The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Mme Poilane says Bagutte not French Bread...

andrew_l's picture

Mme Poilane says Bagutte not French Bread...

Here's an interesting clip I found on another Bread site.. 
It appears that the Baguette, which we all think of as architypally French bread, is an Austrian import from the 19th century. And, the Steam injection ovens, which so many home bakers try to emulate, is also a 19th century invention. So the logical conclusion is, if we try to copy "modern" baking techniques - we'll end up back with the crap pap sold by most bakeries and super markets! So a site like this, helping people to create good sourdough boules in the traditional manner, is of tremendous value. Thanks again to floyd!

subfuscpersona's picture

When you read the article, you'll see the term grey flour used. If you're curious what grey flour actually is, read on...

Grey flour, aka Type 150 is a high extraction flour that contains the germ and much of the bran of a wheat kernel. It has a high ash content - above 1.4. (Ash content is, in part, a method of measuring how much of the bran is included in the flour). See (scroll down). Hamelman's book also has an interesting section on wheat and milling.

foolishpoolish's picture

At the risk of nit-picking, Type 150 flour is equivalent to whole wheat flour (ie 100% extraction).  'Grey flour' is the name often attributed to T80 otherwise known as 'farine bise".

The recipes for 'Poilane' style miches often refer to 'high extraction' flour...or a 50/50 mixture of Whole Wheat and white flours. While this may give excellent results in its' own right, it's definitely not the same as 'grey flour'. The real Poilane miche bears more resemblance to a 'pain de campagne' (minus rye) than a 'pain complet'.

I've been doing a few sifting exercises with a variety of flours recently and I think it's entirely possible to emulate the T80 by using stoneground whole wheat as the 'raw' ingredient without the need for specialised equipment but it requires some degree of patience. I'll expand on this at some later date, assuming I come up with a satisfactory result. 



Rosalie's picture

One of the comments below the article has this paragraph:

"One of the great British and Health Food movement myths (and falsehoods) is that whole wheat bread is healthier and more nutritious. It does CONTAIN more nutrients, but less are AVAILABLE, because the bran contains chemicals that prevent absorption of them. In addition, wheat bran is an irritant to the bowel. Far from aiding 'regularity' it is like taking a chemical laxative. "

The writer goes on to say that the grey flour, with less bran, is thus better for you than the whole grain.

Can anyone confirm or belie this allegation?


umbreadman's picture

I've learned this from Hamelman's book. He describes nutrient availability in whole wheat flours and the relationship with sourdoughs in the section about flours and such.

There are lots of nutrients, primarily minerals I believe, contained in the wheat's bran layer, but very little are available for absorbtion by the digestive system. The reason is the prevalence of phytic acid in the bran, which limits absorption of minerals but also, i've recently found out, acts as an antioxidant and has other health benefits. So in this case, yes whole wheat does contain more nutrients, and yes, they are less available to the body, though the culprit also has some health perks.

Hamelman notes that the trick to unlocking the minerals and such in the bran is the sourdough culture. He claims that organisms in the culture, specifically the bacteria if I remember correctly, break down phytic acid in the flour, freeing the minerals to be absorbed.

As for wheat bran being an irritant...I suppose if you were eating whole, unground wheat husks they would probably be very irritating...but as far as I know, there is a vast amount of knowledge about insoluble fibers such as wheat bran and their benefits for colon and overall digestive system health. Maybe there are conditions that cause some reactions to wheat bran presence? Maybe the slightly lower amount of bran in high extraction flour makes it easier to digest because there is less indigestible material in it?

breadnerd's picture

In "the taste of bread" by Raymond Calvel, he makes some arguments on how whole wheat flour is not good for you. It's a great book, but it's pretty obvious that he has some...let's say biases...that come through when you read the book. (He also makes some hilarious backhanded compliments about italians, ha ha).

But, one thing he said that did stand out to me--that whole wheat is "worse" for you because of pesticides--as you are consuming the exterior hull which in theory has been exposed to these chemicals. It was an unintentional reminder for me to use organic whole wheat flour!

zolablue's picture

Maggie Glezer also says our bodies are not able to process all the vitamins in whole wheat and so it ends up being a wash, nutritionally, with white flour but I cannot find the page where she states it in ABAA. 


I have heard that whole wheat and rye flours take longer for the body to digest and this is a benefit to diabetics but I’ve never studied this stuff.


Interesting article, Andrew.  I think often these things are simply repeated rather than someone actually studying the truth of the matter and learning what the facts truly are.  It would be worth finding out more information – who is right?  While I enjoy whole wheat breads I prefer the flavor of bread made using a fair amount of white flour so then I could truly eat more white bread with less guilt.  :o)

subfuscpersona's picture

While not a nutrition faddist, I do have a normal interest in the nutritional value of the food I purchase.

