Flour Power

Have you ever been to a county fair and seen the entries where bakers make the same exact baked good but the results are so varied you wonder if they were baked on different planets? Why does that happen? That question made me want to conduct an experiment. So I made the exact same bread recipe, baked it in the exact same pan and oven but used different flours. 

I used a simple four-ingredient recipe from the book “Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day”. Using a recipe with just a few ingredients would narrow down the variables, wouldn’t it? I bought new bags of Montana Mills, Gold Medal and Pillsbury unbleached white all-purpose flour to eliminate lack of freshness as a possible variable.

The differences in the end results jolted me. The loaves didn’t even look similar and this fascinated me. Then my thoughts went macro: how on earth does a huge company like Pepperidge Farm bake millions of cakes with no variation decade after decade? That is truly a miracle. Now I want to take a course in food science! Oh dear, I digress.

My first loaf, made with the Montana Mills flour, rose high out of the pan and looked like the Matterhorn in the Swiss Alps with a sharp craggy peak of thick crisp crust. It had an altitude attitude! This bread was the ultimate bread for those texture loving sorts with its substantial crunchy crust and a delicate tender crumb that had big and little holes.

The second loaf I made with Pillsbury and the crust was smooth and uniform, what you’d expect to see in a high-class bakery. Standard would be the right word. The crumb was tender and spongy with medium size holes and the crust was crunchy but not overly so.

Last but not least was Gold Medal.  This one would win the color contest. The loaf was the perfect golden crispy caramelized brown color and just looking at it made my mouth water and crave honey and butter.

The quirky differences between these three loaves led me to speculate. Obviously all flour is not created equal, which when you think about it, is quite bizarre since to the naked eye it all looks the same. Why then the differences in each loaf? Is it the moon phase? Humidity? My mood? A mischievous kitchen gnome? So random! Mysterious! And while the bread pretty much tasted the same, the textures were wildly different which made me realize how important texture is in food.

And you know what? They were all first place winners. I made grilled cheddar cheese and raspberry jam sandwiches with all three. There wasn’t a crumb left over.