Serious question, do any of you make bread with proper bread flour? When we first moved to Bulgaria, bread flour was hard to find (and more expensive), so we’ve always made do with plain flour. And I assumed – in that way you do, assuming everyone else is exactly the same as you – that no one else was buying bread flour either. Everyone’s hip to the bread flour scam, right?
Then I was watching a YouTuber go through her weekly food shop (because that’s how exciting my life is) and she was saying that the supermarket had run out of bread flour. That they were going to have to attempt bread with plain flour, and she hoped it would turn out okay. And I thought, Wait, does everyone think you absolutely have to use bread flour? Later in the video, she unveiled her perfectly lovely bread, made with plain flour, and was amazed that it had worked so well.
All of which sent me even further down the bread rabbit hole – as a sourdough baker, I was already pretty deep down that rabbit hole – and, in particular, the merits of bread flour over plain flour.
To clarify, bread flour has a higher protein content (12–15%) than plain, all-purpose flour (generally 9–11%). The higher the protein, the more gluten there is in the flour, which of course makes your bread more, well, bready. It also makes it easier to work with the dough itself, which is important if you’re kneading bread by hand (as opposed to in a stand mixer or bread machine).
So it makes sense that bread flour would yield a better loaf, and make your life easier while working with the dough. But honestly, I still don’t buy bread flour. We get perfectly good sourdough loaves with plain flour – with the added bonus that you can make everything else with the same flour. Seeing as our pantry is already loaded with wholewheat flour, rye flour, spelt flour, chickpea flour, and buckwheat flour, I can’t be doing with another type of flour on the shelf. There is no more room on the flour shelf.
Plain flour it is, then. But what about you? Do you swear by bread flour?
I do have a tip for those of you who, like me, make bread with plain flour – and that is to seek out a plain flour with a high protein content. Most plain flours will be around 10% but you might find one that’s nearer to (or even over) 11%. Just check the packet next time you buy flour and compare different brands. The flour we buy from Lidl has a whopping 11.9% protein – which is, for all intents and purposes, pretty much bread flour, without the bread flour label and price tag. It’s very cheap and unfancy, but it makes fantastic bread. And I will admit, that little extra protein in the flour is noticeable from, say, a flour with 10% protein. It’s easier to work with, and it has a better structure.
Based on that alone, ‘proper’ bread flour is probably worth it. But will I buy it? Still no.
I never buy self-raising (cake) flour, either – I just add baking powder to plain flour. But that’s a whole other topic…