What is Bread Flour? … a really good question… remember all questions are good… I have been baking breads for over 30 years and have always used all purpose flour or the typical other choices…rye or whole wheat etc… I had noticed bread flour on the supermarket shelf… but just dismissed it.. since it didn’t appear in my recipes …I bought my usual choices…
Curiosity got the best of me.. if you follow this blog.. you shouldn’t be surprised… I’m always willing to try something different or learn something new… I decided it was time to investigate….
So just what is bread flour?
According to Pillsbury.. their Bread Flour is made from hard spring wheat and contains a higher percentage of protein than regular All Purpose Flour. Most major brands have their variety of Bread Flour as well. So why does the higher percentage of protein matter?
This protein is called gluten, which, when combined with water gives dough its elasticity. When you knead dough… what you are doing is getting the gluten to form a web of strands throughout the dough that are strong and resilient, thus giving the dough its rubbery consistency (if you remember my pizza dough recipe… I describe the intended consistency as soft and elastic like chewed bubble gum).
So how does this all work?
Well… it’s this web of strands that trap the CO₂ given off by the fermentation process of the yeast …. making the dough rise. For bread making you want the dough to rise and make full, well rounded loaves so the higher percentage of gluten will make the bread rise better and shape better.
All Purpose Flour contains 10-12% gluten. Bread Flour contains between 12-14% gluten.
I’ve used All Purpose Flour for all these years and my breads have always come out delicious and well shaped… so I was skeptical about whether it was worth it or not to store yet another kind of flour and use it for my bread baking. I decided to try it.
How to use it?
You can substitute the bread flour completely for All Purpose Flour in the recipe or substitute only a portion of the flour. For my first bread, I decided to completely replace the All Purpose Flour. Just as a side note… if making a Rye or Whole Wheat bread you can substitute up to half of the Rye or Wheat flour in your recipe.
When substituting bread flour in all or part of your recipe you will need to knead the dough for 10 minutes then let it rest for 15 minutes before shaping and rising. According to Pillsbury, rise time may be longer.
I followed a specific recipe that called for bread flour and followed the instructions exactly… even using the Rapid Rise yeast… the rise time was slightly longer… the recipe called for two rises.
Was it worth the change to bread flour? … I have to say… drum roll please… a resounding YES!!!!
The rise was significantly better… I would say about 20-25% higher…. and that is not an exaggeration. What this meant in terms of the resulting bread… the inner portion of the bread had a perfect spongy texture… professional quality. The dough also shaped extremely well… while my breads always shaped well… this was far better.
TIPS USING IT FOR BREAD MAKING
Knowing when to substitute and how much to substitute is .. unfortunately .. a matter of experience. You will need to try it and decide how you prefer it. The type of bread and the texture and shape you are looking for will all weigh in the decision making. I, personally, found that when I made a Boule (French for round loaf of any type of flour…mine was originally for All Purpose Flour) I really liked substituting all of the All Purpose Flour. I will post the results when I try mixing it with Rye or Whole Wheat.
Always “proof” your yeast. What this means is… you add the dry active yeast to warm water with about a teaspoon of sugar. I add it to the quantity of water in the recipe.
What this does is… allows the yeast to ferment and “grow”. Very quickly, within 10 minutes, the yeast will start to ferment. Although, my yeast usually takes only a few minutes to start … I do wait the 10 minutes to be sure it has a good “head” on it. It will develop what looks like a foamy head on top of the water.. like a beer except it will be light brown in color.
You proof the yeast to be sure it is active and not dead… otherwise if it is dead.. your bread won’t rise and you will waste all that flour and time and effort only to have to start over.
While it rarely happens anymore… commercial packets of yeast sometimes don’t work.. I recently had one that just didn’t ferment… it takes only a few minutes and is well worth the effort.
TIPS FOR USING IT IN OTHER BAKING
I also started trying to substitute it in other baking recipes.. for example Popovers… the results were different.
Before I go any further .. I want to talk about Popovers. If you haven’t tried making them… you should.. they are amazingly easy and delicious… here is my regular recipe for them.
I should note that the success of Popovers is mainly due to the high heat in the initial minutes of baking which produces a slightly crusty outer “shell” and soft layers inside. They need to be served immediately because they will deflate considerably as they stand at room temperature.
I had come across a recipe for Popovers that specifically called for bread flour. So I decided to try substituting it in the popover recipe. Popover batter should be fairly thin, so I did add an additional egg because I also decided to add cheese to the batter. Here is the recipe for the Cheddar and Herb Popovers.
The Popovers made with bread flour rose much larger.. they were enormous… (not a bad thing)… as with the breads using bread flour…the outer shells of the Popovers were much harder… I personally prefer the original texture better… BUT…. and this is an important BUT… the upside to the harder outer shell is that they hardly deflated at all… in fact.. I usually toss leftover Popovers … they just are not particularly good the next day… these not only held shape but ended up pretty good the next day.
So would I use the bread flour again when making Popovers?… depends… if I am serving it with a meal and know I will easily serve them immediately without any hassle.. I would use All Purpose Flour… if I’m making it for a meal where it would be tricky with oven space and timing to serve to guests… or if I want leftovers…. I’d probably opt for the bread flour…
I also experimented with Mini Popovers using Bread Flour in the recipe… I made Mini Crab Puffs… the bread flour is definitely the way to go with these… they weren’t “Popover-like”… they were more like little crab puffs… lighter than a muffin but not as light as a true Popover. They worked extremely well… I used a mini muffin tin and prepared them up to the baking… then popped them in the oven and they came out perfect.. a definitely easy food item for a party… and far cheaper and better than a commercially made frozen hors’dourvers.
I also thought that substituting bread flour in some cookie recipes would give some more substance… my first thoughts were about Chocolate Chip Cookies. I have several excellent recipes for chocolate chip cookies, but none of them come out “bakery-style”, they seem to collapse…
So I did some research and lo and behold.. bread flour is supposed make them chewier … I tried it and they held shape better and were indeed chewier… here is an excellent recipe using bread flour when baking Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies…. this recipe uses more vanilla than most recipes and I must say as one person put it… it rocks your socks!
So I think you get the picture… it’s well worth keeping bread flour on hand.. it really can make a good recipe great… stored properly.. according to Pillsbury.. the bread flour will stay fresh for up to 2 years.. so surely you can use it up in that time.
As I try using bread flour in additional recipes.. I will add additional posts… but I do encourage you to try it… I think you will be pleasantly surprised at your baking results.
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