The Fresh Loaf

A Community of Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts.

bread flour

AnnieT's picture

bread flour

This week I borrowed "From a Baker's Kitchen" from the library. The author is Gail Sher who was the first head baker of Tassajara Bread bakery, and it was first published in 1984. In the ingredients section she mentions bread flour and goes on to describe Spring wheat and Winter wheat and their different features. Then lower down she talks about Bread Flour introduced in 1982, a combination of high gluten flour and barley malt flour with potassium bromate added (a dough conditioner.) She states "This new product causes the dough to rise overly fast so that the true texture and flavor of the wheat do not have sufficient opportunity to develop. Therefore it is not recommended." I'm curious - is she referring to what we now mostly use for bread? Was it such a radical invention? Also, to hark back to my other post about low temperature baking, it seems that most of her breads are baked at 350*. Some, like the fougasse, are started at 400* for 10 minutes then lowered to 350*. Was this the old way, and how and when did we start using the high temperatures to create what I for one consider to be much superior bread? A.


subfuscpersona's picture

Re potassium bromate - this "conditioner" was used in *bleached* flour to speed up the aging process, thus saving the mass marketers the expense of storing tons of flour for 4 weeks or more to achieve natural aging (eg - *unbleached* flour). Exposure to oxygen brings about chemical changes in white flour that improve the development of gluten.

Potassium bromate has a bad rep as it is associated with the development of certain cancers in laboratory tests and is seldom used anymore in reputable brands.

Bromate was first found to cause tumors in rats in 1982. Subsequent studies on rats and mice confirmed that it causes tumors of the kidney, thyroid, and other organs. Instead of banning bromate, since 1991 the FDA — with only partial success — has urged bakers to voluntarily stop using it.
- see for more info.

You may see some ascorbic acid added to some brands of bread flour - especially bleached flour; ascorbic acid has largely replaced the use of potassium bromate as an additive to promote quick aging. (FYI, I've always purchased unbleached white flour.)

On the other hand, barley malt flour is a common ingredient in both all-purpose and bread flours (at least in the brands I buy). I honestly can't remember whether barley malt flour was added to the flours I purchased before the early '80s.

I do remember bread flour becoming common in my local supermarkets in the early '80s (I live in NE USA). Before then, it was impossible to find (I used to sift in a small amount of gluten flour to all-purpose flour to get a kinda bread flour). Mass marketing of bread flour by major commercial mills accompanied the rise in popularity of bread machines, which were also introduced in the early 80s.

Don't know much about old vs. new re different baking temperatures. The older baking books I had generally recommended at least 450F for "freeform" bread (that is, any kind of bread *not* baked in any kind of container).

Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking - Vol II recommended baking baguettes (and other shapes for french bread) in a 450F preheated oven and even her "pain de mie" (sandwhich bread baked in a loaf pan with a cover) called for 435F. This volume was originally published in 1970 and was reprinted several times over the decade. Her book From Julia Child's Kitchen (which was also published in the early '70s) called for a bread baking temperature of 450F.

Linda Logan's picture
Linda Logan

Bread flour has become too expensive ($8.00/5# bag of King Arthur) I want to use just all purpose flour to save money. I'm thinking if I add some malted barley flour or malted wheat (which I can make myself) to the all purpose I can get the advantages of the bread flour.  Would this work?    Any idea on porportions?

subfuscpersona's picture

The addition of malted barley flour is (as I said in my prior post) quite common in most bread or all-purpose flour and is not the issue.

Bread flour is distinguished from all-purpose flour primarily by it's slightly higher protein content (which is a result of the choice of wheats used to mill that flour). In general, the higher the protein %, the better the flour for developing gluten. However, higher values for protein don't automatically translate to better bread.

As a rule of thumb, for most bread, around 12% protein is what you want to aim for. Protein values higher than that are for speciality breads such as bagels, or for breads that may contain a very high percentage of flours that have little or no gluten (such as some multi-grain breads). Too high a protein value can actually result in bread that is tough and has a dense crumb.

My brand of choice for most bread baking is "Harvest King" from General Mills. It has 12% protein. While all flours have increased in price over the past 6-9 months, the cost of Harvest King flour remains significantly less than all types of King Arthur flour.

Here are the protein percentages for some King Arthur flours...
Unbleached Bread flour - 12.8% protein
Unbleached All-Purpose flour - 11.7% protein
European-style Artisan Bread flour - 11.7% protein

You'll notice that KA Unbleached All-Purpose flour is actually a better choice for most bread baking than it's Bread flour.

My suggestion is to look for alternative, more reasonably priced unbleached flour in your local markets. You can often find the protein content of a brand's line of flours by going to it's web site; if you can't find it in the retail section of the web site, look for a section aimed at professional bakers (or look for a category called "Hotel and Restaurant" which may be abbreviated "H & R". You can also usually contact the manufacturer directly from it's web site and email them your inquiry about their flour specifications.