What the cook needs to know is that there are three types of wheat grain – hard, medium and soft – and the flour they yield will contain something called gluten. In order not to get too technical, gluten can be described as something like chewing gum.
Soft grains produce ordinary chewing gum, which will stick somewhat, but hard grains produce something more like bubble gum, which means air can be incorporated and the gluten will stretch and expand into bubbles. Thus, when it comes to baking pastry, biscuits or cakes, what you need are very light-textured, soft grains containing the chewing gum variety, but for bread, when the action of the yeast needs to rise the dough, you need hard wheat – the bubble gum variety.
In our country, plain flour is always made from soft grains, so this is the one for cakes, pastry and so on, whilst the one labelled strong flour, which has a high gluten content, is the one needed for most types of bread , although for something like a pizza dough, where you don’t need the dough to rise as much, a soft ordinary plain flour is, I think, better. So just think chewing gum or bubble gum and you’ve got your gluten sorted.
Flour milling: What happens here is the wheat grains are crushed and ground either between traditional millstones or modern automatic rollers, but it’s the human skill of the miller – not the method – that determines the quality of the flour. A grain of wheat is made up of three components: the protective layers of outer casing called bran; the white starchy endosperm, and the germ, which contains oils, vitamins and protein.
Flours and meals: Originally, the whole wheat berries were ground into the flour, which, more correctly, should be called meal, hence wholemeal. Flour is the fine white powdery part that has had the bran layers and germ removed. Wholefood enthusiasts will say that white flour, having much of the goodness removed, is a refined produce and not a so-called healthy, whole one. However, in my opinion we need both types, and the so-called healthy brown era, with its heavy brown pastries, cakes, pizzas et al has thankfully moved on and given way to a more balanced view on what is or isn’t healthy. So now both can be enjoyed equally and combined at times in certain recipes to give the required flavour and texture.
Sauce flour: An extremely clever flour miller, who was watching me on television emphasising the absolutely essential presence of fat to avoid lumps, came up with an alternative. We need not get scientific here, but what he did was work out what it was that made the sauce go lumpy, and from there he developed a specific type of sauce flour that did not need the presence of fat.
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