King Arthur’s Bread Flour vs. store-brand bread flour
So I’ve always wondered of different brands of flours actually made a difference, and from researching the internet, the answer seemed obvious... yeah. Especially KA flour, which seems to have an extremely loyal group of followers. But rather than just taking their word for it, I wanted to put it to the test. So I made 2 loaves of the same bread, but one with KA bread flour, one with cheap, store brand bread flour.
I was able to get the store brand bread flour on sale for only $1 (score!), while KA bread flour was about $5 a bag.
So now that we’ve established that there was a drastic price difference, it comes down to the actual flour itself. Obviously, I was pretty skeptical of this $1 flour, and I had to put it to the test. A side-by-side comparison was the only way to go.
The recipe I use to test was from KA website. I made their Hokkaido Milk Bread, or Japanese milk bread. The link can be found here:
I've made this recipe several times before and the result is always the softest, fluffiest, almost melt-in-your mouth bread. First, you make a tangzhong by combining flour, milk and water, cooking it until it thickens. Then, it relies on very heavy kneading in order to achieve the right texture and and crumb.
Store-brand flour loaf:
So I decided to make my first loaf with the generic store-brand flour. I made the tangzhong and put all the ingredients into the stand mixer and began the kneading. I waited for the dough to become smooth and elastic. And waited. And waited.
Okay, so it took a little more than an hour for the store-brand flour bread to knead into a beautiful, smooth bread dough. That's a pretty long time... I have to guess that the long knead time may have been due to lower gluten-content, which caused the dough to require a longer amount of time for enough gluten to develop. But eventually, it kneaded up into a nice and smooth dough that passed the windowpane test (I found it a bit difficult to take a picture of showing the windowpane test, so it's not perfect).
I had to run out for a little so I let it bulk ferment in the fridge. When I came back, it was ready to shape and proof for the final bake. Usually. For Japanese milk bread, I like to make 3 rolls and put them side-by-side, so they look like 3 cute little mountains when they bake. The dough was very smooth and shaped up nicely.
Again, I let it proof until the rolls were puffed-up and very soft and airy.
Ready to bake!
A giant bubble formed during the final proof, not quite sure how that happened. Also, I may have not shaped it well, because a few tears began to appear on the side rolls. Or maybe the store-brand bread flour wasn't strong enough to withstand the proof?
Anyways, the bread baked out nicely, aside from the tears on the surface. The bubble disappeared for some reason. It bread rose nicely in the oven, and it smelled wonderful (oh, the smell of baking bread!).
Is it just me or does anybody else think that bread can be cute?
My initial thoughts: It's bread, all right. It seems pretty soft and springy. Has anybody else heard the good bread is like a sponge? That if you press it, it should spring right back into the original shape? I'm not sure if it's true. Anyways, the results seemed pretty decent. Time to see if KA bread flour can beat it out, though I hadn't tasted it yet.
King Arthur's Bread Flour:
So I followed the procedure the same way: made the tangzhong, combined all the ingredients, and kneaded it all together. Only this time, it only took 45 minutes for it to become a smooth and elastic dough.
Actually, I could feel a difference in the dough. KA flour's bread dough felt a lot softer and smoother than the store-brand bread dough. I doubt that it was because I over-kneaded the store-brand bread dough because I had kept a very close eye on it. I have a feeling that the flour really did make a difference.
Anyways, wow! That is a significant time difference for kneading the dough. 15 minutes may not seem like a lot to some people, but it really is. Again, I had to run out for a little so I let the dough bulk-ferment in the fridge and came back later to shape the dough.
Soooo, I forgot to take a picture immediately after shaping, so these rolls have already proofed for a little bit. Also, I forgot to take a picture of the bread that had fully proofed, and the bread right after I pulled it out of the oven.
The rolls proofed beautifully. I thought that maybe I hadn't shaped these well either, and that they would tear like the other loaf, but nope. No tears! The bread rose beautifully in the oven. My initial feel of the loaves, the KA loaf was definitely softer. The crust didn't seem as tough of thick. But first, we needed to slice into the loaves and actually taste the bread before we could compare.
One thing I noticed was that the store-brand flour loaf (top) had a split where it rose in the oven. while the KA loaf didn't. Was it because I didn't proof the store-brand loaf enough, or what? If anybody knows a possible reason, please comment.
KA flour loaf is on the left, store-brand flour is on the right.
So just looking at the bread, the crumb doesn't look TOO different, except the crumb for the KA loaf seemed very slightly airier. However, I could feel a difference. The KA loaf definitely had a softer crumb and crust. When I tasted them, the store-brand flour bread was pretty good. Soft and fluffy. However, the KA flour loaf was definitely softer and the crust was a little less tough. However, I wanted to actually put it to the test, with my family. I let them try both the crust and the crumb, without knowing which bread was from which loaf. This eliminates some potential bias I may have.
The winner was clear with my family. They all agreed that KA flour loaf was better, with softer texture and crust. However, a few members said the difference was pretty small, though some thought the difference was obvious.
My conclusion? The store-brand flour baked a pretty decent loaf. Especially if you're just baking for fun or just starting out, $1 for a 5 lb bag of bread flour is a pretty good deal. However, there was definitely a difference in the 2 loaves, like in the kneading time. If you're willing to shell out a few extra bucks to save some time and maybe get a better loaf, KA flour is definitely the way to go.
I made some delicious fruit sandwiches with the KA loaf with the some strawberries, bananas, blueberries and nectarines:
As for the store-brand loaf, since it wasn't as soft, I made french toast. I love using Hokkaido milk bread for french toast, and the store-brand loaf french toast was still perfect to make french toast.
What do you guys think? Are you willing to spend a few extra dollars on KA bread flour? I definitely am.
Also, if you have any thoughts about my test procedure, or just the bread making process in general, please comment. I'd love to hear your feedback, and I'm always looking for knew ways to make better bread.