Aug 312012

(Ok, so if that last project was messy, this one is a little technical.  Turns out European Flours require a degree in chemistry.  And a blast furnace.  Really!  Read on.  But, don’t get too attached to my new-found cook-bloggishness.   Next time we get back to normal day to day Auslander Adventures :-)

Lots of Bread

In the States I used to bake a lot of bread.  A lot of bread.  This was because

  1. I like making bread, 
  2. The family likes eating bread, 
  3. I like cooking with bread (French Toast!  Fondue!  Croutons!) and 
  4. It just makes the house smell so wonderfully homey!

But, in the states I had a couple advantages.  I had a nice large oven, a wonderful KitchenAid professional series stand mixer, ample room to cook and, possibly most importantly, I understood the chemistry of it!  Flour, gluten, water, salt, yeast.  It all made sense.

Now here I find myself with an unexpected dilemma.  Europe is known for its breads.  Every town has its specialty.  And each country is identified with a certain major variety.  Many countries, in fact, have very strict laws and guidelines about what bakers may and may not call specific types of bread.  France has a reputation for being downright tyrannical about the ingredients and procedures used in making French breads, for example.  You want to call that a boule?  It had better weigh exactly the right amount, or the Baking Police are going to getcha! (seriously, I am not sure what the organization is who checks, but they do monitor this sort of thing here).  So, how could I know that making bread here would be so HARD!


For a long time I just couldn’t figure out what was wrong.  The same recipes I have been using for ages just wouldn’t come out the same.  One of the most vexing issues is that they simply wouldn’t rise properly.  This is especially true while they bake.  They rise fine on the table, usually, but once in the oven they gain very little volume.  Part of it, I guessed, was the smaller oven.  Part the lack of my old tried and true mixer (though, I certainly hand kneaded my share of dough over the years!).  Perhaps the yeasts were different, too?  But, now, after a great deal of experimentation and research, I am fairly convinced that my main issue has to do with the flours.

When I first arrived I discovered No Ordinary Homestead.  A terrific blog by a US->German Ex-pat that I found exceptionally informative and interesting.  But, then I got all distracted by Life and forgot to read.  That is, until last week when another friend mentioned the problem of European Flours and I remembered this blog: Flour in Germany: Not as Easy as it seems.  I am so completely NOT alone!  Apparently, many US cooks have come to The Old Country and been flummoxed in their baking attempts.  Here is the general overview:

The flours here are simply not the same.  In the US we have All Purpose flour, which works for almost anything.  Then there are the other basic types: whole wheat, cake, bread.  Bread flour has more protein (gluten), cake flour has less.  This means bread flour stretches more, cake flour is more tender.  True flour snobs know the hardness and origins of the grains being used (Red wheat?  Club wheat?  Durum? Spring? Winter?).  But, I never went that far.  Mostly, I just knew which flours were good for which applications.  And, they largely said it right on the box, so, really.  Not that tough!

Here, though, flours are not sold by type, but by number.  It refers to the amount of minerals left in the ashes after a burn test.  Yeah, right!  Who the heck came up with that?  Answer: I don’t know.  But, apparently the more refined the flour, the lower the ash content and the lower the number. This is because the endosperm has fewer minerals than the outside parts of the grain.  Unfortunately, there is no direct equivalent to US flours.  I am told (by the interwebs) that this has to do with the milling process.  All I know is that it results in a headache.

405 is the type you see most often.  It is sold in large containers that I would associated with All Purpose in the US.  Only, according to my sources, it is much closer to pastry flour!  Which, would explain why the heck my breads are not rising properly. 

Here and in Switzerland they number things by milligrams of minerals per 100 grams of dry weight.  In much of the rest of Europe, it is per 10 milligrams.  So type 550 flour here is roughly the same as type 55 in France.  Are you glazing over, yet?  It still boggles me.

Here is a wiki on it.

Here is a wiki on it in German (run it through Google Translate if it isn’t your language, you can just copy and paste the URL and it will translate the whole page).

And here is a page where people summarize their knowledge.  So, if you are interested, you can start your own research there!  But, honestly, I am still tracking down more information and trying to find better local recipes.  And, I am having a devil of a time trying to figure out which types work best for bread!  Experiments continue. 

