The flowers of Flour.
In a way im lucky, because ive not been involved with serious commercial baking for a while, and so have the opportunity to bake just for one farmers market, once a week, just enough loaves to test a flour. Yesterday as I prepared to make doughs I looked at the flours, and there were seven of them to choose from! I would never have such opportunity in a large scale operation. They were the pick of the organic flours available to artisan bakers today in Australia. One wasn’t organic, but I like it, and that’s the only exception I will make, and I only use it when I have to …flour has to be organic…it’s the bottom line to an actual artisan, I believe….and the reasons are sensory and cultural. Organic farming is sustainable, chemical agriculture is not. Organic, and particularly stoneground flours have the most exceptional organoleptic properties. That is, upon analysis they generally taste, smell, look and feel the best.
There is an exception to every rule, and the Laukes wallaby flour is it…non organic, but a really reliable performer. Its only medium hard, roller milled flour, but well blended. For a while it was my only option, as the organic flour Lauke have at the time of writing, is from Turkey, and while some bags have been good (I had some which was rich and yellow, more like “Kamut” really, and made delicious bread). Others have been chalky grey flour which has little flavour or strength, and had me running to get it in the oven, and disappointing loaves. My leaven had a field day with it. So that was one choice. Other non-organic bread flours I have used, such as pro-max are good too, but just short on flavour and a bit too white for me. They are reliable, but boring.
I also had a whole bag of wholegrain milling company`s stoneground u/b white. This is class! There was no nutrition chart on the bag, and im guessing it would be 13.3% protein, like most of the good nth NSW wheats. No hesitation, it went straight in the mixer as I havent used it for years, and I was really curious. This is strong too, absorbed plenty of water, just a straight mix, and muscled up big time. After 3 hrs proof , it pushed the lids off , and announced its presence. Its so good to work with because its just so hard to lose. It can be long fermented to develop exceptional flavour and aroma, with a silky texture, and needs the long ferment anyway in order to mellow the powerful inherent gluten. It produced very good bread. I just wish I had my brick oven for them (next week!). I had a prejudice against this flour, because its widely used in Melbourne, and I had detected flavours in some breads I tasted there which baffled me, and I had attributed it to the flour. It may well be the vitamin c metabolites I was tasting, as some Melbourne Artisan (!) bakers add it to their bread.
Well it cant have been the flour, or perhaps a batch lot?, in any case, mine had all the qualities I want in a flour becomes bread situation. I was surprised at the flavour because often, strong flours just taste like cardboard. This bread was redolent with wheat and toasted grain characteristics. The sourness was moderate and in harmony with the wheaten-grain flavours, and the architecture was as pleasing…irregular.but fine, with the gluten well softened by the ferment. And the crust was ideal… coloured, thinnish and crackling, with attractive after-cracking across the cuts and the whole exterior. I added a few kilos of 4 leaf millings soft (10.9%) stoneground wholemeal.This helped to mellow the strong flour I reckon, and develop the flavour. The leaven I had developed with some four leaf wholemeal spelt flour, which undoubtedly contributed to the aroma/flavour , and whose characteristic organic acids really help with the crust quality. When a dough is made from it, the colour is quite dark for a “white” flour, and this is a characteristic of a stoneground flour which is sifted down to a “white”….as opposed to a roller milled u/b flour. The colour changed to a golden hue in the finished loaf, which is pleasing and wholesome looking. The Wholegrain Milling Companies stoneground white flour is exceptionally good.
Last week, I used the Eden valley u/b white bakers flour from WA. This is a classy flour , similar to the new season flour after the SA harvest. Its not as strong as the Wholegrain milling co`s.or Kialla high protein white. But it has a luscious feel/colour and appearance, owing much to the skillful stone-grinding, and quite an achievement to get this protein level (11.8%) in WA climate. This flour makes superb tasting bread and is strong enough to enable a short but proper process, but soft enough to taste biscuity, a highly desireable flavour characteristic. It holds on well in the face of a really active fermentation. When the light sprinkles over the surface after its been set in the mixer, or even as you open the bag, the buttery yellowness is a sunset hue and the shadows are coloured-black with lavender shades. Organoleptically, it is definitely special. Im very fond of this flour, one knows the wheat is properly grown and has a real dynamic.
The next choice I had was the high protein u/b white from Kialla.I used it two weeks ago, and man its strong.(13.3%) I reckon its lacking on flavour, but has a nice bloom and makes an attractive loaf. It needs plenty of fermentation time to mellow the gluten and develop flavour, or varying the leaven quantity to introduce ripeness earlier and with more flavour. It’s a flour you can trust, it wont break down in hot weather and ambient fermentation parameters. I added four leaf wholemeal, which really gives the bread more flavour and character ( definitely more bloom), bringing it down to earth a bit. Previously I had blended this with Lauke (Australian) organic u/b, as well as some fourleaf wholemeal, and that’s a really successful combination. This would bring the protein down to a better range for tasty bread also, but still with strength.
