Flour: A Line Up

Bread, cake, AP …. what does it all mean? With the variety of flour that is available on the market, it is easy to be confused. When you then add in the wealth of overseas recipes that seems to call for a particular kind of flour, it makes for one major headache before you have even turned on the oven!

In Australia, there are 3 main types of flour available:

  • Plain/White (aka All Purpose, AP) Flour – this is your stock standard flour that you sees in the shops. It is what most recipes calls for. Generally this will contain ~10% protein.
  • Bread Flour – Not to confused with “Bread Mixes”, these are pure flour that contains more of the gluten components that gives bread that stretchy feel and rise. This contains ~11.5%+ protein. This is generally used for breads, pizzas, rolls and anything that needs that resistance to tearing. This is made from a harder variety of wheat than white flour.
  • Cake/Pastry Flour – These are special low protein flours that do not contain as much gluten. This is milled from a soft kind of wheat. Due to the low gluten level, it is used in cakes and products that need to be soft and crumbly. It generally contains <9% of protein. This is milled from a breed of wheat that are inherently softer. In fact if you put a bit of plain flour next to cake/pastry flour, you will find that cake/pastry flour will look more like baby powder than the plain flour.

(Note in America you can buy Cake or Pastry flour in the shops, one has been bleached to absorb more water in a recipe. However in Australia it tends to denote just low protein flour in general.)

Where's that cake flour when you need it?!

On the internet, it is a common advice to add some cornflour to all purpose flour to substitute for cake/pastry flour. But remember, all different types of flour are milled from different TYPES of wheat with its own characteristics. Substitution will get an approximation of the desired result, but its not a long term strategy.

This is a good experiment to do. Take your favourite cake recipe that calls for cake flour. Use cake/pastry flour for one batch and use plain flour + cornflour flour for the other batch. Don’t change anything else. If you compare the end results side by side, you will find that there will be a texture difference. In fact, depending on personal preference, you may choose to alter your recipe permanently!

PS am happy to take any left over cake as part of this experiment. 😉

 

Majority of the wheat flour in Australia will fall into one of the above categories. Any other terminology are likely to be a description of how and where the wheat has been processed.

Next up: Willy Wonka world of sugar…

Flour – Wheat: A Tear Down

Episode 2 of our flour series….

Wheat is a little seed, called kernel, that sits on top of a grass stalk. One stalk can have multiple wheat kernels. In fact, each little kernel is potential for a new stalk of wheat to grown. Inside each kernel are 3 main parts, germ, endosperm and bran.

Bran – its like our skin and clothes we put on. Its job is to protect the content inside from the weather and animals that may attack it. To do this, it is made of a tough material. The brown bits that you can see in wholemeal flour is mostly from the bran which is golden. This tougher material contains a lot of fibre, which is good for our health when we eat it.

Germ – Germ is where the core from which the baby wheat would have grown. As such it is high in protein, vitamins and minerals that the baby wheat would have needed to grow.

Endosperm – This makes up most of the wheat, sitting in between germ and bran, like a cushion. This is the part white flour comes from once the wheat is crushed. If you open a wheat up and zoom in, you will see mostly of this white powdery substance. It is also where the gluten (the stretchy component where bread and other baked goods get their texture) is located. Hence this is why most coeliac sufferers cannot eat wheat flour.

What is gluten free?

People who suffers from coeliac, gluten sensitivity has a digestive system that do not react well to gluten in food. If they eat lots of gluten, their guts will become irritated and can not absorb nutrients properly, amongst other consequences. Hence a lot of these people avoid gluten altogether to manage their condition.

Different people have different levels of sensitivity to the level of gluten in their diet. In Australia, for a food to be labelled gluten-free, they must not contain any detectable levels of gluten (which is different to rules in other developed countries). This means for most food makers having a gluten free recipe does not allow them to label the product as “gluten free”.

Why? If there are already trace levels of gluten in the air, preparation surface, walls (e.g. from a previous product that contains gluten), this can be transferred to the food. Usually, “gluten free” manufacturers have dedicated gluten free facilities to cater to this requirement.

This is why, due to our custom nature, while The Project Counter can use dietary requirement specific recipes in our cakes, we cannot offer specific “allergy free” products.

http://www.foodstandards.gov.au/consumer/labelling/nutrition/Pages/default.aspx

Flour: An Origin Story

Flour is a generic term that can applied to any grains that had been pounded into a powder form. However these days it’s commonly used to mean powder that has been produced from wheat grains.

But where did the ubiquitous powder come from? And what does it actually consists of? This series explores all of these.

Step 1

Wheat grass is harvested. In the old days it used to be done using a scythe and then the wheat grains are beaten off the stalks in bunches. These days a machine called a combine harvester is used to remove the seeds and leaves the stalks behind on the field.

What happens to the stalks then?
The stalks that are left on the ground are not going to waste. Usually a machine called a hay baler, is sent through the fields, after the combine harvester, and tie up the stalks into huge bales/rounds. These hay bales are then used for other purposes such as feed for animals. A great example of using up every part of a plant.

 

Step 2

The wheat grains are then cleaned and sorted so that any non-wheat things, like pebbles, twigs, are taken out. These are then sent to be “tempered”. See this as a hot bath for our wheat grains which makes it softer for crushing later.

Step 3

The wheat grains are then taken to be crushed by giant rollers. Each time the wheat germs are crushed, the fluffy white bits in the middle of the grain(called the endosperm) are crushed to a powder and that passes through the sieve. Anything that doesn’t get through are crushed again. This step is repeated until all the flour are extracted. What you have left are the skin and kernel (aka brans and germs) in the sieve.

Hang on...Whole... what?
Wholegrain and wholemeal are two words that are used to describe the fact that the germ and the bran (not just the endosperm) are crushed down and put into the flour as well.

Source: http://www.foodstandards.gov.au/consumer/nutrition/wholegrain/Pages/default.aspx

 

Step 4

It is mandatory, in Australia, for millers to add folic acid to flour, with a few select exceptions. This is added to the product before bagging and shipping to shops all over the country.

What's that in my flour?!
The folic acid addition is a reaction to concerns that folic acid levels have been declining in society. As folic acid has been shown to be critical to baby development BEFORE conception (up to a month before), this is a strategy that hopes to maintain folic acid levels in everyone with its flow on effect to the next generation.

Source: http://www.foodstandards.gov.au/consumer/nutrition/folicmandatory/Pages/default.aspx

 

Up Next in the Series…

A look inside the grain to see how this versatile grain gives us flour

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