Every warm piece of fresh bread to grace the dinner table holds three foundational ingredients: Flour, Water and leavening. The flour makes up almost 75% of the final loaf of bread. So let’s look at the flour options and decide what will be best for your bread.
Anatomy of Wheat Flour
While there are many types of flours on the market-oat, rye, rice, semolina and more – we are going to focus on the flours in the wheat family. Wheat flours come from the grains of the wheat plants. Just as there are many varieties of say, tomatoes, there are also a number of varieties of wheat plants. Each wheat kernel is made up of the bran, germ and the endosperm. Differing quantities of these parts of the kernel are found in different types of wheat flour and all three must be present for a flour to fall with the “whole grain” category.
Gluten protein found in wheat flour gives bread dough its elasticity by forming the strands necessary for the dough to capture the carbon dioxide released by the leavening agent. The gluten content of flours is also referred to as the flour protein content and is measured as a percentage.
Below are a few of the more common wheat flours available in most of our American grocers.
Bleached All Purpose Flour – In general, I avoid the bleached all purpose flours. Their bright whiteness comes at the cost of processing with harsh chemicals and removal of many of the nutrient carrying germ and bran. This also leaves the flour with a very low gluten content making it a poor choice for bread.
Unbleached All Purpose Flour – Most unbleached all purpose flours will weigh in at about 10% protein content making them a great choice for bread making. This happy medium of flour also mixes well with other lower protein flours to lighten the loaf. It too is made from just the endosperm of the wheat kernel.
Bread Flour – Bread flour is an unbleached all purpose flour that carries a higher protein content (12% protein) therefore making for a chewier bread. It can be combined with denser flours to add a bit more texture to the bread. It also serves well to help free-form loaves hold their shape through rising and baking.
All Purpose Whole Wheat Flour – An all purpose whole wheat flour is going to contain the whole grain of the wheat providing excellent nutritional value as well as a moderately low protein content. When combined with Unbleached All Purpose Flour, great loaves result.
Whole Wheat Bread Flour - Whole wheat bread flour has a higher protein content than the all purpose whole wheat flour and can usually produce a pretty good loaf on its own. It can be combined with an all purpose white flour to lighten it up a bit if a 100% whole wheat is too dense for your liking.
White Whole Wheat – White Whole Wheat flour is relatively new on the scene and I’ve only found it in my stores through one manufacturer. It has the nutrients of a full whole wheat but is made from a white wheat kernel and the flour is lighter than a traditional whole wheat. It mixes nicely with an all purpose flour to make a beautiful light loaf.
Disclaimer: I am not an expert. This is merely information distilled from my readings of Bread, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home Baking and RecipeTips.com. Flour photos from RecipeTips.com.