Flour is one of those ingredients considered basic in any pantry. Rare is the kitchen that does not have, at least, a multipurpose package or jar, of an indeterminate variety that we usually call “normal flour”. Actually that term does not exist And it can generate a lot of confusion and problems when it comes to shipping with specific recipes.
A flour is just the product obtained from grinding more or less fine of a cereal, seed, nut or legume, and there are even insects. Although in certain regions there is a tradition of cereals such as corn or rye, wheat is still the most widespread and common in our kitchens. But not all wheat flours They are equal.
Wheat and its peculiarities
Wheat flour was imposed long ago as the basic cereal in Western culture for practical reasons. A relatively simple and inexpensive cultivation facilitates large-scale production, and also offers great versatility when handling.
Its flavor is nice and fairly neutralEven more so when refining it, and due to its protein content it is easy to work with it to prepare all kinds of sweet or savory doughs, and it is incorporated as an ingredient in many food products that have nothing to do with bakery or pastry.
Today a miller has the resources of combine different wheats depending on the results you want to offer your customers: a whiter flour, a sweeter or more intense flavor, more elastic doughs, etc. That is why it is common for a package to be the result of mixing grains from several crops.
Professionals, especially in the world of bakery, care about the specific origin of each mill and know how to choose between varieties of cereals, production areas, type of land or harvest season. Every little factor influences and it’s a very complex world That, however, should not be of such concern at the domestic level.
What interests us at home is learning to differentiate the different types of flours that we can find in the market and how to use them correctly in our recipes. For this we have to understand two key concepts: force and extraction.
The strength of the flour
Force refers to amount of protein that contains the flour, which in the case of wheat corresponds mainly to gluten, approximately 80% of the total. The rest of proteins are made up of soluble and insoluble proteins.
Gluten, when hydrated, allows to obtain elastic masses, easier to knead and form. This protein is capable of trapping the carbon dioxide that is released in the fermentations, giving volume to the doughs, and also provides a good general structure to the crumb.
The greater the strength of the flour, the greater the capacity to absorb liquids and to withstand the pressure generated by fermentation. A strong flour makes it possible to work with bakery doughs enriched with fats and sugars and with prolonged fermentations. However, the quality of the protein is also important, since not all respond the same.
The higher the W value, the stronger the flour has
In the most professional language it is spoken of the strength of the flour in numerical values expressed with the W. The higher that number, the more strength that flour will have. Low-strength pastry flour usually has a value of less than 100 W; from 350 W we are already talking about a very strong flour, which can reach 400 W in Manitoba.
Refering to extraction, as well describes Iban Yarza in Homemade Bread “it is a way of saying how integral the flour is”. A cereal is composed of bran, endosperm and germ, and during milling more or less of these parts can be separated. By grinding and sifting the grain, a more or less refined flour is obtained.
The extraction determines the degree of refinement of the flour
The type of grinding also affects the result, so many producers specify if the grinding has been done to the stone. In large factories, metal cylinders are used to produce homogeneous, very white and fine flours; the more artisanal mills can produce more heterogeneous flours and with extraction variations that cannot be controlled in such detail, and they tend to be tastier.
A more integral dough is therefore more aromatic and has more flavor than a very refined dough, they are also usually heavier and require a greater amount of water or other liquids. It is more difficult to obtain fluffy and honeycombed doughs with whole grain flours, although not impossible.
The extraction is also specified in eigenvalues that may change in different countries. In Spain it is rare that we see it indicated on a supermarket package, but in France or Germany we can find flours T45 or T80, and in Italy they usually use values of 0. The more 0, the more refined the flour: the most used for pasta is 00.
Most common types of wheat flour
Below we specifically review each of the wheat flours that we can usually find in stores for the preparation of our recipes.
High strength flour or manitoba
They are flours with a bread-making capacity greater than W 350. Manitoba refers to the region of the same name in southern Canada, where the grains of a specific variety of wheat with a high percentage of protein; it has a lot of gluten.
It is also from extraction 00, refined. It is reserved for enriched bakery doughs and that need long fermentations, such as panettone, pandoro, a brioche or roscón de Reyes, also pizzas and focaccias with extended cold fermentation of more than 24 hours.
If nothing else is specified, the normal thing is that we are faced with a flour with high protein content, generally higher than W 200 or even more than W 300. Recommended uses are usually indicated on the packaging, although in a concise and unspecific way.
It is a more appropriate flour for enriched dough as in the previous case, less suitable for use alone in common bread preparations. It is currently the term most used in supermarket bakery flours, which have increased their presence after the rise of homemade pastries and the Reyes roscón in recent years.
One way to check its strength, if the W value does not appear, is to look at the nutritional composition to know the percentage of protein. If it is higher than 12%, it is a high strength flour.
Bakery or bread flour
This is how medium strength flours are called, around W 170-200, or 10-11% protein. They are the most suitable for making common breads, that is, not enriched with a lot of fat or sugar.
It is a variety Very versatile to make rolls, bars, bagels … There are different qualities depending on the mill or producer, who usually mix different grains. It is also appropriate to combine with different flours depending on the desired result.
Some professionals distinguish between medium strength and bread-making, such as Xavier Barriga in his book Bread: homemade and with the usual flavor. Barriga indicates that a medium strength (around 200 W) is suitable for puff pastry or enriched with olive oil, while the bread-making one offers better results for most ordinary breads.
Hard or durum wheat flour
This variety is made with a specific type of cereal, durum wheat, which offers a medium-low strength of W 100 and presents a golden color, less fluffy texture and a more settled crumb, with a characteristic aroma and a more pronounced, slightly sweet flavor.
It is perfect to elaborate harder dense crumb breads and that they are not going to rise much, with little honeycombing, like cateto bread. They are very tasty and very particular breads, although the dough is more difficult to work precisely because it has less protein. It requires longer kneading and resting, but it can be combined with other flours to enrich other doughs.
It is a durum wheat variety Traditionally used in certain regions of Spain, especially in Andalusia, Extremadura and Castilla La Mancha, with low performance but well adapted to the specific conditions of these areas. It is also a very white, low-extraction flour with little gluten.
It has the particularity of absorb very little water, which makes it difficult to knead and determines the type of bread that can be prepared, called with the same name. The candeal bread, bregado or sobado is rather flat, with a hard and smooth crust, a white and dense crumb, compact, without alveoli, but soft and tasty. The aforementioned cateto bread would be a type of candeal, although there are more varieties.
The most common candeal supermarket flour is more intended for domestic use and is more manageable. It’s recommended combine it with other flours to enrich a common bread dough, or even sponge cakes and other delicatessen sweets.
Whole wheat flour
This group includes all the wheat flours suitable for making whole-grain bakery doughs, which retain a large part or all of the bran and the germ of the cereal. The extraction percentage can vary according to the type of milling or the producer.
In addition to being more nutritious, they provide more aromatic breads, with a thicker texture and a more cereal flavor. They need a greater amount of water and can be more difficult to knead. They are ideal for more rustic-looking breads, or to give more flavor and character to other doughs in combination with refined bakery flour.
We also find different degrees of force between the integrals; check the package or consult the producer directly for advice on use. Or just experiment. They are perfect for feeding or starting a sourdough.
Whole wheat flour
It is the most generic term that is commonly used in supermarket flours. In principle it is a rather loose flour, intended for a versatile use in the domestic kitchen, for example to make cakes or cookies, or those looking for a more rustic batter or béchamel or with fiber.
It’s advisable read the labeling well to check that it is not a refined flour to which the bran has been added later. The protein percentage will also give us a clue as to whether it is suitable for mass use …