In the meantime, here are two loaves of bread I cooked this week to show my progress.

My Own Basic Bread Recipe:
Flour, water, yeast, salt.  Should be pretty French Breadish.  Only, it isn’t.  I made it with mostly 1050 and a bit of a locally grown 550.  Now I am thinking I need to find some 812…….

The dough never got smooth

DS and I kneaded the heck out of it and it still never got to the window stage.  Not even close.  After about 30 minutes we got tired of seeing no progress and just set it out to rise.

It cracked open on rising

Even with a steamy oven, it didn’t rise much while cooking.

The crust was thick and crunchy. 

The crumb was tight and spongy.
Not the texture I was going for, but it had a nice flavor.
Leftovers will make good French Toast.

Try Two
So, a few days later, I tried again.  I was making the fresh butter and wanted something that would really showcase the flavor of the cultured butter.  I decided on a nice artisan bread from the Baking with Julia Child book.  I have made it before and it is lovely.  Plus, as an added bonus it calls for a mix of flours.  So, I figured it might fudge some of my flour troubles.  Also, hello!  Julia Child.

OK, start with a sponge of whole wheat, rye and white flour and yeast, into the fridge overnight.  I had no rye, so I used a second, local whole grain wheat that I thought would be glutenous to help with, well, the whole gluten problem.

So far, so good

Next make a second sponge with fresh yeast and flour.  Add more water and flour to the original sponge.  Knead them all together.  Add salt.  Knead a lot more.  Once again I enlisted DS to help with the long kneading process.  And….. This time we came darned close to achieving a window!  Not quite the truly elastic kind I was going for, but it was definitely stretching instead of breaking and light was shining through.  Hooray!

Hmm.  Still lumpy.  But not AS lumpy
DANG!  It cracked again.  But, look how smooth the rest is….

So, I reformed it and draped it in a damp cloth for the last rise.  I had a feeling that maybe the moisture content might be off, too.  Let it rise again, and even did the Bread Stone thing!  Goin’ all out today.

Yes, my bread stone is a flower pot base, a la
Alton Brown

The bread seemed to be browning too rapidly, so I gave it a hat.

I think it looks a bit like Bunhilda

Then I wore the hat. 
One of those days!

Ok, so how did it turn out?  The oven rise was still minimal, but overall, I am really pleased!!

Again, a little rough, but that is OK for this kind of bread

This crumb looks tight, but it is more moist,
and this kind of bread usually comes out
very similar in the states

But, wait, you say.  That bread seems to have almost the same crumb as the last loaf.  And you said the last loaf wasn’t terrific.  AHA!  Says I.  I am way out ahead of you.  THAT loaf was meant to be a french bread.  Open crumbed and chewy.  THIS loaf is meant to be a country loaf.  Denser and more spongy.  Yeah, it is still more closed than I was shooting for.  But, it is within my acceptable parameters, and, honestly, it tasted great and had a nice texture in the mouth, so I am not complaining!

And, the real question.  How was it with that nifty homemade butter from the first half of the blog?

Bread with Butter

DS eating bread and butter.

DH giving it a try

The verdict?  OMG, it was EXCELLENT!  The mildly sour bread really melded with the mildly sour and slightly salty butter.  I wish I could transmit the flavor, cause, really.  Very-very nice! It was a lot of work making the butter.

That is a grand total of 6 bowls for just the Butter making!

 But, for a rare treat, it was well worth it.  If I had a stand mixer I would likely consider doing it more often (especially one with a splash guard!  I never used it for mixing batters, but for this it would be almost a necessity!)

I am, obviously, still working on figuring out the flours.  But, progress was made.  And, the house smells wonderful.  Plus, I have fresh cultured buttermilk, fresh cultured butter (that ought to last until… maybe tomorrow morning!) and fresh bread.
So, there was my foray into Food Blogging.  Don’t worry.  Next up we will have more Adventury Adventures.

For instance: Tonight DH is at a party to celebrate the successful completion of the Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams (looks like that will be the official title if the early voting is indicative) kickstarter!

Plus, Tuesday both kids start at Hogwarts! Woot!

Wish us luck!  And you all be careful out there!

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