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Making a good loaf of bread with Indian Atta flour... finally!

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This is an interesting story about how it took us about 10 years to make a particular kind of bread. Hopefully, it will resonate with others who have a similar quest here.

 

This story about the Indian Atta bread and its notoriety for breadmaking. For those of us here who are familiar with Indian cooking, you would recognize this as the floor used for Indian flatbreads like Roti. For this reason Atta Flour is the mainstream flour in south Asia.

 

Over the last 10 years, we had been making several attempts (mostly failed ones) to make good bread from Atta. The appeal is very obvious to those who have used atta flour. It is whole wheat flour so, has all the fiber, nutrient and mineral content of whole wheat but unlike western whole wheat bread flour, the milling is very fine. This gives a flour that has the texture of a white flour but all the benefits of a whole wheat without the slightly gritty texture.

 

Moreover, due to the climate, cultivars and geography, the atta flour also has a unique nutty flavor to it.

 

All good, except it is was impossible to make good bread with it. We tried pretty much every rule in the book. Kneading, no-kneading, different starters, different raise conditions, different baking conditions, hand made, bread machine made….. But, no luck.

 

A simple google search will show you similar attempts by other people which more likely than not lead to a dense, gummy loaf. It is for that reason that most of the bread sold in India is made not with Atta but with Maida (a flour that only uses the starchy kernel instead of whole grain) which is equivalent of white flour.

 

After several years of trying, we almost gave up on Atta flour. In parallel we had been working on a product called LoafNest to make bread making convenient [Not posting link here because the intention is to keep commercial interest a bit away and focus on breadmaking]. Some of the members of this forum may remember the thread from earlier in the year.

 

So, during our development of LoafNest, Atta flour came up again but we were really not optimistic about trying it. But we went ahead anyway and results probably speak for themselves.

It really worked like a charm and surprised even us, the very creators of the product. The loaf was airy with unique flavor of Atta. Well cooked crumb without any gummy feeling. And a whole wheat loaf without the gritty texture. And of course, no-kneading, shaping or cleanup :)

 

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So, what did we learn about Atta bread making is below:

 

  • Atta is milled in a different process compared to the western wheat flour. 
  • The process is high speed so it gives a finer texture.
  • But the process also damages/opens up starch granules.
  • This results in a higher moisture absorption by starch

With this information, here are our hypotheses about why making bread with Atta is hard and why it works with LoafNest.

 

  • With higher hydration, the flour has less strength and more fluidity so it can not hold its shape well after the raise
  • Weakened starch structure also adds to reduction of structural strength
  • So normally atta flour results in dense loaf due to collapse and gummy crumb due to high hydration
  • With LoafNest the long no-knead fermentation somehow increases gluten strength (compared to a knead-version)
  • With LoafNest since there is no shaping step, the gas formed remains in place and available for expansion later during baking
  • The high contact area with casserole somehow improves heat transfer so that the loaf can baker faster than it can collapse

 

For those who are interested, here is the recipe we were able to use. Note that Atta is really absorptive and we use 100% hydration compared to 80% hydration in a normal recipe for LoafNest.
 

What are your thoughts on these? Do you have a better hypothesis why it works well?
 

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Very interesting. I would love to try the bread, and I totally understand your compulsion with it. If I can find the flour, I will try a loaf, am very curious to the taste. 

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16 hours ago, highchef said:

Very interesting. I would love to try the bread, and I totally understand your compulsion with it. If I can find the flour, I will try a loaf, am very curious to the taste. 

 

If you would like to try Atta flour, your best bet would be a nearby (or online) south Asian shop (e.g Indian) It is not very expensive because it is a staple in these cuisines.

Ensure that you do buy authentic Atta because at some places normal wheat flour is marketed as Atta flour. We can recommend some main brands like Annapoorna, Aashirwad, Pilsbury or Shaktibhog.

 

Do share your results here when you get a chance!

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If any Canadians should be reading this thinking "Hmmmmm....", I'll point out that Golden Temple brand atta flour is available at every Superstore.

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Isn't Atta a Durum wheat like semolina? I would look at Italian semolina bread recipes.

 

Canada grows a lot of durum wheat and export quite a bit -even to italy 

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On 9/13/2018 at 1:48 PM, chromedome said:

If any Canadians should be reading this thinking "Hmmmmm....", I'll point out that Golden Temple brand atta flour is available at every Superstore.

Thanks for the tip chromedome!

39 minutes ago, AAQuesada said:

Isn't Atta a Durum wheat like semolina? I would look at Italian semolina bread recipes.

 

Canada grows a lot of durum wheat and export quite a bit -even to italy 

Yes, Atta is Durum wheat. Indeed, we tried with semolina for somewhat better results compared to atta. But Semolina is not whole grain, but made only from Endosperm. So, you miss a lot of flavor. Also, since the semolina grains are much coarser, the texture is different too.

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