Flour power

Returning from England to France, there’s generally a bag or two of various kinds of flour in the luggage.  ‘What?’ I hear you grumble.  ‘That woman who’s always banging on about buying local? The one who’s got no time for the English abroad who can’t exist without their mug of builder’s tea and a custard cream?’  Yes.  That’s me.  Guilty as charged.

Melting Moments

But the thing is, when in France, I sometimes have a happy hour or two baking English goodies – Melting Moments, Gingernuts, Marmalade Loaf Cake, that sort of thing – with or for French friends.  And as I discovered the other week, French flour is simply not right for the job.  Not better, not worse, just different.

I’d run out of my own supplies, so I nipped out and got a bag of good quality baking flour (because even more than in England, it’s important to buy the right type of flour for the job).  And my tried and trusted favourites turned out all wrong. Ginger biscuits, instead of being satisfyingly chewy, with a solid crunch between the teeth, were sandy and brittle.  Marmalade loaf cake, though light, was close-textured and almost crumbly.  It was so disappointing.  The answer, it seems, lies in the gluten content.  The average French flour is ‘softer’, and has a lower gluten content than the average English flour.

French baguette

So is it surprising that superior French bakers in England, such as Dumouchel, where my daughter used to work on Saturdays, send over to Normandy for supplies of authentic French flour?  Or that the average French stick, bought from the average English baker, in no way resembles its chewy French antecedent, the baguette.

English wholemeal loaves, fresh out of the oven

On this visit to England, I’m appreciating the softer crust and slightly moister qualities of a well-made wholemeal loaf, just as over in France, I enjoy the the crustiness of crisply baked French bread.  Best to accept, I think, that both countries produce fine bakers and cake makers.  But neither could do a fine job using the flour preferred by the other.

If you want an introduction to some of the many flours on offer to the keen baker, Dan Lepard’s site is a good place to start

13 thoughts on “Flour power”

  1. Yes, interesting. You’re right about the gluten content. Most bread in the UK is made with Californian wheat which has a very high gluten content, whereas the local French wheat varieties are much lower in the stuff (which is good for those of us – actually an extraordinarily high proportion of westerners, though most are unaware of it – with mild gluten intolerances …). The French stuff is good for sourdoughs though, with their long slow rising times.

    I’ve found that the best flour to use for baking here is – um – anything but baking flour! At least if you mean the very fine flour sold here for patisserie, which I’d call flabby rather than fine and definitely To Be Avoided. Markal flours are always good, for whatever; and, bizarrely maybe, one of the very best white all purpose flours is Leader Price’s bio white! (For anyone else reading this, Leader Price is a ‘hard discount’ chain that actually produces some rather good quality stuff). This particular flour produces, with a bit of Markal 150 added for good measure, scones and cakes that are every bit as good as the ones we used to make from the 4-miles-down-the-road-mill (Letheringsett, since you ask) flour in our Norfolk tea room days …..

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    1. Well, that sounds worth taking on board. Actually the French flour I DO use for many purposes, including baking, is the bio flour from Tréziers, from a producer called Mathieu. It’s wholemeal, but very finely milled, very tasty, and wonderful for pastry, crumbles, farmhousey sort of cakes and biscuits, as well as some sauces.
      I went through a love affair a few years ago with making French style sourdough loaves. But it started taking over my life, what with saving small chunks of raw dough as a starter for the next loaf. This starter became a living presence in our family, and finally, I had to give it up. Shame though. Those loaves were the best we’ve ever eaten

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  2. It is rather, isn’t it?

    He also had a thing about collecting new starters from different places, so even if we managed a motherless holiday we’d always have a little bowl of flour and water sitting on a shelf somewhere …. actually it wasn’t as dire as it sounds because we did end up with some interesting starters and learned that very often they DO taste and act differently if the originating yeasts are from different places. Best was from Puglia!

    He’s cured now though.

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  3. Two widely available suggestions, Kathryn: one is simply creme fleurette – the whole milk one (30 per cent matiere grasse at least) – Elle et Vire make one in a (I think) blue and white checked tetrapak, titled Creme Fleurette de Normandie.

    The other is the creme liquide sold at Lidl, under the brand name of Milbona; it’s in a clear plastic bottle with a red cap. Cheaper, and probably better. In fact I reckon that Milbona dairy products are amongst the best out there.

    Both are in the chiller cabinets, btw. Oh, and you do need your bowl to be REALLY cold …..

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    1. You beat me to it Kalba. I was going to make much the same suggestions. The other one is the creme liquide from Lescure available at Super U in Mirepoix but NOT Lavelanet for some reason.

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  4. Yes, the Lescure cream is really good. But ….. I’ve stopped buying from there because I’ve discovered this year that they never, ever let their cows out to grass. They’re kept in their pens, in the barn, all day, all year, so far as I can see.

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    1. That’s a b*gger. I shan’t buy any more then. Just as I don’t shop at Lidl because of the well-documented poor working conditions, particularly in Germany. Plenty of info. on the net e.g. http://franklludwig.com/lidl.html. I’m not sure whether things have changed for the better or not over the last couple of years, and I doubt if they’ll go to the wall if I don’t shop there. But still.

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