The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

High gluten flour or just add vwg to ap?

jkandell's picture

High gluten flour or just add vwg to ap?

I've always kept both an all purpose flour, and a high-gluten "bread" flour like giusto's "ultimate performer".

Can I just add a bit of VWG to the all purpose, and avoid buying two flours?


balmagowry's picture

I actually do something similar at the next level - I do keep bread flour on hand, and I add VWG to it in varying percentages to bring it up to 14.2% and 19.2%, to simulate KAF's Sir Lancelot and First Clear respectively. This works reasonably well, but I don't imagine it's perfect. Anyway, one day I needed to fake up the First Clear and I was out of bread flour but I had plenty of AP, so I adjusted the VWG percentage accordingly and used that, and... it was definitely better than nothing, but the flavor of the bread lost something in character, I think. Hard to quantify exactly. Adding a small amount of white whole wheat to the mix (about 10%, IIRC, which meant adjusting the proportion of VWG to compensate) helped some. I'm not sure how much of this is my imagination. Maybe if I hadn't known it was a workaround I wouldn't have noticed as much of a difference.

proth5's picture

I don't post much anymore, but I saw this and thought - maybe I should.

Flour has a lot more going on than protein content and the more this is understood, the less happy one might be with adding vital wheat gluten to "make" various types of flour. (And I will say that some bakers are quite entusiastic about vital wheat gluten and will probably argue with me -but I remain undeterred in my opinion.)

For example, "first clear" flour gets its high protein content from the fact that it contains flour milled from the outer part of the endosperm where the protein percents are higher, but the protein quality is lower. This area also is very close to the bran layer, so the mineral - or "ash" - content is much higher. Ash brings flavor, so, yes, if one simply adds vital wheat gluten to "make"the high protein content of clear flour, someting is lost.

Similarly the wheats that naturally yield high protein patent flours are different wheats. I can actually smell the differences in flours, but beyond that they will have different qualities of -to keep it simple - elasticity or extensibilty.  This creates differences in the dough (and the baked product) that go beyond a simple measure of protein.

So, adding (I tend to say "adulterating")flour with vital wheat gluten will simply change one aspect of the original flour - not truly create another one.

Other posters have mentioned what I am sure are great ways to calculate how much vwg to add. My suggestion is to learn a bit more about flour and understand what is really going on.

It is unfortunate that the complete specs are hard to obtain on flours sold to home bakers, but when they can be gotten, they are most informative.

Hope this helps.

balmagowry's picture

but for the moment it's what I have available, and I figure it's better than nothing. I realize goosing up gluten doesn't actually solve the problem, but with the addition of some other adulterating components (whole wheat flour, a little extra bran, etc.) it gets me closer to the desired result than any of the alternatives. Beats working with straight-up bread flour, at any rate. Sometimes the perfect is the enemy of the good.

golgi70's picture

Having some experience using VWG I it may seemingly help in certain situations (you want bagels and the only white flour available to you is AP for example) but it is not the same as using a stronger flour in itself.  In fact it adds poor eating quality in my opinion.  It dries the crumb and adds a poor texture to the loaf.  Granted, done with a skilled hand and in the right place, it can be useful but after my experience using it for a few years I think I'll never buy the stuff again.  I even took some time to adjust formulas that had VWG and remove it to see if I liked it better.  In the few tests I much preferred the loaf without.  

Since you mention you can get your hands on Giustos Ultimate Performer (a good strong flour) I'd stick with keeping two types of white flour around.  If it's because you can no longer get this flour King Arthur Bread Flour is a pretty good strong flour as well.  At my previous work the bread line was set up with HP flour (which I still believe was a mistake) and we used Giustos High Performance for quite some time.  We did eventually switch to Central Milling across the board and their High Mountain HP is some of the nicest HP flour I've gotten to work with.  It's got a beautiful cream color and is just slightly softer than most HP flours clocking in around 13% protein.  More than enough to serve the purpose.  


proth5's picture

Hi Josh,

I would also have added that when working with flours with less than desired protein levels various styles/types/percentages of pre ferments can be used to make the dough perform better for the product in mind. I did that when I was working with bread machine whole wheat bread and didn't want to add the vwg that everyone said was essential. 

