My apologies if the following sounds like an anti-intellectual post but it is an attempt to write down and express the great difficulty I have with 'understanding flour'.
First there's the type of wheat (or rye or spelt etc. etc. etc.) - what season did the crop grow? Is it red or white? How long has it been stored? Has it been malted? Did it rain on the weekend before it was harvested and what did the farmer have for breakfast that day?
Add some confusion bout protein and ash content.
On the one hand I read that high gluten gives you better gluten structure, greater extensibility and 'strength' contributing to higher rise and open crumb. Then almost in direct contradiction, I have read elsewhere that lower gluten is better for obtaining an open crumb and gives a more extensible dough. Throw in some vagaries about minerals and yeast fermentation, role of protein in crust formation (maillard from the breakdown of proteins presumably??) . Not to mention the 'quality' of protein (however you manage to measure that??!!).
Then I learn that protein is not equivalent to gluten...and that gluten is just part of the protein equation..oh and fling in some protease for good measure.
Then you go to a manufactuer's website where each flour is being touted as 'ideal for artisan baking' - whatever the hell that means?! Then you go to an artisan bread resource and you get home milling put into the equation...
Oh my goodness the milling!
...we have first clear, patent, 'matured' flour vs fresh flour, sifted whole wheat, high extraction, fine milled, coarse milled, stone milled....heather mills???
Eeek (and we haven't even got to mixing the dough yet!)
I'm no genius but I don't consider myself an idiot either ...I've honestly tried to follow the science and logic. Yet I come away feeling like I have ultimately learned nothing all the while losing confidence in the humble ol' bag of store-bought flour I have to bake with.
I admire the people who understand this far better than I do. Their dedication is amazingly inspiring! I just don't know what I'm missing in my understanding...some special training? some secret knowledge? some rosetta baking stone to decode the mysteries of bread?
Is there any hope in this big bread world of ours for someone like myself?