organic vs regular flour?
Ever since I started making strawberry shortcake (the creme biscuit type of shortcake, using TomMeg's recipe as a base but using Ronnybrook's heavy creme instead of half and half, and also using the knife cutting technique instead of the mixer), I've always used King Arthurs' Organic All Purpose flour.
I've had great success from the first time I tried, up to the time before last.
This was maybe my tenth or more time making Strawberry shortcake. It was pretty awful, I'm sorry to say.
I had ran out of the organic flour, and had to get some Gold Medal All Purpose Flour from the corner store. This was the only change. As I formed the dough, I already felt the difference in the feel - it didn't have the usual lightness, but more like a clump of clay. Then when I baked them, the bottom got burnt fast. all around the biscuits looked like plastic modes used for display.
It was sort of disappointing, but I also start to wonder whether organic flour really make that much difference, or can something happen to the conventional flour to cause this? It just seemed as if the flour had been cooked already. Can flour be "dead"?
I also realized that many bakeries and grocery store-bought items tend to have this kind of result. So, I'm wondering if anyone have a sure way of avoiding this sort of outcome in baking?
Thanks everyone for your input!
The only place I can get the King Arthur Organic Unbleached All Purpose is Whole Foods. I think I will just stick with it from now on.
It is interesting to read about all the possibilities for what went wrong, though.
1)I've made these shortcake under much more humid conditions without problem, so that probably wasn't it. 2)I did look at the flour I bought again after reading your replies and realized that it was bleached. (My recipe had called for unbleached)
3)It was interesting to learn that for regular biscuits lower gluten flour is better, but for creme biscuit, higher gluten is good. This is very detailed and specific info that I think I could only get from a place like Chowhound! 4)So flour do go "stale", which I take it is different from going "rancid"? I'm not sure I want to come across "rancid" flour...5)I will check the baking powder again. If I got the King Arthur flour and there's still a problem, maybe it IS the baking powder.
I'm confident that I will be making those delicious shortcakes soon: light and fluffy on the inside, and golden & crusty on the outside, still warm as I pour strawberries and hand-whipped creme over them....
White flour is very unlikely to go rancid - the parts of the grain that contain the overwhelming percentage of oil are sifted out. It is a problem with whole wheat and other whole grain flours, though, which is why it's usually recommended to keep them in the fridge if you won't use it up within a couple of months. Even staleness isn't a big problem unless you get or kept a very old bag lying around - white flour has a very long shelf life.
I doubt the fact that the flour is organic has anything to do with it.
Even though both flours are all purpose, King Arthur has a higher protein content, and thus more gluten forming abilities, and is unbleached. Gold Medal has a protein content on par with most "standard" (Pillsbury, grocery store brands, etc) all purpose flours and is also bleached, which can affect taste and, to a lesser degree, texture. (Gold Medal also sells an unbleached version, but it would say so on the package. Their standard version is bleached. Protein content is the same in both.)
For regular biscuits, I would guess that a lower protein flour like Gold Medal, or even better one of the southern type all purpose flours (even lower protein content) like White Lily would be better. Those recipes depend on having a very gentle hand with the mixing for tender high rising biscuits. However, with cream biscuits you actually need to work the dough a bit or they'll be a bit squat, and in that case I can see that a higher protein all purpose flour would develop the gluten a bit better and give a better result.
As for flour being "dead" or whatnot, I doubt that was the case here. Flour can definitely go stale, but that would affect the taste and not so much the texture. You also might not like the chemical taste that bleaching flour imparts.
I agree with some of the other posters that the difference between weighing and measuring the flour can make a difference. I always weigh ingredients, and I find I get the most consistent results thereby.
Flour can go stale, according to some of my baking cookbooks. It can certainly go rancid. And the less refined it is, the more prone it is to rancidity.
Another thing to check is your baking poweder. That can go stale even more quickly, especially if you keep it near a heat source and the weather is humid. I keep mine in the freezer, and I only buy in smaller quantities.
I use King Arthur Flour and Pillsbury or Gold Medal. I detect no real difference between them. In my opinion, organic simply refers to certain farming practices and a philosophy about food. It is not necessarily indicative of quality or performance. Having said that, I do buy organic products if they have ingredients I like, or if they've worked for me in the past. You are free to stay as organic as you like, of course, but in this case, I'm not sure a supermaket flour is going to be that inferior.
The advantage of buying flour from a busy supermarket is the rate of turnover. I would rather go to a big chain for the "freshest" flour rather than an out-of-the-way health-food store whose sacks of flour have gathered dust.
Maybe it was the humidity. Or more likely the "density" of the flour. 1 cup of brand x of flour may weigh substantially more than 1 cup of brand y. That's why many baking books suggest you weigh your flour. Also the gluten varies within and between different brands (even AP flour). Not beign organic is unlikely the cause. But keep buying organic. And obviously you have the recipe down pact with KAOAP flour.
White Lily is the best flour for biscuits. I'm guessing that your GMAP flour was stale or the humidity was very high and that can affect the way the flour works too. Anyway as much as devotees of organic would like it to be so, there is no difference in the way organic or non-organic flours bake.
We just met a (high end) chef who was complaining that sometimes imported flour is "stale". We were sort of laughing at her (behind her back, of course) but maybe there's something to it? Of course Gold Medal is not imported, but maybe you'd have better results with high gluten, or cake flour (not sure which is better for biscuits).