I've been involved in a lot of spirited discussions about working with lower protein flours (especially with the "local grains" types) and the mention of vwg certainly stirs some -er- emotion.

Thanks for agreeing with me (you make some great points) but as usual I am so clearly wrong :-) .

Time to go back to not  posting.


balmagowry's picture

From where I'm standing, though, it seems to be a matter of choosing the lesser of two evils, at least for now. I'm making a Greenstein-ish sour rye, for instance, which already has a pretty considerable deal of pre-ferment going on in the three-stage sour. The final dough calls for first clear, which I don't have. At this point I have two options. I can use the strongest flour I have, i.e. KAF bread flour, or I can boost that flour with a few other things, i.e. a little VWG and a little bran, to try to give it at least some of the missing characteristics. So far I have found that the second approach gives me a much better result than the first. I'm not deluding myself that this is the equivalent of the real thing. But for the moment it's the best I've got, and the other is by far the second best. Which kind of makes it a no-brainer. If I held out strictly for the Platonic ideal I'd have to give up baking altogether, and that's not an acceptable option.

I have read and admired a lot of your posts about flour types and composition and milling, and learned much from them; if I ever grow up I'd love to emulate you in some of these regards. That's a big if, though. Meanwhile, at least I have bread that is head and shoulders above anything I can buy. It's a step in the right direction.

(BTW, and totally OT - you're a fellow spinner, no? Do you read Ply Magazine? Textiles are what I do in real life, and their recent feature on flax was my doing.)

proth5's picture

have a sensitive streak, but let me suggest that you boost your bread flour with bran (I'd use remilled bran if I wanted to be fancy, but I have the technology to do that) which is more in line with what you will find in first clear, but skip the vwg. 

I've done high percentage sour ryes under the tutelage of a rye expert and used neither first clear, nor vwg, just a higher gluten "all purpose" or no more than a bread flour.

Of course the origin of clear flour in rye breads harks back to it simply being a cheap flour (because the miller could not sell it as the whiter patent flour most bakers want) with the rye hiding the darker color. Somehow this has now been folded into rye lore and people pay premium prices for first clear.

And "lower quality"protein really does have meaning. In a real clear flour, the 19 or whatever percent will not act like 19% in a patent flour.

When working with high percentage ryes, the wheat flour really isn't adding that much structure anyway.

There's kind of a movement fomenting in the baking community to learn to work with these lower gluten flours and to keep vwg out of the equation. Frankly, it makes a lot of sense to me and although I realize that not every baker has access to all the flours that they want at the time they want them, I find the general concept of keeping one type of flour and just "gooseing up" the protein content to "make" different flours to be somewhat questionable. Flour and all the qualities a specific flour brings is so important to bakers, its worth a little investment both in material and technique to do the best we can with the flours we have. As a faut de mieux, it might work, but on a personal level, I won't do it.

And yes I am a handspinner, but haven't been involved in stuff like guilds, etc. for many years. In fact, I have not heard of the publication you mentioned, although it is something I would be interested in. Worth looking into in the near future.


balmagowry's picture

NB on principle I couldn't agree with you more about the fallacy of keeping one flour on hand and using different additives to fake others. As it is I have three baseline flours, each the closest I can reasonably obtain to what I'm shooting for to begin with. In my dreams... oh yes, some day ALL the flours will be mine, and maybe I can even cross over into the dimension of milling. (Seems like a huge leap... but then I remember when I was sure I'd never become a spinner. Life does funny things, sometimes.)

