Figuring Out Flour

June 30 (flour)

Originally uploaded by romanlily

Since I got back from SFBI I’ve been trying to figure out what to do with my flour. Around the time I switched to organic unbleached flour back in November I’ve been struggling with pale loaves. We talked about this at school and I suspect that the organic flour might be the culprit. It all comes down to enzyme activity:

* enzymes (specifically, amalyse) breaks down the starch in flour into simple sugars.
* the simple sugars are needed for yeast food, but left over sugars are what causes nice browning. That is, browning is caramelized sugars

So, you need sufficient enzyme activity to create enough simple sugars to both feed the yeast and have enough left over for a brown crust. How do I know how much enzyme activity is in my flour?

* Millers use a measurement called the Falling Number to determine enzyme activity.
* Basically, they make a flour and water slurry, put it in a tube, put a weight on the slurry, and wait for the weight to fall. Enzyme activity breaks down the flour which allows the weight to fall.
* Bakers want a falling number between 250 and 300 seconds.
* Conventional (non-organic) bread flour typically meets this falling number requirement, but my organic flour has a higher falling number — closer to 350 seconds.

Still with me? So my organic flour has a falling number that’s too high, which means I don’t have enough enzyme activity to create simple sugars for yeast food and also for browning. Well, why not? And why does my Robin Hood flour not have this issue? It comes down to grain storage:

* Enzyme activity increases as the wheat berries get close to sprouting. ie. moisture is introduced.
* However, any grain farmer will tell you he wants dry grain in the bin so it doesn’t spoil.
* Millers are no different. They want nice dry, stable grain in the bin to grind flour from.
* Conventional flour millers add a product called fungal amalyse to their flour after they grind it in order to introduce additional enzyme activity to the flour, while preserving nice dry stable grain in the bin.
* Organic millers don’t have this option, so it’s up to the baker to do the correcting on his own. Usually this is accomplished by adding 0.5% – 1% malted barley flour to the white flour. Malted = sprouted = lots of enzymes.

So armed with this information, all I have to do is find me some malted barley flour and I can fix my pale loaf problem. BUT, do you think I can find malted barley flour locally? Not yet! I’m afraid I will have to go back to conventional flour (and incur the wrath of my local organic miller) until I can find some malted barley flour in the city. sigh…

Lund BC: worth it, if only for Nancy’s Bakery

This may well be the best bakery I’ve ever been to. The bread is good but not the best (Christies in Saskatoon is still #1) but the pastries, the lunches, the friendly staff and the amazing views are unbelievable.

You might think it crazy to drive 50km down a somewhat paved, very twisty road to visit a bakery, but this one is worth it.

It is as good as the Okeover campground is bad. Helln it’s even better, and that’s saying something.

I have some pics but they will need to wait till I get home.

Birds of a Feather

I just heard about two fellows on Gabriola Island BC who are building a commercial oven and hope to open a bakery this year. They started baking out of their homes two years ago, which is a pattern I want to emulate in Saskatchewan.

I hope to go see them as I’ll be out that way next month. I might even need to pack a trowel or two!

First Bake!

I’ve got to post some pictures soon (sorry!) but I had to shout out. My Brick Oven is now a Bread Oven! Yippee!!

I fired up the oven on Sunday and baked three batches of bread: some french loaves, semolina bread and seven grain bread. It was quite the adventure since I had no idea how long it was going to take to fire the oven so I mis-timed the dough pretty badly. Cooler oven than I’d like and over-risen dough but you know what, it was great fun and the bread tasted pretty good too. No complaints from my co-workers, that’s for sure.

It was fun working with larger quantities — in the end I baked 28 700g loaves, a big pan of granola and even baked off our supper. A very long day but very exhilirating. I can hardly wait for the next baking day!