Any notable differences in All-Purpose Flour brands?
Out of curiosity, are there any differences in the different brands of all-purpose flour?
In my efforts to up the quality of my baked goods, I have upgraded from regular butter to Plugra (and unlike from many years ago, margarine no longer darkens my door), eggs now come from the farmers' market, and I'm scary picky about my vanilla extract. All of these changes have had notable taste differences for the better.
But as for granulated sugar and AP flour, I just buy the brand that's the cheapest or on special at the supermarket. In all the years, I've not really noticed any difference among Pillsbury, Gold Medal, Heckers or generic store brands, at least not enough to become brand loyal. Do you have any preference and why? Is King Arthur worth the extra money? Is there a taste difference from organic?
While living in Toronto, Ontario for 26 years, I became partial to Robin Hood Flours. All of their flours are good quality; but Robin Hood Cake and Pastry (soft spring wheat) flour is like silk. if you feel the need to make feathery-light biscuits while the wind is howling outside your balcony windows, or If you ever get up to Canada, try it!
It depends upon what I'm baking. And the variable that seems to be the most important is the gluten (i.e. protein) content. King Arthur all-purpose flour has the highest level of protein of any of the name brand AP flours -- about 11.5%. Brands like Gold Medal and Pillsbury contain about 9-10% gluten. That makes King Arthur better for some pasta, breads and other baked goods that require the strength of gluten.
Lower protein flours are better for cakes, biscuits, pies and other light, crisp or tender pastries. The best flour I've used for these kinds of baked goods is White Lily all-purpose flour - it's sold all over the East and South, but there are a few stores in other parts of the country that sell it; I travel 20 miles to get the stuff (at Draeger's in San Mateo, CA.) The difference in my biscuits since I started using White Lily AP Flour is amazing. Be careful, though, because some White Lily flour is "self-rising." That means that it has baking powder and salt mixed into the flour. The bags look almost identical but the results are very different when used in regular recipes.
And here's what Rose Levy Beranbaum says on her website, http://www.realbakingwithrose.com, re the use of bleached flour in cakes: "The reason that it is essential to use bleached flour is that unbleached has particles that are smooth and round and the butter slips right through them and lands in a gummy layer at the bottom, causing the cake to fall in the center while cooling. The bleaching process, however, roughens these flour particles enabling them to hold the butter in even suspension."
re: Nancy Berry
Wow, Nancy, just when I thought I had at least ONE thing settled, unbleached over bleached, you throw a wrench in the works. I guess that's up for grabs again.
I knew beforehand that protein content is an issue. Wish this info would be prominently displayed on the flour package...
Haven't seen White Lily here in NYC, but maybe I'm not looking hard enough. Will do, as most of my baking is in that vein: pastries, biscuits, pie crusts, cookies and cakes. Not bread so much.
Please keep that info coming, everyone.
Anyone have any comments on why bleached flour might be suggested? I always buy unbleached flour, because, well why do I want it to be bleached? But I noticed recently that the Pie and Pastry Bible calls for *bleached* flour in all recipes but doesn't explain why. (hee hee- the only thing that it doesn't explain at length) I think noticed that some of my other baking books do as well.
I don't have access to my cookbooks at the moment, but I could swear that Beranbaum mentions *briefly* why she calls for bleached flour. I believe that it's because the bleaching process results in a slightly lower protein content, which will make a more tender pastry (but don't hold me to that). I also recall she tested with Gold Medal and Pillsbury. I've used some of her recipes, but I haven't changed to bleached AP flour for them, as I usually use King Arthur.
Sugar does matter. Cane sugar is better than beet sugar. The general rule is if it doesn't say cane sugar on the package, it isn't. Here's a recent cane sugar vs beet sugar discussion.
I never thought that much about flour though. So I googled around and there are a lot of tests comparing flours.
One thing that was surprising is that the same brand of all-purpose flour is formulated differently for different areas in the country.
I took a look at your profile and since you live in the Northeast, the all-purpose flour you buy will have more protein in it than the same brand sold in the South.
I saw quite a few references to that on the web and this article explained it the best. Although it is about whole wheat flour, it also discusses all purpose flour.
That site prefers organic stone-ground flour to the major brands because there's no worry about pesticides. Stone ground flour doesn't remove as many nutriants as commercial processing (though some add them back in).
This next site says ...
"In general, you may find that cakes made with all-purpose flour are a bit tougher and less delicate than those made with a softer pastry or cake flour. Likewise, breads made with all-purpose flour may be a bit softer and flatter than those made with bread flour. But overall, these differences should be slight for the casual baker."
They then suggest when using all-purpose flour to bake bread to use one tablespoon more per cup that the recipe calls for to up the protein. For cookies and cakes, decrease the amount of flour per cup by one tablespoon.
This site has a grid discussing a lot of flours in addition to all-purposs. What is interesting is the discussion of bleached flour at the bottom of the grid.
Lately I've taken to reading labels on packages. It is surprising how much junk is in the most innocent looking food. Next time I'm going to read the ingrediant list list on a bag of flour. The link above says of bleached flour that the bleaches used are Chlorine Gas and Benzoyl Peroxide.
Some additives and nutriants added are Potassium Bromate, iron, Niacin, Thiamin and Riboflavin.
To work with the yeast Malted Barley Flour is often added. King Arthur has a high protein content and malted barley flour which may be why so many people rate it so highly.
This is the site that comes up the most when the question is answered. However, it is just using flour to bake bread.
Another bread test
As to my preference, I usually buy Gold Medal because my mother did. I'm not a good enough cook that it would make a difference ... but then again, maybe it was never me, just the flour I've been using ... I might be a great baker after all.
Thanks for all the links, rworange. The heads up on the sugar, especially, is new information for me. I will follow up and conduct my own taste test.
In NYC, Domino is the dominant sugar brand and it's just easy and cheap to reach for it.
I do find NE AP flour to be tough at times. I've gotten used to making my own composites by mixing in corn starch and other specialty flours to improve flavor or texture. Just wondering if there is an easy fix by picking a particular flour brand.
I am not an avid baker, but after a long turn in the South I've gotten a little pickier about what flour I get for what. Gold Medal and the like have always seemed a little gritty to me, probably because of the hard-wheat content, but I keep a small bag in the fridge for thickening and dusting purposes. If I were going to bake bread, I think I'd get King Arthur, not so much for any identifiable reason as for the same reason I'd buy a Henckel knife instead of a generic brand: reputation and a level of trust. For quick-bread baking, biscuits and the like, I'll move heaven and earth to find White Lily, or at least Martha White: soft wheat, low gluten, silky texture - you have to practically pound the dough to make the biscuits come out tough.
I prefer unbleached, unbromated all purpose flour when I bake. The bleaching "ages" the wheat to soften it quicker to get it ready for market. While some will say that it's no different than unbleached flour, I disagree. I find that unbleached flour has a better texture, expecially when I use it in pie crusts.
I also prefer organic when I can get it, mostly on principle.