had made my first KA AP purchase, I tried it once as a replacement flour in my all-time favorite buttermilk pancake recipe (first time using it for anything other than the bread I was learning to bake). The difference was not only astounding, but commented on by everyone enjoying breakfast. They were ridiculously soft... almost like cotton-candy the way it melted as soon as it hit your tongue. Some liked it, I didn't. IMO, if I wanted cotton-candy, I'd buy it. I like my pancakes to be able to be chewed. Ever since then, I reach for whatever general purpose flour is hanging around the counter. Once I started experimenting with breads more than just learning, I also noticed this softness, but the difference wasn't as stark. This is all about texture and mouth-feel, I really do not notice much difference in actual taste.

There are situations where I will desire this extra softness. If I'm making cinnamon rolls, this softness is great, for example. I will also use it as a portion of total flours to just soften up sandwich loafs, but again, I'm not a Wonder Bread freak, so using it as a 100% wouldn't interest me. So the thing is, everyone is different in that respect, but also keep in mind that if a comparison exists, people will opine. If no comparison exists, they will generally accept what's in front of them and move on with their day. I do feed my starter solely with KA, so there's always a bag of it around. I only use 40g a feed, so a bag lasts forever. I also use KA WW when I'm using WW in any recipe, because I -do- find the taste to be superior to other WW's I've used. It's got a pleasant nutiness to it that I can differentiate between brands I've experimented with. WW isn't something I use a lot of. All of my recipes in rotation that use WW use it as a portion, and sans one particular recipe, it is a minority portion in all the others. Hence, again, a bag lasts me a long time. Other than that, I buy 25lb bags of AP and Bread Flour from our Smart and Final, and pay only $9 each. 10lbs of KA runs $9, so I'm getting 2.5 times the flour for my money. That's a lot of savings for product that isn't quite as soft, and the per-year savings is a trade-off I gladly make.

- Keith