What really intrigues me, though - this is the old culinary-historian habit dying hard, I guess - is the question of why first clear should and/or shouldn't be a requirement for "authentic" Jewish rye. Also, the similar argument for/against the use of Altes. To some degree both are a little like the old joke about cutting a piece off the end of the ham before putting it in the oven... except that that slicing really doesn't have any important effect on the ham. The thing is, these ingredients that weren't truly traditional at one time became traditional at another time, and in both cases this happened for a reason. And unlike the ham slice, both did affect the resulting bread. So what I think is important, from an evolutionary perspective, is not so much which is more authentic, but which particular authenticity one is trying to capture. You could make a similar argument about the use of white/light rye flour instead of dark - it wasn't traditional in the Old Country, but it meant something in the new country. As a grandchild of those Lower East Side immigrants (who, not very coincidentally, were prolific memoirists and correspondents, so they left behind a very rich vein of information and impressions), I am fascinated by the transitions involved.

It's that grand old historical question of whether or not you can step in the same river twice. History is like dough, a living and changing thing, and pinpointing one specific moment will produce a very different picture from pinpointing another. The way I look at it, the traditional rye bread of the Lower East Side, what became the rye bread I grew up on, evolved through natural and explainable socio-economic stages from the bread of the Old Country to the bread of the new, and at a certain point in space and time it became the bread that is made with first clear and Altes. Does the reason matter? Yes, of course it does - to the historian it matters very much. Does it make one approach to the bread more or less "authentic" than another? Not necessarily. I think it is both important and interesting to learn how these things came about and to understand which tradition one is trying to honor, and therefore why one chooses which elements to reproduce and which to discard. I have yet to try "echt" first clear, so I can only theorize about what effect that would have on my rye. It's something I look forward to testing someday, in as controlled a way as my kitchen can handle. Meanwhile, to date I have found that the rye I like best, the one that reminds me most strongly of my childhood, is the one I'm making now with my ersatz first clear and a fair amount of Altes. This doesn't prove anything in the big picture, but what it does tell me is that the rye I had as a kid probably also included Altes. I've made a rye without Altes that came out really well, but... it didn't taste or feel quite as right to me. I guess this is part of the art-vs.-science aspect of baking - the subjective end of that scale veers heavily into I-know-what-I-like territory, in my case with a strong admixture of nostalgia. 

In my mind it isn't a matter of there being One True Way to make rye bread. It's a matter of identifying which rye bread you want to make, and finding a way to do that. I count myself lucky that the bread I'm trying to reproduce is one I have experienced personally, one I remember deeply and fondly (I'm reminded of Varda's quest for Tzitzel), so what I'm striving to recapture recalls a piece of my own history.

Getting back to the more practical aspect, I'm also fascinated by what you say about using bran in preference to VWG if one is faking it anyway. This is something I can easily try, and I will.

Not until after Rhinebeck, though! ;-)

(Back OT: Ply is pretty new, a glossy quarterly., I think.)

proth5's picture

Last "putting my oar in" I will say that I am somewhat of an anomaly on these pages in that I have no recollection of eating   "bakery made" products in my formative years, so I have never had the desire to recreate that exact bread from my youth. I have an extesive collection of "formulas from my grandmother" which due to a strain of attention to detail that seems to have fallen close to the tree, gives me exact content and technique to duplicate the goods.

My sojourn in Okinawa strengthened my resolve to use the freshest and closest to nature ingredients that I can find and this actually might preclude making duplicates of what was available when I was a child - not exactly when dinosaurs roamed tbe earth - but during a time when convenience reigned. 

I will say, that the idea to spike flour with bran to "simulate" clear flour comes from the knowledge of exactly what clear flour is. One might also consider using whole wheat which will be a higher protein than the patent flour from the same wheat. It is the ash content boosting the flavor.

And that is really my point in posting at all. This is our primary ingredient as bread bakers and before having detailed discussions on vwg here and malt there, it serves us all well to understand more about the complex nature of what most people think of as a simple, commodity ingredient.


balmagowry's picture

I feel exactly the same way about fiber prep. I suppose I sort of understand why people might comb or card without flicking first, or make "faux-lags" out of commercial "combed" top, or spin top or locks without regard to orientation. (Or indeed why they would send a fleece away to be processed by someone else.) Sort of. But it makes no sense to me, none whatsoever. Life is too short to settle for less than Doing It Right.

