Wheat and Flour Quality
Flour is the largest ingredient in most baked goods and it is also one of the most important. There are many types of flours and many types of wheat, but not all are good for baking. Call us if you need help finding the correct flour for your bakery use. We do not sell flours, but it is a vital addition to our concentrates. We have found there is much confusion over which grade is the best to use.
Hard Wheats. Typically hard wheats make stronger flours good for breads and sweet doughs. Within this category there are spring wheats and winter wheats. Spring wheats are the stronger and flours made from spring wheats are used in bagels, hearth breads and certain sweet goods. Winter wheat is the typical bread flour used in bread baking, but it can also be used in some donuts, sweet dough and even some cakes.
Soft wheat. Typically soft wheat makes weaker flours good for cakes and pastries.
Soft wheats and hard wheats are also available in red and white varieties. In the USA most wheat is red wheat. However, there is white wheat available. White wheats were origianlly sold to noodle makers, but they have found a good use in baking in white whole wheat products as the bran is much lighter in color and much milder in flavor.
One flour I must touch on is All Purpose Flour. There is no definition of all purpose flour and a mill can produce a blend of 80% soft and 20% hard and call it all purpose or another mill may make a 80% hard and 20% soft blend. I never recommend using all purpose flour as it really has no purpose.
Typically flour specifications have the following
Protein - General measure of strength
- Ash - General measure of extraction and flour quality
- Moisture - Does not tell you much in terms of quality
- Farinograph Arrival Time - The rate of hydration of the flour
- Farinograph Peak Time - Hint on optimal mixing time
- Farinograph Stability Time - Tolerance to over mixing, higher value more tolerant
- Farinograph Absorption - How much water does flour absorb (not necessarily bakery absorption though)
- Farinograph MTI - How fast does dough break down after mixing Lower values, less breakdown
- Amylograph - Degree of alpha amylase activity either from sprouting or enzyme addition
One of the most overlooked aspects of a spec is the flours is the ash. The ash measures the amount of residue after burning. This is a very good indication of how much flour was extracted from the wheat. As the ash goes up the protein content goes up and the protein quality goes DOWN. Flour mills want to extract as much flour as possible and raise the protein level so the ash can be a critical quality parameter that is cheap and easy to measure and understand.
A low extraction flour such as a true patent will have ash levels in the 0.3%-0.4% range. A normal extraction winter wheat flour will have an ash in the 0.49-0.51% range and a normal spring wheat flour will have an ash level in the 0.54-0.58% range. Clear flours which are used in some rye breads and pretzels can have very high ash levels in the >0.60% range.
Raising the ash level is always in the flour mills best interest and it is almost never in the bakeries interest. A mill can use a weak flour (cheaper), over extract it to make the protein spec (cheaper) and the resulting flour will absorb alot of water, but it will produce substandard product in most cases.
It is very important to determine what is the best flour for your products and to have a realistic specification that the flour mill can use to make flour and you can afford. Once you have that spec, the ash and protein is a cheap and easy way for QC to do their testing.