Anyone interested in a nutritional comparison of flour and grains can download this Adobe Acrobat Reader publication published by the USDA This publication is part of the USDA National Nutrient Database. Information on searching and using this database can be found at

Whole wheat flour contains vitamins and minerals that are absent in unfortified white flour. Most naturally occuring vitamins in grain are concentrated in the germ, while naturally occuring minerals are concentrated in the bran. In the US, all white flour must be fortified with certain synthetic B vitamins to replace what is lost by the removal of the bran and germ from flour - read the Nutritional Information on any bag of white flour to see what they are.

This federal mandate was put in place in the mid 1940s in response to long-term observations of nutritional deficiencies in the population consequent on the switch to refined white flour, which had occured several generations prior. Later, folic acid was included in these required additives.

For centuries, people in Europe favored bread made from a wheat flour where much of the bran was removed and the remaining bran was very finely pulverized. Prior to the modern switch to high-speed roller mills, bran removal was difficult to achieve. The process required repeated sifting (aka "bolting") and milling of the flour, so only the very rich could afford to use this lighter flour for their daily bread.

The first step in modern milling is to remove the bran and germ, leaving only the endosperm to be used for flour. The removal of the germ is especially profitable as flour lacking the germ has a much longer shelf life and does not require special storage conditions. Most of the removed bran and germ is processed for animal feed.

gianfornaio's picture

Don't forget about fiber-- the difference between taking a chemical laxative and eating fiber-rich foods like wheat bran has everything to do with the indigestible material. The fiber also slows how the eater metabolizes the bread-- bread with more bran and germ will metabolize more slowly and steadily, so you'll have more energy over a longer period of time. White bread will more likely spike your blood sugar and then drop off, leaving you tired or hungry.

I think the loaf's density affects this too, although I've never seen any authoritative information on this. If this is the case, and I think it stands to reason, then a crusty bread may be more slowly metabolized than a soft white enriched bread.   

And fiber can be a pretty serious irritant if you rarely eat fiber. A co-worker of mine has diverticulitis-- he thinks years of processed foods are a pretty major factor-- and can eat virtually no fiber without massive abdominal pain and possibly hospitalization... If you don't like whole-wheat bread, this doesn't sound bad, right? How about no fruits or vegetables? He said he never imagined he'd miss the things he can't eat until he genuinely couldn't eat them.  For a good thing about diverticulitis and diverticulosis, an often-undiagnosed and symptom-free condition which precedes it, check out this site:

Basically, not getting enough fiber will compromise the strength of your digestive system over time and as you age you'll be able to eat fewer and fewer foods. I am a young man (~30) and I love to eat-- only being able to eat a handful of different things strikes me as something of a curse. 

staff of life's picture
staff of life


 I don't know if the whole wheat vs. white flour thing is mentioned in ABAA, but I do think Nancy Silverton mentions it in the intro of her book.

staff of life's picture
staff of life


 I don't know if the whole wheat vs. white flour thing is mentioned in ABAA, but I do think Nancy Silverton mentions it in the intro of her book.

zolablue's picture

I was confused so thank you for pointing me towards the right source, staff of life.  That was driving me crazy and no wonder I could not find it since it is not in Glezer's book. :o) 


Here is the quote from Nancy Silverton's book, Breads from the La Brea Bakery, page 7.


WHOLE-WHEAT FLOUR:  To a lot of people, whole-wheat bread is sacred—and white bread is the devil.  But I have to admit that I use whole-wheat flour mainly for its good looks and flavor, not its vitamins.  You many have grown up thinking that whole-wheat bread is more nutritious than white bread, but that’s not really true.  Whole-wheat flour does contain more nutrients than white flour, but our bodies can’t absorb most of them because whole-wheat flour works its way through our systems too fast.  Most of the vitamins in white flour, on the other hand, do get absorbed, so the battle between white and whole wheat turns out to be a draw.
susanfnp's picture

I am a big fan of Nancy Silverton, but I think this statement is misleading and even a little irresponsible (to be fair, it was published over a decade ago; maybe she has since revised her stance).

From my own reading of the scientific literature, it is my understanding that the absorption of some of the nutrients in wheat bran and germ is somewhat inhibited by phytic acid found in whole flour. In that sense, the battle MAY be a draw. There seems to plenty of evidence that, as Hamelman, quoted by umbreadman, points out, sourdough breaks down a good deal of that phytic acid, an effect that can also be achieved, according to several studies, by a long fermentation of commercial-yeasted breads.

I think the larger issue, though, is a more holistic one: Study after study has shown that a diet high in whole grains produces healthier people. Whole grains are associated with reduced risk for a host of problems, including diabetes, heart disease, and some types of cancers, to name a few. These are major health problems in the United States. To my knowledge, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, related to eating whole grain bread, are not.