Here in SA, I use the biodynamic stoneground wholemeal from 4 Leaf. Its not really a bread flour, at 10.9% protein, but produces an outstanding wnolemeal bread. Such bread is more characteristic of past times, where heavy wholemeals were more appreciated. I love the wholemeal bread from it, and as ive said its brilliant for introducing flavour and quality characteristics to u/b white flours. It always tests me, as the rapid fermentation, and accelerated gluten break down can be really suprising. It will take four hours fermentation, but 3 hrs is better…of course depending on how much temperature and leaven variation one applies. Coming from nth SA, it’s a dry flour, and will absorb a lot of water if treated properly. This is also a characteristic of the particle-size resulting from the stone milling.
It scared me at first because I couldn’t get volume, but now I get acceptable volume and maximum digestibility, and a very cakey, but strong texture…just bursting with flavour, aroma and melt in your mouth …very digestible. I used this flour for my sprouted wheat wholemeal in Melbourne, which was a very successful loaf. The Leaven loves wholemeal, and of course the considerable nutrition of wheat is made fully bio-available by sourdough fermentation…so this is a really nutritious loaf, with great crust colour and texture too. I imagine it’s the same as wholemeal bread has been for a very long time. This is the Bread in which we found vit b12, by analysis. It’s the bread for serious wholemeal heads!
Four Leaf flour has to be the pinnacle of true quality..biodynamically grown with real skill, and expertly stoneground.
But last week there was a bag of Kialla high protein wholemeal, and I couldn’t resist. The first time I made Bread with one of these really strong wholemeals, it was twice the volume of the aforementioned loaf. Everybody stared at me meaningfully…what the F? Great big blooming 100% wholemeal loaves, with a finer texture….more like a yeast bread…big and soft. You have to double the fermentation times on the 4leaf for this flour, or it just doesn’t develop good volume. The loaves I made with this flour were really soft and less full-on than I usually make, and like. It also has really good flavour and seems to promote yeastyness in the sourdough of its own accord, and a very good thin crust.
A couple of months ago,I went to Westons warehouse and got some of their organic u/b white flour. The techie assured me it was 13.3% (they all seem to be.). My son Jess had been using it and really liked it. On examination it’s a good-looking flour, roller milled, with a creamy appearance. It seemed to muscle up nicely, but had a residual stickiness which troubled me. My intuition was correact as it started to show signs of breaking down much earlier than I expected, and I had to move to keep it within acceptable parameters. The loaves were pleasing, and had the wheaten aroma of softer wheat. They were also highly coloured and reddish, all very attractive, but speaking to me of much softer, malty wheat than claimed. It may have been hightened enzyme activity from harvest time sprouting. Nevertheless.the bread was delicious with nutty (hazelnut), almost buttery flavours, and a pleasing malty crust. Really good flour, but don’t turn your back on it!
The issue with flour is actual quality in the intrinsic, rather than technical sense. Whether it is stone ground or roller milled is not the question, as both types of flour have their place. An “us and them” or stoneground vs roller milled appraisal is not an integral way of viewing the question, and is not at all useful. That we have these various flours is a cause for celebration for Artisan bakers…how lucky are we!…and provides interesting varied breads for us, and an opportunity for real Artisans to flaunt their art.
It’s a long way since I tried to take a rouge miller to court for selling me “chook wheat” as Organic in 1985. That we made good bread from it is incredible, as it was not strong or classy, but we must remember that most sourdough breads of history werent the architectural phenomena which grace Artisan shop windows today. They were made from dead soft wheats, but many of these wheats, now deemed unsuitable for bread-making, tasted very good, and with proper management make great bread…as a culinary item…as good food…which, we must remember, is the name of the game really.
This week as I write, is the last bake I will do in the makeshift setup…the new wood fired oven is ready to go. What I have on hand is about 6kg of Wholegrain milling stoneground u/b white flour, about the same amount of Kialla`s killer high protein u/b white, and a bag of the Eden valley, psychadelic stonground u/b white. Traditionally, bakers would get single wheat flours from the mill (that is flour ground from a the same variety, or field of wheat.), or had the option of the miller blending for them, and they could specify the blend. Walter Banfield writes in 1937, that as an English baker, he likes to blend 6 wheats: Manitoba(hard)30%,Argentine 15%,Australian (S.A./W.A. he specifies) 15%, American hard winter 15%, English 15%, Indian 10%. He says “A well balanced mixture-high protein, good colour (the Australian), and the English for good flavour.”
I don’t quite have his options, or need really, and I put equal quantities of these three high quality flours in the mixer. Ive blended flours before, but not these three, and they are the pick of the best flour around. The dough drinks water, and mucscles up like an athlete. I add as much water as I can, even a late addition. The reward was a dough of such feel that it was effortless to handle, a froth of gases held together by a silky weave of high quality glutens….until I rounded it before shaping…when it snapped into defensive mode and I was hand-wrestling a muscular hulk. It relaxed, shaped itself really, and baked to…yes im gonna rave about it….as good a loaf as I can make , or have tasted,and gazed upon…all that in a crappy fan-forced oven with trays of boiling water set in the bottom. What could follow is another page of sensory evaluation of this bread, but I will spare you. It had everything I raved about in my piece on judging sourdoughs. These are among the best flours available on the planet, and their combination…from W.A., Nth NSW (and the Wholemeal Four leaf I`d added in small quantity, from SA), made me aware of how fortunate I was to be able to work with these flours….and the intention which had gone into growing/storing/milling/panification… organic genuine sourdough bread is one of the best value, versatile foods that can be purchased.