And yet there's still the perfect being the enemy of the good, or of the better-than-nothing. Philosophical dilemma. Boils down to picking your battles, I guess. That said, someday I'd love to get my life to where I don't need to cut corners in baking or textiles.

A girl can dream. ;-)

dabrownman's picture

having your own mill.  I used o use a lot more VWG in all kinds of breads, even made my own, for the same reasons you do.  I don't see anything wrong with it as VWG is made naturally from whole wheat and what vegans eat in place of meat.  I figure that some flour naturally has more gluten than others depending on the grain and how it was milled  and if you want to use a 10% protein AP flour to make a white bread, it as about the only thing you can do.  I mean lets face it, many folks just can't afford to pay over a dollar a pound for KA bread flour but they can afford 11.2% La Fama AP at 30 cents a pound and a bit of VWG - but the VWG isn't needed to make good bread with 11.2% protein flour either.  I say anything goes with bread making and there is plenty of room for everyone who makes bread - any whay they want. 

I can't remember the last time I used VWG after I got a mill..  I'm pretty sure you could fake a goodd 'first clear' with the right sieves and a cheap Nutrimill or WonderMill like I have.  You are never going to replicate a commercial mill no matter what kind of mill you have at home.  The problem with a mill is that you are limited to what grains you can source for a reasonable price. In the last year, half the places I could get whole berries disappeared when Sprouts quit carrying whole berries in the bins.  Now  it is expensive  Whole Foods for everything except wheat and I'm guessing Whole Foods will cut back on what they carry since their competitors have already done so,.  Then it will be online only and really expensive.  Still the berries you get are all you have and if they are low quality - so is your resulting flour. 

The thing about a milling your own grain is that you have no idea what % protein your resulting flour is so you have no way of knowing how to doctor it up with VWG...... and if you are using a lot of whole grains in your breads then malt isn't required either.

You are spot on with your assessment of history changing with each snapshot in time.  Milling is a prime example.  In the middle ages milling, while not as sophisticated as today, was quite capable of making a wide range of flour types from white to whole. The nobles and rich ate white bread and the rest ate non white bread.   Some nobles banned common people from eating white bread and in some places the cost of white flour was out of the reach of the masses as well.

So light style rye bread using light rye flour with a lot of wheat white flour were certainly available just not for the masses.  As the labor was taken out of the milling process, white flour became less expensive and in much greater supply as well so eventually the middle classes could get it and afford it but the lower class still ate non white bread for economic reasons.  Eventually flour became so cheap anyone could get it and afford white bread - all of us, and long before us, grew up in this era.

I remember well the bread we grew up on - it was Wonder Bread.  No other bread, or the next several best selling breads, ever came close to selling more.  It was so popular the government forced, or politely asked,  the company to put extra vitamins and minerals in it to stop childhood diseases - and paid them to do it.  There was nothing like it.  It was a  Wonder Bread - no question about it.  The Jewish Deli rye with first clear and altus you grew up on was the wonderbBread of the Jewish Community and, I'm guessing like you, the direct result of economics - just like Wonder Bread.

The more and more expensive rye, compared to wheat, kept going down as a % of overall flour from 50% to the 30% we see today.  First clear was so inexpensive compared to rye flour that it was added to the mix to lower the cost.  Altus has always been used in bakeries everywhere because bakers aren't throwing out day old bread just because they couldn't sell it and the next day the altus costs the baker a heck of lot less than even first clear flour did.   So taking a snapshot of today's history we see 30% rye Jewish Deli Rye as the norm with no first clear and no altus (if all the bread sold the day before) and maybe in some cases a commercial yeast booster to speed things up too.

Like you say, this is very different than the higher rye content, first clear and maybe altus of what you grew up on and way different that the Jewish Deli Rye your great, great, grand parents grew up on before commercial yeast was available.  Another odd thing about history is than much of what we think and believe about it.... is totally ancient Egyptians in 1,500 BC stumbling upon and inventing levened bread .  We now know from more recent digging in the ground by modern anthropologists,  that it is very likely this older notion about history is incoorect and that levened bread predates the Egyptians by perhaps thousands of years.

