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Does the brand of flour make a difference?

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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?

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  1. 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.

    1. 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.

      1. "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.

        1. 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.

          1 Reply
          1. re: buttertart

            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.

          2. 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.

            4 Replies
            1. re: MakingSense

              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.

              1. re: MakingSense

                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

                DT

                1. re: Davwud

                  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.

                  1. re: MakingSense

                    When the articles first appeared about them milling flour in Iowa (Or wherever it was) I think I read that Shirley was able to pick the flour in a blind test that was the original.

                    DT

              2. There is definitely a difference in various brands of flour, and even within a brand depending on where its made in the US. I made the switch to King Arthur flours, in part to get away from enriched flours & chemically treated flours. Then I took the next step & started grinding my own grain 1 1/2 years ago & would never go back- working with freshly ground flours is such a treat, as are all the goodies I make with it.

                1. I usually use Gold Medal, sometimes Pillsbury, and sometimes store brands, and have never really noticed a difference....UNTIL...recently, when I tried a bag of PriceRite store brand. There is definitely a difference in that, and I will not be buying it again. A tried and true recipe for French bread made with it came out poorly; the loaves never browned, and the texture was too dense. I suspect it's as KiltedCook says: the proportion of hard/soft wheat.

                  1. White Lily all the way for me!!! You can make pretty good biscuits without it, but you'll never make excellent ones...

                    Fun!.

                    1. the differences in flours are related to the percentages of protein, which relates to the season of wheat. King Arthur flour is always consistent. some of the name brands are also consistent, while others make their flour with different seasonal wheats so they are less reliable. King Arthur's all purpose flour is designed to have the best amount of protein for standard baking--that's why there's bread flour, cake flour, etc. with another brand, it might be exactly right for what you are doing, or it might not. When I read up on flours once a long ways back, I think another good, readily available brand (in the sense of consistency and percentages) was gold medal.

                      edit: White Lily has lower protein than most other AP flours, which is why it makes great biscuits. it would not make a yeasted bread as good because the gluten would not be the same. this is just based on what I read--I am sure many people have made great yeasted breads with White Lily.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: cocktailhour

                        White Lily also makes a higher protein Bread Flour.

                      2. I'm glad I found this topic. I am a long time baker and I've always used Gold Medal all purpose until a couple of years ago. It's what my mother used and it's what the grocery store sold.

                        I took a pasta making class a couple of years ago and the instructor suggested KA flour was better for pasta purposes, so I just started buying KA since Wegmans started carrying it.

                        At Easter, I attempted to make my usual Martha Stewart chocolate chip cookies and oatmeal raisin cookies recipes that I have been making for years with no problem. I had a runny mess on my hands. I thought that maybe I didn't measure the flour or sugar correctly and chalked it up to a mistake and tossed everything. A few weeks later I attempted to make them again for a party and again the same runny mess occurred. Last week I made them for the County Fair and the same thing happened.

                        I went through my entire list of ingredients and the only things that changed were the brand of flour and the baking sheets (I was using airbake sheets with silpats and switched to Doughmasters sheets). So I got out my old airbake sheets and that didn't help. I always use Domino granulated sugar and Domino brown sugar (light or dark depending on what the recipe calls for). My baking soda and baking powder are new, I buy new containers of each every December before I start my holiday baking. I always buy large eggs (except for Ina Garten recipes that require XL eggs, but don't get me started on that story. LOL). I always used Land o'Lakes butter (salted or unsalted depending on what the recipe calls for). So those were the only 2 things that changed from the last time I made these recipes.

                        So, you all have confirmed that it's probably the flour. I am going to buy a bag of Gold Medal and make the recipes once more to see if it fixes it.

                        It's really making me crazy.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Manassas64

                          Just to close this out, I went back to Gold Medal AP flour and have made the chocolate chip and oatmeal raisin cookies with no problems. Everything I've made since switching back has been perfect. I really think the different wheat makes a difference. I made a recipe over the weekend that was developed by someone on the Cooking Light message board (it was not a light recipe) and she used KA and I used GM and my cookies were much drier than hers.

                        2. I have recently started to use the Gold Medal bread flour for bread and am much happier with my bread - it rises higher and holds shape better than it does when I use Hecker's A-P. Kind of a d'oh moment, but I'm happy to have tried it after years of thinking A-P was just fine for bread.

                          1. Cooks Illustrated did a comparison back in 1999:

                            http://www.cooksillustrated.com/taste...

                            1. I think this link shows that the answer is yes. Like most things in life you get what you pay for.

                              http://blog.kingarthurflour.com/2010/...

                              Its only KAF for me

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: saraugie

                                oddly 5 lb bags seem to be cheaper per lb than larger bags. been blowing thru a lot lately, mostly pizza, muffins, pita. switched to self rising flour for biscuits. Isn't KA flour more powdery than soft like regular flour? haven't used it lately but remember it being good for thickening as it didn't lump up. did use some rye and pineapple juice to make some sourdough starter. will try my first sourdough pancakes tomorrow.