For nearly a year, I roughed it through my sourdough experience with really cheap flour. How much difference could it make, I thought, scoffing off the articles herein about flour as elitist. I blamed the starter, I blamed the technique, I blamed haste...anything, for the okay but not wonderful results of my work.
Last week, I was at the local Target store. Their price on a five pound bag of King Arthur was almost two dollars less than the grocery but still a staggering US $3.99. Aw, what the heck, I thought. Those elitist writers might have something there. I've read in many places about the difference a good flour can make. So, I bought it, feeling almost snobbish while so doing.
Two days later, I pulled my starter out of the refrigerator after a rather long rest. It's been horrendously hot here and we have no air conditioning in the kitchen. Plus a vacation and a conference took up more time, so sourdough had been set aside. Yes, I've been suffering through commercial bread! We did find that the artisan loaves at Target are fairly good, though, considering.
With a quick addition of some all-purpose flour and a quick stirring-in of the hooch, the starter was well-activated in about four hours. Yippee! I happily set to work on a double-loaf batch of oatmeal sourdough made with the King Arthur. I rather felt a difference in the dough. It seemed to become much more elastic.
Six hours later, I placed formed loaves that had been on the rise for an hour or two in the cold oven, set it to automatically start at about 2 a.m. at the temperature I've found to work best here, with a little extra time for heating and to ensure doneness without having to get up and test it. At ten 'til 3 a.m., the shrill oven timer awoke the whole house. Bread was done! Me, the dogs, the husband and the cats all hustled to the kitchen. A cautious peek in the oven revealed two gorgeous, brown loaves in their tins. The aroma was heavenly. If it weren't for dieting I'd have sliced one right then, but instead dumped both onto racks out of reach of greedy doggies and went back to bed.
A few hours later, we sliced a loaf and happily met a nice crumb and a properly thick, crun-chewy crust. Beautiful! I am sold on the benefit of "splurging" on good flour. The quality difference is far greater than the price difference.
Toasted and slathered with butter and preserves...what a treat of a sturdy meal. The other loaf was placed in a loosely closed plastic bag and refrigerated. That is the star of dinner tonight!
The way I look at it, you wouldn't be bothering about baking your own bread unless you cared about quality. And if you care about quality, as with everything else, there are good quality flours and lesser quality. For me, the whole point of artisan bread - or artisan anything - is to maximise the quality of the product. Why? Well, this is getting circular, but because we care!
That ain't snobbery. It's taking a stand against the mediocrity and homegeneousness that are almost inevitable biproducts of mass production where the bottom line is the top priority. And I reckon taking that stand is vitally important. Not to mention that the bread that results tastes soooo much better.
"Those in the know" always mention the importance of quality when it comes to ingredients. I found time after time that it is true - you can not make a quality product from low quality ingredients. I am currently buying flour more than 1000 km (not sure how many miles) away from us, have it vacuum sealed and couriered. The difference it makes to the final product is always something to behold.
We are fortunate to live high in the mountains on the eastern escarpment of South Africa and are blessed with very good water. When we visit the children in town we take "real" water with for baking and drinking otherwise the bread we bake have a strange smell and the tea resembles stale lake water.
NEVER compromise on quality - if you have to compromise, compromise on quantity.
Yep, you both say what I've found to be true. Good enough isn't good enough and if I'm to spend the effort making sourdough, I need to go with top quality. I was really surprised at the difference is all. It's extreme!
You may be interested to read about the bake off we did recently to test out 7 different flours and see how they behaved differently from each other in a (loosely) controlled trial! The range of colour, flavour, and texture was amazing as was the difference between the flavour of the baked and the raw dough. See the bake off story here: www.virtuousbread.com