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I am in France and I have been attempting various baking experiements, which has inevitably gotten me wrapped up in the differences between European and American flour. This past weekend I made 2 white cake recipes, to compare them, which is a cake normally using flour, egg whites, butter, milk, flavorings, and a leavening agent(both recipes used baking powder).

I baked from American recipes using equivalent gram weights for the flour, and not volume measures, thinking that this would compensate for the differences in French and American flour. However I find that the cakes made with the French flour were rather flimsy, spongy, did not rise the same way, and had the addition of a slightly rubbery outside crust in comparison with the results that my friends on the other side were getting with the same recipes. John Whiting mentioned that European flour less gluten than American flour - what does this mean and how would I adjust for that? My instinct tells me that adding flour will make this rubbery crust situation even worse.

I need some guidance on how to adjust my recipes to achieve something more dense, but not hard on the outside. It seems to me that when I measured out the gram weight, the volume of the French flour measured was less than what the American recipes called for in cups. But then on the other hand, Julia Child gives a table in her Mastering the Art which lists French cake flour as having 20% more volume than American AP flour.

I'm confused and don't know which direction to adjust, and how much. Can you give some insight on gluten content and flour in baking?

Also any thoughts on the difference between English Flour and French Flour would be appreciated since I use English recipes as well.

Thanks ever so much.

Edited by bleudauvergne (log)
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In addition to the above, do you have a favourite brand of flour in the UK that you have found good for baking and pastry? Or even an all-purpose flour that covers a wider range of uses?

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I'm not sure that I'm completely qualified to answer this. The flour is different from country to country and nowhere more so than in France where you can buy a dozen different white flours for bread alone - regularly with a lot af additives and acid enhancers by the way - as well as even softer flours for not just cakemaking but for saucemaking. In England it's generally just a choice of standard all purpose or bread flour.

I would buy a hard white bread flour - remember that the French use softer flour for baguettes and the like - and substitute a proportion of the recipe's flour with this.

My preference here is for the flour made by Dove's Farm which is both consistent and top quality. I use their hard flour for bread and regular for all else. Brown flours and mixtures are more difficult and the Dove's Farm multigrain is only okay. In fact the commercial mixtures such as Granary - Rank Hovis Macdougal I'm afraid - and Turkestan are regularly a better bet especially if you add what you prefer to the mix as well. I for instance like sunflower seeds and oatmeal which will soften the dough. For brown flours we are talking bread only as I never use them for pastry.

If it's any consolation there are difficulties whenever recipes move from country to country. American recipes often call for corn syrup which is unobtainable here and texts will advise substitution with our Golden syrup which is not the same thing at all.

Sorry not to be more help

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Hello,

Think of each flour as perfect and different, despite what the manufacturers may claim, and accept the characteristics of each flour as a positive attribute, though perhaps one that you may not want or care for in each particular recipe. Though some might suggest that a baguette or an angel food cake can be made equally well using generic supermarket ingredients throughout the world, the truth is they can't.

The characteristics and levels of gliadin, a sticky substance that helps to bind the gluten into a cohesive compound; and glutenin, which gives the gluten strength and elasticity, will vary widely in different flours, both in quality and quantity, and often knowing the protein content is more misleading than helpful. Mixing flour doesn't really solve the problem, as the intention of the miller is different (according to the needs of their customers). Your problem may be caused by gluten, but quantity is only part of the story. Really, if you must replicate the results you were pleased with in the US, then import the flour. But, the hybrid that you will create using local flour has its own qualities that simply need appreciating. Throughout culinary history, this is how new recipes develop as immigrants tried to replicate remembered foods using local ingredients.

Simply, you're not doing anything wrong. Nor is it a matter of simply adjusting the recipes. You either change your flour, or learn to love the changes the local flour is making.

