The main ingredient used in the production of bread and most confectionery, wheat being the grain used for milling into flour,especially for bread making, as it contains a good level of an insoluble protein, which, when mixed with a liquid, forms Gluten. Gluten forms the cell structure in a dough which traps and retains the gas, C02, produced by the fermentation of the yeast and it expands under pressure and gives the baked loaf its final structure.
The protein content of the flour is measured as a % of the whole and varies according to the variety of wheat and the climate/conditions it is grown in. This can vary between 6% to 15% .The higher the insoluble protein content the Stronger the flour and therefore more suitable for bread making.. The Softer flours ,6%-9% are more suited to cake and biscuit making.(for further information refer to wheat in the theory section.)
The largest single component of flour is starch, approximately 70%. Moisture is 13%, Fats or oil 1.5%, Sugar 2.5%, and mineral salts .5%. all derived from the seed of a grass. This is why bread has played such an important part of the human diet.
To produce flour as we know it today is a highly scientific process, which has developed over many thousands of years. Originally the grains of wheat would have been crushed between to hand held stones. this would have broken the tough outer skin and made it easier to digest. Further crushing/grinding would then reduce the seed to a "flour" producing what we now call 100% whole meal (the whole grain) This process has developed over the years and gradually changed to enable greater production. From a purely hand driven operation it was developed to be able to use animals and then wind and water to operate the mills and then onto modern day now using electricity. The old methods are still in use in under developed countries.
Today the grain of wheat is passed through a series of rollers and sieves which get narrower each time, gradually breaking off the outer layers of the grains until the 3 main parts are obtained, the Bran, the Endosperm and the Germ .The Endosperm being the part that produces the white flour.
It is rather ironic that after all these thousands of years, 100% stone ground flour is now considered a premium flour.
Hand Test for Flour Strength.
It is possible to identified weak and strong flours by squeezing some in your hand.
A weak flour will cling together when the hand is opened.
A strong flour will revert to flour when the hand is opened.
Storing of Flours and Meals.
The ideal temperature for flour storage is 10-16C (50-60F). Above this temperature its shelf life will shorten, Self Raising will loose some of its raising ability, whole meals and grain flours are liable to turn rancid due to the fact that they contain fats and oils. Best stored in airtight containers. Always use in strict rotation, do not be tempted to put new flour on top of flour already in a container, empty out the older flour , put in the new flour and then the older flour can then be returned to the container and will then be used first.
Flour attracts a minute insect the size of a pin head known as Psocids, this does not indicate bad hygiene practice but by keeping the flour in well ventilated, dry conditions and ensure any loose flour in the storage area is disposed of , ideally with a vacuum cleaner rather than a wet cloth,making sure all joints and cracks are thoroughly clean and free from flour dust. Another pest is the flour moth, these can actually eat through cardboard and some plastic containers. Again the same precautions as for Psocids. Prevention is better than cure.
Always check the "use by" dates on the packing, it is advisable to not use after this date. "Best before" means that the product will be at its peak on that date but will be alright to use for some considerable time if kept in the right conditions. As a guide White flours will keep 3-6 months......... Whole meals and brown flours 2 weeks-3 months.
Strong White Flour.
Has a high % of insoluable protein (Gluten)... used to make bread, fermented products , puff pastry etc. a recipes should inform you if strong flour is advised.
TIP. If you require soft flour but only have strong flour, replace up to 50% of the strong flour with corn flour.
As its name implies it is literaly the wholemeal (whole grain) that is milled.The modern milling practices of roller milling enable the miller to seperate the three parts of the wheat grain and then re-mix in a balanced proportion. However if it states 100% stone ground then the grain would have been milled in one operation. The flavour of bread made from this type of flour is very special due to all the natural oils being released during the milling process.
Finely milled Maize consisting mainly of Starch. Used as thickening agent and to reduce the strength of flours. Traditional cakes such as Sandcake and Angel cake use a high proportion of cornflour.
The wheat kernel is partially processed by boiling. This cracks the kernel.This then can be added to a dough to give it an extra crunchy texture. It can be soften by soaking in water before adding to a dough.
Despite its name it has no connection with wheat. It is a plant related to Sorrel, Knotweed and Rhubarb. It is grown for its grain like seed the main producer being China. It is very low in gluten but high in protein. It is also rich in calcium and vitamins A and B.. Mainly used in multigrain breads or blended withother flours to make bread.
Plain White Flour.
Is a general purpose flour with a lower level of insoluble protein (gluten) than bread flour. Used for none yeasted breads such as Soda farls, general pastry work and heavy fruited cake.
Spelt is a very old species of wheat from which modern wheat has been developed. It does contain gluten but it has been found that some gluten intolerant people can digest it and it is ideal for some people who are allergic to wheat..
There are a number of proprietary brands available, the most well known at the present time is Granary. It is a blend of wholemeal, white and malted wheat grain.
Finely milled rice, used in puddings and cakes..It is also used in baking powder as an additive to absorb any dampness ensuring that the powder is free flowing and inactive. Rice is gluten free.
Oatmeal contains no gluten so is not ideal for traditional bread making. It is usually processed and used as an additive to give flavour and texture to bread or used as a pre-baked decoration i.e. sprinkled on the surface before baking.
Not really a flour. When the bran is removed from the kernel it is sliced, steamed and then rolled. Used as porridge. When used in bread making it is added to give a texture and flavour to the bread.
Potatoes are cooked ,dried and then ground to a flour. Usually used with wheat flour for bread making. Can be mixed with rice flour to produce wheat/gluten free bread and confectionery. In the U.K. during the war, Potato flour was used a lot because of the shortage of wheat. The flour can be used as a thickening agent. Must be kept very dry when storing. For long term storage it is best to deep freeze in a well sealed package.
A medium strength flour which contains a proportion of baking powder usually at the rate of 10 grammes of baking powder to 480grammes of flour. Used in cake making especially cheaper type cakes and some types of pastry. Only use if a recipe states that self-raising is to be used., do not use in place of plain flour.
Usually made by blending the bran with white flour. Does not contain the germ of the wheat grain.It can be obtained as either strong or soft so can be used for a large range of products.
Germ Meal (The original HOVIS )
Is a product of the early stages of milling hard wheat. and is obtained from the endosperm. It contains a high % of gluten. Used in the manufacture of pasta, puddings and gives a fine flavour to the bread when used as an additive in bread flour.
Grown mainly where the climate is cold and wet and is not suitable for wheat growing. Eastern european countries are known for the production of Rye Bread. Rye does contain gluten but the bread made from it tends to be very heavy. Rye bread is usually made on the sour dough process.
Is produced by grinding roasted yellow soya beans.
It is very high in protein and is usually added to bread to improve the flavour and nutritional value.
Soya is a recognised Genetically Modified crop. It has been developed to withstand chemical herbicides (weed killers). It is said that over 90% of all processed food contains some form of a soya product.
Always read the label, if it states added protein,vegetable oil, Lecithin, it will most probably be derived from soya.
We at Baking Matters recommend that you search on line for further information for your own conclusions.