When a person first starts to bake bread, they are excited just to achieve an edible product. Later in their bread baking career, they want to bake bread just like they do at the bakery. And if they have been to Europe, they really want to be able to duplicate European style breads.
Baking European Style Bread
Duplicating European style breads has always been difficult for the home baker, but as knowledge of artisan and professional baking becomes more available on the internet and in acclaimed baking books, the tools and ingredients have also become widely available. For instance, instead of only three different flours in the grocery store (white, wheat and cake), we now have many more from which to choose. Inroads have also been made on duplicating crusts in a home oven and scaling down bakers' formulas to work in a family setting.
Still, following a German or European recipe, especially in the original language, poses hurdles. One of the biggest hindrances to recreating bread eaten in Europe is where to find the ingredients that are most similar to the original.
How Flour is Milled
Flour, for instance, is a widely varying ingredient, depending on where it was grown, how it was ground and treated and even on the weather during the growing season. Flour mills take this into account when producing their product, but the exact combination of wheat and milling methods and conditions are still often considered trade secrets. That is why, while you may be able to use any all-purpose flour for a recipe, you will achieve the best results if you use the same brand and type of flour called for in the recipe or by the cook.
There are hundreds of varieties of wheat which are used to make flour. They are commonly categorized by the time of planting (winter or spring) and whether they are high or low protein (hard - high protein or soft - low protein), which indicates approximate gluten levels.
White flours are milled from soft and hard wheat strains which are separated into streams through sifting. The streams are recombined to create flours with various properties. The first sifting removes much of the bran and germ and leaves "straight flour" or "100% extraction flour". The middlings are removed and used mainly for animal feed, but may also be added back in later to achieve a whole wheat product.
Whole wheat flours are commonly made by recombining various streams of flour and adding back sifted and ground bran and germ. This increases the shelf life and results in a uniform product. Some people like to grind their own wheat and rye just before baking and no sifting takes place. The flour is fresh and behaves differently than mature flour. It is assumed to be more nutritious.
- Read an in-depth description of flour milling by the North American Millers' Association.
- Watch a short (10 minute) video of a flour mill showing you the different steps in the process of roller grinding.
- Read an article on the history of milling.
- This video shows how a hand operated stone mill (rotary quern) works.
Straight flour is then sifted into "patent flour" (high quality white flour), leaving the "first clear flour", which contains some residual germ and bran and is grayer in color than patent flour.
Hundreds of streams can be obtained from each milling process and then blended to create flours specific to baking preferences and geographical areas. Some flour mills make flour that is the same when purchased all over the country. Brands such as King Arthur Flour and Gold Medal Flour are two of them. Other brands are highly localized and are produced with the baking habits of the area in mind. In the southern US, for instance, the local flour is most likely a low protein flour good for biscuits and cakes.
Go to page 2 for a list of flour types.