Does the brand of flour make a difference?
I've always bought the cheapest flour I can on the principle that flour is flour and it'll all turn out the same in the end... my baked goods turn out just fine. Last weekend I bought flour at BJs instead of Albertsons and they sell King Arthur flour, which is a more expensive name-brand... I bought a bag, brought it home and made some biscuits for lunch using just the same recipe that I always do - and they were DELICIOUS! I have to try it in a cake, but I think I'm a convert... the King Arthur flour costs a bit more than store brand ($6.50 for 10lbs vs $2.50 for 5) but if it really does bake up better it'll be worth it.
So what's your experience? What brand and/or type of flour do you prefer to use in your cooking? Do you think that it makes a difference to use cheaper/more expensive flour?
I'll start by admitting that I do always buy King Arthur. However, does that mean I can ever find the difference in baked goods I make with KA versus Gold Medal (which I grew up with and my mother still uses) and think that it's better? Not a chance. I can't spot the difference for the life of me (though I've yet tried other flours with my newly perfected biscuit recipe). Stick me in a room, and I probably won't be able to tell you what flour was used where.
Everytime I pick up a bag of flour, I wonder why I'm paying the premium price when I can't spot the difference.
I, too, am a King Arthur fan but feel the issue is bleached vs. unbleached. Try King Arthur against Ceresota (or Hecker's, same thing depending on your region) and you'll probably be equally satisfied with both.
"Brand" doesn't make a difference, IMHO, but the composition of the flour does - percentage of hard wheat vs soft wheat. This varies from maker to maker and product to product. Not all AP Flour is created equal; likewise cake flours, bread flours, etc.
I usually buy Hecker's/Ceresota but picked up a bag of Gold Medal Better for Bread recently - made a recipe I've made at least 20x before with AP flour (George Lang's Hungarian Potato Bread from Beard on Bread), and it came out MUCH better than usual. Rose high and maintained the rise in the oven. Will use this from now on for bread, did not expect it to be such an improvement.
I think the brand is irrelevent EXCEPT as it relates to protein content. Now my memory is poor at the best of times, but from what I recall when we were at a cooking school in Italy recently it boiled down to different protein contents in different kinds of flour. To make matters more complex, I recall, different countries produce different levels of protein in what purport to be the same flour (eg. cake flour in the US may have a different protein level than cake flour in Canada). Our chef at the school suggested mixing flours based on their relative protein amounts to achieve something in the middle. This was important, for example, in things like brioche. Obviously not important for many sauces. One example she (our teacher) gave was that Canadian all purpose flour has about the same protein level as US bread flour (in other words the Canadian version has higher protein levels).
I just grabbed our notes and see she suggests the easiest way to find protein content is look at the nutritional info on the bag of flour and divide the grams of protein by the grams in a serving and multiply by 100. This will give you the percentage of protein in that flour. You can then compare the protein levels in different brands or kinds of flour.
To finish off, class, the protein level should be no more than 11.5% for artisanl breads. I hope that helps.
White Lily. Don't care what it costs. If I'm going to go to the trouble of baking something, why would I waste butter, eggs, chocolate, whatever, with any other flour.
It's no good for bread because it has a very low protein content, which is why it makes the very best tender flaky biscuits, cookies, cakes and other baked goods.
If I just want to make a roux, anything will do....
White Lily isn't easy to find outside of the South. The company was sadly sold recently to Smuckers, causing lots of rude jokes, and food scientist Shirley Corriher swears that she can tell the difference. Maybe I'm not that talented a baker but I haven't really seen a difference. It still is far and away better than any other flour for baking. Almost foolproof.
I love White Lily. My mom brings it to me when she comes for visiting. I use it only for biscuits.
For anything else, I use any old brand AP. I buy 5 pound or 10 pound bags of AP from Costco. I make a lot of bread. We blast thru it. I make my own mix for wheat bread flour and store it in a tub in the garage.
Incidentally, I use AP for bread flour. I used to only use bread flour for bread and then I thought, Why not try AP. Miracles... it was not any different. If I need extra gluten, I add it.
If I'm not mistake, Shirley has proven she can tell the difference too. That said, she is a guru and none of us are.
I used WL for the first time about a month ago and the difference was astounding to me. I'm not sure my biscuits were any better because the extra handling I had to do probably made them just as tough. Oddly enough, the no name flour I use up here gives me very nice biscuits with flat tops. The ones I made last month with WL gave me rounded tops.
You can see pictures of my normal biscuits in my photos section
I'm inclined to believe Shirley because I believe her about everything.
The cynical side of me however says that she and I may be influenced by our devotion to a traditional product and our outright resistance to any changes in things we love.
You can make a good case that it might have changed if the flour is no longer milled in the same facility and that it may not be milled using the same wheat from the same farmers in the same sections of the country. Since it's an agricultural product, perhaps it is different.
It's still the best. My baked goods still turn out better than if I use other flours. It's hard for me to say if they are better/not as good/whatever as the old WL since I've used up my supply of the old stuff.
I'll take Shirley's word on it though, and complain from time to time when I get cranky.