making bread with flour

How to choose the best bread flour

Any bread aficionado will tell you selecting the best bread flour is one of the most important decisions you’ll make when learning how to bake bread. But which one do you choose?

If you’re a looking to put on your apron and bake your own loaf, prepare to be baffled by the range of flour now on supermarket shelves. There are certainly plenty of types of flour you can experiment with. All-purpose, rye, wholemeal, spelt – each will give your bread a unique taste, appearance and texture. But before we talk about the varieties, let’s start with some baking science. Why is flour so important to the bread-making process?

Why do you need flour in bread?

There’s a reason why wheat flours are best suited to breadmaking, and that is the high gluten protein content. Out of all the components of flour, protein is the most important to a baker. The two different types of protein in flour are glutenin and gliaden.1 When they mix with water, together they create gluten, and this gives bread its structure. Glutenin creates elasticity (chewiness), and gliaden extensibility (the height of the rise.)

Popular types flour to make bread

These are the most popular wheat based flours used to make bread:2
  • All-purpose flour
  • Bread flour
  • Whole wheat flour
  • White whole wheat flour

How to choose the best flour to make bread?

Different types of flour contain varying qualities and concentrations of gluten protein. This has a big influence over how the flour performs during a bake. To be specific, the suppleness of the dough and how much it will rise.3

But is there really any meaningful distinction between a strong white bread flour and a plain all-purpose baking flour? There’s probably a bigger difference than you might imagine. And this is mainly down to how much protein they contain.

Flours with different protein levels are better for different types of baking. Whereas an all-purpose flour has a protein content of around 11%, a harder bread flour or whole wheat flour contains 12-15% protein.4 Lower densities of protein create a softer flour and a lighter texture. So, as a general rule, the higher the protein content, the stronger the flour and the crustier the bread.

Your choice of flour will have a big impact on the texture and style of your bread. So, if you’re wondering how to make sourdough bread, you’ll probably find most recipes recommend a strong white bread flour over an all-purpose flour. This is because the higher protein content of bread flour will help you create the high rise and rustic crust of an artisan style loaf.

If, however, you’re looking to bake a super soft brioche, you’ll need to use a bread flour in the lower protein range.5

Comparing flours

All-purpose flour It has a gluten content between 9-11% and is probably the most widely used in bread.  
Bread flour A higher gluten content (11-14%) creates a more elastic dough. This bakes breads with a higher rise and a lighter texture.
Whole wheat flour  This flour has the highest gluten percentage (up to 16%.) But rather than a fluffy texture, breads made with whole wheat are typically heavy and dense in texture.  
White whole wheat flour It has a milder taste than whole wheat flour and with a gluten percentage more around 12%, it creates a lighter texture bread. It’s a good alternative to all-purpose flour.

 

What about if you’re sensitive to gluten?

If you’re intolerant to gluten, learning how to bake bread is a great way to be sure only the right ingredients for your sensitivity are used to make your loaf. Here are some lower gluten flour options:

Spelt flour

What is spelt flour? Spelt is a grain. It’s a variety of wheat, so it contains gluten. However, with fewer fructans (which can be hard to digest) it can be a good alternative to conventional wheat flours if you need to reduce (but not total eliminate) gluten.

Rye flour

Rye flour has a rich, slightly sweet flavour. Similar to spelt flour, it contains a lower level of gluten, making it a suitable substitute if you want to reduce your gluten intake due to a sensitivity.

Some non-wheat flours that can be used to make bread

To avoid gluten altogether, you could look for gluten-free bread recipes using the following instead of refined wheat flours.

  • Buckwheat flour
  • Millet
  • Coconut flour
  • Almond flour

Summary: Your choice of flour is important

Flour is the most important ingredient in bread as it determines the texture and rise of your loaf. Wheat flours are usually the first choice of most bakers. This is due to the lightness and high rise created by higher levels of gluten content. However, if you’re intolerant of wheat or looking for gluten-free bread options, there are a wide range of low gluten and gluten-free flour options available.

Last updated: 24 July 2020

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