In France, there is a type of flour known as Grau-vert (available both from Grand Moulin de Paris and Viron) which is a little stronger and more resilient than the softer T55 type flours. Otherwise, hop across to Germany, where it is easier to get flours similar to what you and I are used to (I'm in the UK, I guess you're from the US). For an American-style bakery I work for in Kuwait, I found that German mills were able to match the milling styles I needed to make cupcakes, brownies, English tin loaves, and baguettes.

But, you know, when I go to Eric Kayser and taste some of his American-style patisserie, it may not be authentic, but to me it tastes good too. Just different.

Regards

Dan Lepard

Edited by danlepard (log)
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...Really, if you must replicate the results you were pleased with in the US, then import the flour...

...Simply, you're not doing anything wrong. Nor is it a matter of simply adjusting the recipes. You either change your flour, or learn to love the changes the local flour is making...

Hi Dan,

You are right in so many respects about appreciating what is available. I think your viewpoint would explain the absence of cake recipes for the home baker here in France. The genoise normally found here is more similar to sponge cake and is generally much drier and more structural than delicious. Through the years I have come to love so many aspects of the ingredients I encounter here in France, it's not that I don't appreciate French flour, it's that I don't understand it.

I have done rudimentary research into the types of flour available, and currently have type 45, 55, and 65 in my kitchen, and recently this new farine de ble premiere extraction, but the strong/soft comparison is a good new path of discovery for me and I will follow your suggestion of the Grau-vert flour.

It's not that I'm trying to re-create exactly the cake I have made before, but that I would like to understand my result, to have as much control over this medium, in order to know it's limits and hopefully to continue to obtain the joy of serving layer cakes at home with the rich, beautiful, and good tasting results that I know are possible. I still believe, and I will continue to strive to get as close as I can.

Many have written books of French recipes that have been adjusted to accomodate the differences in available ingredients of another country, Juila Child, for instance, despite the differences in flour. I appreciate so many wonderful dishes made in the French style. For me, it's important, as well, to be able to duplicate the wonderful things found in an American kitchen, in the style that I know, a rich element to my own identity.

There few French cookbooks that treat American regional cooking or address the home baking tradition prevalent in American kitchens in any serious way here. The reasons for that are complex, and in many respects are due to this kind of activity being relegated to professionals in this country.

I'm having lots of fun in the process, and I don't think I'll throw in the towel just yet. Thank you for your suggestions! :biggrin:

Josephine Bacon points out that there are also "Eastern European flours that are deliberately milled not as finely specifically for making dumplings."

"It would be very helpful," she adds, "to have tables of the flours."

Yes, John, such a table would be extremely helpful. If anyone knows of one, please post. :smile:

Edited by bleudauvergne (log)
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Hello,

But the problem you face is that there is no uniformity between mills (though the French/European T specification gets closer than any other region), and the millers chosen grist simply reflects the demands of their dominant customers.

I was in a bakery in Milan, and noticed that the baker had two flours, from different suppliers, both labled '00'. Why? Because one was a strong '00' and one was a soft '00'. The reason we can't produce a table is that there is variation between mills producing what seem like identical flours. Remember, all flour is complex, usually produced by blending different grain varieties into a mix that produces that mills preferred flour, and the mix will change from year to year.

Think of your task, in gaining an understanding of the qualities of grain and flour like the wine-maker and the grape, or the cabinet-maker and the wood. You're dealing with organic natural ingredients, and enhancing inherent characteristics is probably the best route. I think its important that mills preserve these variable characteristics, it allows bakers simply by their choice of mill to create a special loaf that sets them apart from their competitors. I'm not for uniformity in food production, but the preservation of local characteristics.

So, back to your problem. You can compare the technical leaflets on your preferred US flour and ask a miller (perhaps a big one) to suggest a suitable alternative. Have a read through this piece here, from foodproductdesign.com, which talks a little modifying recipes to enhance different characteristics. I've got a bit on my website here, which is about trying to find a flour in the UK similar to US clear and patent (another difficult one).