I'm not saying white flour is evil. Just that I think we would all do well to include more whole grains in our diet, and that includes baking with more whole wheat flour.


baltochef's picture

Most modern humans living in the so-called more civilized countries quite simply have digestive systems that are working at sub-par levels..The reasons for this are many, and most certainly vary for each individual..

The most basic reason for this is very simple..99.9999% of us have either forgotten how, or were never taught how to chew our food sufficiently when we were young..It is a scientific fact of human digestion that approximately 25% of the digestive process takes place initially in one's mouth..An essential part of that initial process is swallowing an adequate quantity of saliva in addition to completely masticating, or chewing, one's food..This needs to occur BEFORE the food reaches one's stomach..Chewing each mouthful of food for 50-100 movements of the teeth and jaw muscles is what I have repeatedly seen as recommended as the proper chewing procedure for proper digestion.."Do you know ANYONE that chews their food that thoroughly??"..I do not..I myself do not..I am 54 years old and I have never met anyone that does..

Food that is not sufficiently chewed and that is not accompanied by a sufficient amount of saliva containing enzymes will quite simply pass through one's digestive system partially undigested..I have seen unsubstantiated reports that the average American only digests, and subsequently benefits from, approximately 50%-60% of the total amount of foods that they consume over the course of a year..The balance of that undigested food either passes through the digestive system doing nothing whatsoever, or else ends up compacted in the nooks and crannies of the colon as undigested fecal matter..

I believe that much of the evidence, anectdotal and scientific, that whole wheat flour cannot be digested by humans for its full nutritive value is correct..Because, most modern 21st Century humans simply do not have digestive systems that are functioning at anywhere near its peak efficiency..

Any food with a lot of undigestible fiber is going to stimulate one's digestive system, therefore speeding up the digestive process..If it takes a healthy, fully functioning digestive system to digest and take advantage of ground whole grains, then it stands to reason that digestive systems that are not functioning at peak efficiency are not going to be able to take advantage of the extra nutrients that whole grain flours possess over de-germed and de-branned flours derived from the same grains..

It is my unsubstantiated belief, which I have only recently come to believe in, that very long refrigerated pre-ferments are ultimately going to prove out to be of great benefit as regards to humans digesting baked breads made from whole grains..It is my thinking that 7-10 day refrigerated pre-ferments (which I have just started experimenting with) are going to break down not just the starches in flour into sugars; but to break down the other elements of the ground whole grain so that more nutrients can be absorbed in the colon during the digestive process..I have no scientific basis for feeling this way, it is simply a "GUT" feeling of mine..


foolishpoolish's picture

I'm sure your results taste great but if enzymatic activity is your main goal when using preferments then I'm curious why such a long refrigeration time is necessary (7-10 days sounds extreme). In fact, if you're storing your preferment at very low temperatures (much below 40) then you may not even be getting the full benefit of a preferment. Much like yeast, enzymes tend to be more active in a warmer environment.  While there can certainly be a benefit from refrigerated ferment in preventing/slowing down the yeast multiplying while still exploiting the activity from some enzymes, the other main advantage to the process, is convenience. ie put your dough in the fridge and pull it out whenever you want to bake within in a 3-4 day window....not so relevant, perhaps, for a dedicated baking operation but for the homebaker with a busy schedule, this can be a godsend.

If your main interest is exploiting enzymes (ie the hydrolysis of wheat/grain) then you might be better served with a yeastless autolyse - mixing flour and water without any yeast or culture and leaving it to sit at a warmer temperature for a shorter period of time. (FWIW The original Gosselin 'pain a l'ancienne' uses a yeastless autoylse...the BBA version was adapted by Peter Reinhart for the convenience of home bakers). Salt should be added for longer autolyse to prevent degradation of gluten from protease.

Strictly from a *fermentation* point of view, there is no real benefit to slowing down your ferment.  Colder temperatures can, however, selectively inhibit yeast growth allowing other processes to run longer (including bacterial growth in sourdough cultures).  Since many of these factors are temperature specific, it would be prudent to choose which breads would benefit most from cold retardation, rather than use a blanket 'refrigeration is good' and 'more refrigeration is better' rule.




goldbread's picture

Great article on the nutritional qualities of sourdough bread:

dabrownman's picture

What are called Kaiser rolls were also invented in Austria for Franz Joseph and rightfully called Franz Joseph Rolls.  He just needed a shorter mre catchy name:-)  I the day, the Austrians were the great bakers of the world and nobility all over Europe sent their bakers their to learn how to bake pastries. cakes and breads and why Austria still has some the greatest bakeries and bakers ever known to man.