Thursday, June 16, 2011

King Arthur Flour Blog 'n Bake: Going Wheaty

Susan Reid discusses the anatomy of wheat.
Two days at the King Arthur's Blog 'n Bake event was packed with information, and a lot of hands-on baking. We had some solo projects and some partner/group projects.

Different classes were taught by different people. The really cool thing about that was that some of them had different methods for doing things and different preferences when it came to equipment.

That fits my theory that there are many different ways to get good results - it just depends on what's right for you. Or what's right for you at the time.

It kind of annoys me when someone says there's one ONE way do do cook or bake something. There may be faster or slower ways, or more efficient ways. Of course you might get slightly different results, but it's a matter of opinion which result is the best. But there aren't a whole lot of times where there's just one right way. So it was cool to have one instructor tell us to use a pastry blender and another one tell us to use our fingertips. It said as much about the company as about the instructors.

And it was great to have different people teaching different things just because it was fun to see all the different personalities. Susan Reid was great to watch - she really showed her passion for baking.

One of the things I found really interesting wasn't cooking at all - it was the discussion about wheat and about flour. I've always thought that the flour from King Arthur was more consistent from bag to bag than other brands, but that was just a gut feeling.

What we learned was that King Arthur has the strictest standards in the industry when it comes to protein content - plus or minus one-tenth of one percent. They said that they've rejected trailer loads of bagged product that were out of spec, and the suppliers unbagged that flour and sold it elsewhere. Other brands don't have such strict requirements, so protein levels can vary by a lot more from one batch of flour to another.

But why do we care?

Well, for one thing, the protein is what forms gluten. If you're making bread, you want more gluten. When you're making cake, you want less.

But the other thing is that the amount of protein in flour affects the way it absorbs water. And that's a huge deal if you're trying to perfect a recipe. It also explains why several people can make the same recipe and one will say the dough was too wet and another will say the dough was too dry.

And if it explains why something might work once and not work the next time - when you open a new bag of flour. If the protein content is different from bag to bag, it could affect your recipes.

How much different? Let the photo tell the tale:

Clockwise from top left we have semolina flour, cake flour (bleached), bread flour, and pastry flour. These are identical weights of flour and water in each bowl. The only difference is the type of flour. Interesting, hmmm? And these weren't all the flours we tested. And every one of them was different.

We also got to check out some muffins made from different flours. Same recipe, different types of flour, different results. None of them looked terrible, but there were visible differences. And a whole lot of muffins:

So, what now? Want another King Arthur Flour recipe?