I have a feeling that your cakes are quite wonderful :smile:

Dan x

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I baked from American recipes using equivalent gram weights for the flour, and not volume measures, thinking that this would compensate for the differences in French and American flour.  However I find that the cakes made with the French flour were rather flimsy, spongy, did not rise the same way, and had the addition of a slightly rubbery outside crust in comparison with the results that my friends on the other side were getting with the same recipes.  John Whiting mentioned that European flour less gluten than American flour - what does this mean and how would I adjust for that?  My instinct tells me that adding flour will make this rubbery crust situation even worse.

bleudauvergne,

I would guess that the problem is gluten content but, in my experience, for quite the opposite reason. Using local flour here in Germany I noticed a similar effect to what you describe (compared in my case to UK flour). As Dan mentioned it is quite impossible to come up with a table comparing flours but the nutrition info on my flour packages give a hint. I was never able to find any German flour (in normal grocery stores) with less than 10.5% protein, which is between 3.5 and 1.5 % more than what's normaly contained in American cake flour. This could explain the rubbery outside and spongyness. One solution could be, as suggested by many German cake recipes, to substitute enough flour with wheat (potato and corn also) starch so that the total protein content goes down to 7-9%. It works quite well for me.

Il Forno: eating, drinking, baking... mostly side effect free. Italian food from an Italian kitchen.
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Have a read through this piece here, from foodproductdesign.com, which talks a little modifying recipes to enhance different characteristics. I've got a bit on my website here, which is about trying to find a flour in the UK similar to US clear and patent (another difficult one).

I have had a read through it, and your post. They are perfect for the questions I have. Thank you very much for that. Not only have I learned from them about the different flour types and what differentiates them, but how the flour is made so that no matter where I am I can do some basic inquiries and place things within that spectrum. Useful. :smile:

There are also a few direct references for comparison which I can take one step further when I go back to the drawing board.

I thank you for pointing me to more detailed information on what makes the flour types I have appropriate for different applications, which fills me with lots of inspiring questions about how they might be mixed to achieve the end product I am looking for. This is a good starting point.

The food product design article goes into detail also about a about how salt and sweeteners can contribute to the resilience of a cake's texture. This is falling in line exactly with my comparisons of the two recipes that I have recently tested, in explaining what contributed the different end products.

Thanks, you are very kind. :smile:

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As Dan mentioned it is quite impossible to come up with a table comparing flours but the nutrition info on my flour packages give a hint. I was never able to find any German flour (in normal grocery stores) with less than 10.5% protein, which is  between 3.5 and 1.5 % more than what's normaly contained in  American cake flour. This could explain the rubbery outside and spongyness.

Alberto, this could explain a lot. I will keep this in mind as I work on this project. :biggrin:

Edited by bleudauvergne (log)
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I'm not sure that I'm completely qualified to answer this. The flour is different from country to country and nowhere more so than in France where you can buy a dozen different white flours for bread alone - regularly with a lot af additives and acid enhancers by the way - as well as even softer flours for not just cakemaking but for saucemaking. In England it's generally just a choice of standard all purpose or bread flour.

I would buy a hard white bread flour - remember that the French use softer flour for baguettes and the like - and substitute a proportion of the recipe's flour with this.

My preference here is for the flour made by Dove's Farm which is both consistent and top quality. I use their hard flour for bread and regular for all else. Brown flours and mixtures are more difficult and the Dove's Farm multigrain is only okay. In fact the commercial mixtures such as Granary - Rank Hovis Macdougal I'm afraid - and Turkestan are regularly a better bet especially if you add what you prefer to the mix as well. I for instance like sunflower seeds and oatmeal which will soften the dough. For brown flours we are talking bread only as I never use them for pastry.

If it's any consolation there are difficulties whenever recipes move from country to country. American recipes often call for corn syrup which is unobtainable here and texts will advise substitution with our Golden syrup which is not the same thing at all.

Sorry not to be more help

Thank you Chef Hill, for your advice on mixing in hard flour. It is exactly what I am going to try first.

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