I just finished ordering a fresh batch of French Francine Flour for all my baking needs. Anyone who is kind enough to subscribe to my YouTube Channel (Retro Traveling with Mrs. Z – Vintage Vlog) knows I swear by French flour. The American milled white stuff has no place in the Z Kitchen! But what the heck is “flour” anyway? Ok, we all know it is the white powder that sits in a canister in our kitchens and it’s the stuff that great cookies and breads are made of. Yes, it makes the basis of some tasty treats like cookies, cakes, and pastries, but to understand flour types is to truly understand how no flour is created equal. You don’t have to be a pastry chef to understand the somewhat complex world of “flour.”
Flour, as you know, is finely ground wheat or other grains that provides structural support for baked goods. What makes flours different is their protein content, which helps define their flavor and texture. Basically, flour is divided into two categories – hard and soft wheat. Hard wheat consists of 10-14% protein that creates more elastic baked goods that hold their shapes. Soft wheat is 5-10% protein and creates flaky and tender products. That’s pretty simple to comprehend. But before you reach for your All-Purpose flour to bake your next cake, it pays to learn a bit about the types of flour available so you can achieve the best end product. Let’s examine the flour types.
All-Purpose Flour – This flour is a combination of hard and soft milled wheats that have a protein content of 10-12 percent. This flour is universal and can be used in most recipes.
Cake Flour – Obviously this one speaks for itself. Cake Flour contains the lowest amount of protein in the 5-8% range. It’s lack of gluten helps create delicious baked good, biscuits, and scones. The process of making Cake Flour involves a chlorination process that helps weaken the gluten proteins found in flour thus increasing the flour’s capacity to absorb more liquid and sugar. This soft flour creates light, airy cakes, and baked goods.
Pastry Flour – Not to be confused with Cake Flour, Pastry Flour is unbleached flour made from soft wheat. It contains 8-9% protein and lies somewhere between All-Purpose and Cake Flour. This flour creates flaky, tender crusts for pies and tarts. It also can be used to create scrumptious cookies. (Note: you can make your own Pastry Flour by simply combining 1 1/3 cups All-Purpose Flour and 2/3 cup Cake Flour.)
Bread Flour – This flour is the strongest of all flours as it contains 12-14% protein. The high protein content is needed for yeast breads and helps contain the CO2 gases produced during the yeast fermentation process. The higher protein content also produces a chewier crumb (the inside of the bread), a brown crust, and more volume.
Self-Rising Flour – Self Rising Flour adds Baking Powder during the milling process to create a flour that produces a big rise. This low protein, soft flour is great for pancakes, biscuits, and muffins.
So, with all of these options available to me, why do I insist on ordering flour from a land far, far away? Does the City of Lights really produce a better-quality flour than the USA? In this amateur bakers opinion – yes it most certainly does! How do I know? I’ve experimented with both kinds of flour to see if the French flour exceeds the quality of its US counterpart. I baked a simple Rustic Bread that has four ingredients – flour, salt, water, and yeast. The basic bread ingredients for any bread baked in France. I baked one loaf with my faithful T55 Francine Flour and one using a typical American brand flour. The results were staggering! The USA flour produced a product that was flatter, had less taste, and did not brown up as well. The Francine T55 flour created a well risen, tasty bread with a soft, airy crumb. If you are going to bake with French flour, you need to know a few things. As I stated, not all flour is created equal. French flour is identified with a “T” on the package followed by the numbers 45, 55, 65, 85 and so on. These numbers indicated the amount of “ash” in the flour. Now don’t panic! It’s not really ash in the flour but rather minerals and impurities that occur during the milling process. France also grows their own wheat and does not import wheat from other countries. They make sure their wheat is non-GMO and grown in rich, fertile soil that is not nutrient deprived. France is known for its outstanding bread and pastries, so they do not believe in rushing nature to produce an inferior product. French flour produces a softer, lighter dough that is never stiff or hard when you are kneading it. If following an American recipe for bread, you also may find that you need a bit more French Flour to get the right consistency. I used T45 for my pastries, cookies, and pie doughs, T55 for my breads, and T65 for baguettes. French flour is also hard to find in the USA. I find myself having to order it through an importer to get the better-quality products direct from France.
During the pandemic, I found there was a flour and yeast shortage in our food markets in Pennsylvania. I learned that since people were homebound, they began trying their hand at making bread. I think that’s amazing! It took a terrible pandemic to help people realize that homemade bread beats store bought bread any day of the week. There is nothing like the smell of hot rolls or bread wafting through the air in your house. Just the smell of the yeast and flour baking in the oven, conjure up visions of jam covered sandwiches or toast dripping in real butter. I love to bake bread. I find it relaxing and very rewarding when I bite into that first piece of crispy French bread that is right out of the oven. So, the next time you reach for some flour to bake a loaf of sourdough, just remember, all flour is not created equal and when in doubt, Viva La France! 💋