Oddly, the Wonder Bread of its time has now gone into bankruptcy twice and its sales are way off due to their competitors undercutting them with the same bread at half the cost.   But the wonder bread of Jewish Deli Rye has seen a resurgence among bakers and many, like you and Varda, are trying to recreate the wonder bread of their youth.  Varda was lucky enough to talk to the owners of Prazel's in St Louis to get a handle on the correct recipe which was different than she had imagined.  It is a shame that over the eons, so many recipes went to the grave with the baker..

This shouldn't.t happen as often today with TFL community and so many bakers writing bread books - with ITJB a perfect example.   Good luck with your JDR quest.    

balmagowry's picture

You're right, I would totally love to have my own mill and explore in that direction. I can't go that route right now because I'm already putting 48 hours/day into my indie fiber/design business, and all I need is another complicated obsession. But that's another river that will change by the next time I step in it, no doubt. New place just opened near me that sells a few grains in bulk. Very tempting. No rye, alas, but maybe I can talk them into it.

At the next level up the practicality ladder, I do use a lot of KAF Bread Flour because I can get it locally for a reasonable price. What I can't afford to do very often is pay top dollar for small amounts of more esoteric flours from KAF or NYB, because the top dollar includes prohibitive shipping costs that double the price of the flour. Hence the VWG workaround for first clear, and the more modest ditto for bagels. I do think Pat's point about how that addresses only one aspect of the discrepancy is an important one, and in fact when I'm mocking up first clear I don't limit myself to that. Have played with whole wheat and am now all agog to do the same with bran. And at some point when I can really devote my mind to proper testing I will source the genuine article and do some side-by-side baking tests so I can get an empirical sense of just what I am really sacrificing and compromising by faking it.

I can't quite equate the JDR with Wonder Bread, though. NB I too grew up on Wonder Bread, and I don't doubt it helped build my strong body twelve ways. But rye bread was also a staple with us. Sure, there was a Wonder-analogous version - the best of that kind in those days was Pechter's - but more usually we got our rye (and our Kornbroyt!) from the smaller Jewish bakeries. So I think even then it was a little closer to the artisanal end of the spectrum. I suppose the closest rye analogue to Wonder, mass-market-wise, was Levy's - and we all turned up our old-world noses at Levy's!

Funny you should mention about the commercial yeast boost. All the source recipes I've been working from - Greenstein, ITJB, etc. - do include it, and it's only recently that I got to the point with my JDR where I thought hey, look at all this happy rambunctious rye sour action, WHY do I need to add yeast to this? (I totally understand why it would have been necessary for a commercial baker's schedule, but that doesn't apply to me.) So I dropped it altogether from the last bake, and sure enough, We don't NEED no steenkin' yeast. I didn't guess exactly right about how much to adjust proofing time, so there's still a little tweaking in my near future to get the crumb density the way I want it. But dang, that's some good bread. It's actually more intense and complex than the remembered bread of childhood, and that too is exciting. It's like a distillation of nostalgia, in edible form. 'Scuse me, I think I need to go make a piece of rye toast RIGHT NOW.

hanseata's picture

I use VWG only in small amounts in 100% rye Vollkornbrot. Never saw the necessity to use it with wheat flour.


Maverick's picture

You should be able to use alligation math (aka tic-tac-toe math) to get the gluten you want. I would think it would work out the same. I suppose if the percentage VWG was too high it might change the flavor but I am not sure. I have not heard of flavor differences when used in moderation. I say go for it.

jkandell's picture

hanseata, I prefer the flavor of ap flour, so I almost always go with flavor over texture. And it's much cheaper than guistos ultimate performer. But there are times when I use the guistos high performer ("better for bread") like when making 80-90% ryes, bagels, some challah, and bread with a lot of soaker weight (whenever hamelman calls for "high gluten flour").  Just adding VWG instead seems cheaper, but now I'm having second thoughts.