Current research indicates that consumers are emerging from the COVID pandemic with a restored commitment to clean labels and simple ingredients, whether they are buying artisan bread at the bakery, supermarket retailers or online, explains Dave Krishock, Grain Craft bakery technical support manager.

“One way in which bakers may help meet this commitment would be to substitute any bleached flours with unbleached flour,” he said. “Bleach has no impact on the flour’s performance other than providing a whiter crumb in breads, donuts and layer cakes, so it can easily be removed from your products and your ingredient label. Fans of artisan breads tend to prefer the aroma, taste and mouth feel of darker, crustier and moister hearth loaves produced from the more “natural” unbleached flours available in 25- and 50-pound sacks.”

Krishock adds that it would be great if retailers could performance-match types/brands of flour to make the profusion of baked goods they produce each day; however, they face a real conundrum as they often don’t have the financial resources to stock a variety of flours, they are severely limited by lack of storage space, or their supplier/distributor minimums are difficult to meet.

These challenges are compounded with the shortage of trained employees with the bench and hand skills to utilize one flour across a broad spectrum of products.

“For this reason, I believe retail bakers could consider reviewing their dough systems and processes to see if a change or adjustment in their processing might streamline their flour inventory requirements,” Krishock said. “For example, the strength and reduced pH provided by a preferment, such as a biga, poolish or pate fermente’ may allow a baker to use a slightly lower protein flour for artisan breads, pizzas and sweet goods.”

Functional needs

Jeff Yankellow, director of bakery and food services sales at King Arthur Baking, addresses the profound questions of what the most important qualities of bread flour are and what should bakers be seeking out regarding specific functions.

“There is an old-school mentality with flour for bread that the stronger the better. This is not true,” he said. “Finding the right protein level and wheat blend for each process is the best approach.”

When inquiring about the best fit, Yankellow recommends telling the mill what you are trying to make and how, and then let them take these things into consideration.

“It is best when the miller also has some baking experience that is relatable,” Yankellow explains. “They should identify what characteristics they need most for the style of bread they are making. Do they need something to offset high fat and high sugar? Do they want light and fluffy or is a more chewy, wild crumb more desirable? Soft crust or crispy crust? Is there little fermentation or no fermentation?”

For automation, you may prioritize machinability and processing capabilities. For hand work a lot of that doesn’t matter.

Here is an example of how these things might matter differently to different bakers. For long fermentation, flour that is predominantly winter wheat is generally recognized as having more tolerance.

For processes with no fermentation time, this is a non-issue. You can have two flours with the same protein made, one with more spring wheat and one with more winter wheat. One will work better for long fermentation than the other. Protein is not the ultimate qualifier.

“There is no one size fits all,” Yankellow said. “There is one size fits most.”