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Ultimate French Puzzle: Sourdough with French Flours (Help please)

faithtof's picture

Ultimate French Puzzle: Sourdough with French Flours (Help please)

Long time lurker of The Fresh Loaf and excited to finally make a post. I've been searching for months on this forum trying different recipes and techniques and I just can't get a good result so hoping someone kind here can help.

I am trying to make sourdough with only French flours and no matter what I do I get a dense, sticky loaf.

I've been following various recipes from Vanessa Kimbell, Tartine, and this forum and can't seem to get any info on the best mix of French flours for a fluffy, light sourdough loaf. I would like to only use levain (no yeast).

Currently I refresh a Vanessa Kimbell sourced starter with T45 Foricher flour. It's active and bubbly and I make sure it floats before I use it.

What I can't figure out is what mix of flours to use: I have T45, T65, T80 and T150. All French from Foricher. I've tried primarily T45 with a bit of the others, primarily T80 with some of the others and T65 with some of the others, none of them turn out.

I've tried following recipes exactly as well as using a lot less or a lot more water too and tried varying legths of time in the oven.

Please help :) 

Martin Crossley's picture
Martin Crossley

Welcome and congrats on making your first post :)

Your question reminds me of when I first started making sourdough, after many years of making yeasted bread that I was really proud of... BOY what a comedown it was, when my first attempts spread all over the oven like paving slabs...

My go-to solution for yeasted bread was 'in case it spreads too much, go for a stronger flour!' so that's what I did - but it didn't do much good !!  After a while, I started to realise that there was a LOT more to choose between different flours than I'd ever appreciated; and while such details as the 'ash content' don't matter much for bread risen with baker yeast they become very significant indeed for SD.

That's a long way of saying that the key to improving my SD was actually to do a big survey of good quality flour available to me in the UK, and find one that was the closest match I could get to a good FRENCH flour (and now I am very happy with the results).

I think you should be fine with 100% T65 to be honest - but undoubtedly you are right in imagining that you may have to tweak the recipe and/or techniques to suit your flour and terroir :-)

Which part of France are you in? it may have some local SD'ists that you can seek out via social networking...

Martin Crossley's picture
Martin Crossley

Is this the Foricher T65 that you have?

Interestingly if I read that correctly, it's already got salt in it... not ideal!  Perhaps look for an alternative that has no additives?

Worth reading the comments to the article  (French)

pmccool's picture

janedo was fairly active on TFL for a while and she lived in France at the time.  Since she was working with local flours there, you may find some useful information in her posts.  Just type her name in the Search box at the upper right hand corner of the page and click on the Search button.


faithtof's picture

Wow thank you guys for the fast replies :) I am actually in North America but I use the French flour because of a family/personal reason :) And yes it is Foricher as you say, but the T65 I use is the bio one (green label).

So for normal sourdough then T65 (white roller milled) is okay? What about for refreshing starter?

I am curious about T45 (almost like a pastry flour, also white roller milled) and T80 (stoneground white) if either of these should be used for refreshing starter or for making the bread itself.

Do I need to adjust water or starter content with these flours vs. American AP etc flour?

Thank you :)

Martin Crossley's picture
Martin Crossley

The 'number' with the french flour describes the 'ash' content of the flour - in particular, the weight of ash remaining after a fixed quantity of the flour has been blasted in a furnace (for more details, see this post).

The reason that's of interest is because it equates to the mineral content of the flour - and the reason that matters is because the minerals act as a chemical buffer system that allow the microbes in the dough to produce more acid (i.e. grow more, deliver more of a 'sour' flavour) before the effects of that lower the pH of the dough so much as to to inhibit their activity.

Ash content is related to - but not exactly the same as - the 'extraction rate' of the flour; however you can be sure that a higher ash content is a strong indicator of a higher extraction rate...

The extraction rate describes how much of the  whole grain is present in it. So a low extraction flour appears very 'white' and a high extraction flour appears 'brown'. Higher extraction flours  (aka 'whole-wheat' / 'w-w') contain more of the microbes that live naturally on the outer layers of the grain; so by using more of these in your starter feed you are constantly topping up and re-diversifying the population in your starter.

The final part of the puzzle is the protein content - how 'strong' the flour is. This depends on the variety of the wheat and the conditions it grew in - which determine how easily you will be able to form an elastic gluten structure with it. Canadian and N.American flours will typically have a higher protein content than European ones... however that is not to say you necessarily get 'prouder' loaves with them: that's a matter of hydration and technique.

So in summary - Yes, I would certainly include a bit of T80 in your starter feeds; and also in your main dough if you like a more sour flavour. That's personally what I do too - typically chucking in about 10% 'whole-wheat' across the board.

As to adjustments in hydration, timings etc that's REALLY hard to say, because it depends so much on your recipe/process etc. However in general doughs with a higher proportion of whole-wheat make for a more sour taste; and remain manageable at higher hydration levels. They also benefit from a slightly longer autolyse period.

It's a rich and varied subject, and there's only one real way forward - which is to experiment, change one factor at a time, and keep good records :-) ;-) 

Vimfuego's picture

I live in France and use either T65, T80, T110 and T150.

T65 is my go to and I feed my starter with 80% T65 and 20% T80, 100% hydration. It's a wet starter, but it does the trick. 

For French flour I'd recommend reducing the hydration a little in your final dough. A 75-78% hydrated T65 heavy dough will be really difficult to shape. I usually aim for 72%.

I keep the T45 for pastry.