Having different flour samples to test bake is always an interesting exercise. From season to season flour can be very different. Anyone who has baked for several seasons will know that from experience. Commercial bread flours have significant homogeneity as millers are usually blending grain grown in differing geographical areas of different varieties or from different seasons with different characteristics. The rationale is to remove the peaks and troughs in what is perceived as baking “quality”.
In times past bakers were sometimes faced with severe idiosyncrasies of a given flour produced from a given wheat crop in a given season. Sometimes these variations made it testing to make a good palatable bread. At those times the romance can seem a little over done. Many a baker has been vexed by seasonal fluctuations in flour variation.
As you may expect, in any valid human endeavour voluntary cooperation arose with the baker and farmer to produce grain that lends itself to the bakers needs. Armed with science and a growing body of data we have arrived where we are today. It now seems some are going full circle to seek out single origin grain and flour.
On first sight standardisation appears all pretty sound. In fact it gave rise to grain and cereal research which taught farmers, bakers and scientists much about grain varieties and baking science. As good as this was, however, this standardisation by its very nature isolated bakers and consumers from some of the positive features we can celebrate in grain/flour varieties of certain geographical regions and how these are expressed in the resultant bread. Of course nutrition is becoming a focal point of bread once again. What if we were convinced the idiosyncrasies are exactly where some of these unique flavours and features of a given variety grown in a given soil of a given region in a given season is where we can derive better nutrition as well as the pleasure of something unique and enriching?
Single Origin and Varieties
To experience that uniqueness we need to look for “single origin” and “single variety” flour derived from such single origin and variety wheat.
Having been fortunate enough to cross paths with John Campbell of Provenance Flour recently we were able to have access to two (2) single origin varieties from the premium wheat growing area the “golden triangle”. Both crops were grown at “North Star”. With almost the same climate and rich volcanic soil substrates. (these crops were grown about 10 km apart).
The two varieties of wheat from which the flour samples are milled are called:
“Lancer” and “Spitfire”. Both of these varieties were bred at the grain research facility in Long Reach, central Queensland of Australia.
Both flour samples are roller milled yielding a “white” flour.
Test Bake Formula
The technical specifications on paper for these flours are excellent but I was interested in how these samples lend themselves to the process of baking and finally eating.
I decided to keep the bake test simple so the emphasis was on the performance of the grain/flour rather than a fancy formula. I made a 2kg dough with sourdough and an autolyse stage.
Without getting too tied up with the technical details – I decided not to use diastatic malt flour. However, since these samples have a reasonably high protein level for which these varieties are known and being grown in the North Star – an area renowned for premium hard bread wheat – I expected the falling number to be on the high side. (the falling number was not available in the flour technical specifications). This is one of the reasons for the use of the “autolyse” stage in this test bake with this flour. The autolyse assisted with the needed hydration of a strong protein and to start the alpha amylase and protease enzyme action. These actions naturally occur during normal dough fermentation and very strong flours often require longer fermentation times to effect the mellowing changes needed to create an excellent and nutritious bread. More on this in a future article.
See the screen shots below from the Bread Boss app in my phone.
See the sourdough, autolyse and DTO (Dough to Oven) details below.
The two flours exhibited differing sourdough character. During the sourdough fermentation each was very active over the 15 hrs. The Lancer was a little “wetter” after the 15 hours but both were highly aerated with good aroma formation.
The autolyse stage entails soaking a significant amount of the total flour in a significant amount of the dough water and left to rest. During this time enzymes become active and begin to mellow the protein and start maltose production. At the conclusion of this stage the autolyse dough was folded to assess the gluten formation and extensible character of each flour. Spitfire exhibited good gluten bonding and strong extensible character, whereas Lancer was somewhat less extensible and a little softer with less gluten strength. Interesting feeling the differences but both exhibited good dough properties.
The final dough was made with salt added and mixed for a moderate amount of time in a small planetary mixer. The dough formed quickly and showed very fine dough development easily producing a window with a fine and elastic film. Finishing at 26 °C ~ 1 degree above the required dough temp of 25 °C.
The Spitfire dough was a bit more extensible with more elastic strength compared to the Lancer sample but both were considered good.
Bulk fermentation was 3 hours and disciplined folds in each dough were executed every 45 minutes. As time went on during bulk fermentation they began to show good “liveliness” and a “springy” character with plenty of gas formation. After 3 hours the dough was scaled and rounded for intermediate proof lasting 30 minutes.
Retardation and Final Proof
Finally the dough was shaped and placed into bannetons and labelled. Placed in the fridge for 18 hours. At the conclusion of 18 hrs it was removed and proved at ambient temperature for 3 hours.
Slashing them with a different pattern to easily identify the two varieties they entered the same oven with good steam in the initial baking stage. Both samples expanded well in the oven and baked for approximately 37 minutes starting at 220 °C for 10 minutes then 27 minutes at 200 °C.
The colour and crust formation was excellent yielding an attractive golden crust with a good brittle character and a twangy sensual aroma.
We waited until the next day for any serious assessment as sourdough bread like many foods with complex flavour needs time to mature and form its true flavour, aroma and texture.
These samples were very pretty to look at with their wonderful golden colours and nice blistering crust. The volume was very good although I have a sense that the volume could be even more pronounced especially with the Spitfire but that will be the subject of another test in the future.
The crust aroma was gloriously pure with all manner of rich but subtle tangy notes.
Differences in each sample
The first difference was the slightly bigger volume of the Lancer compared to Spitfire. Probably an indication that the Lancer was very nicely mature under these baking parameters and the protein at optimum ripeness. Whereas the Spitfire could have probably had more fermentation time to bring out the best in its potential ovenspring.
The crumb was nicely open in both samples without being too sparse, the cell walls were well gelatinised with a beautiful glossy sheen. Although, again the higher sheen was evident in the Lancer. An indication that Spitfire could have taken a little more water. Incidentally, extra water would affect the ripening time as mentioned above and allowed more expansion yielding a more tender crumb and bigger bread volume. Having said that, the crumb of both samples was wonderfully tender easily dissipating on the tongue. The colour of the crumb was clearly different with spitfire slightly yellower which is not unexpected as this sample has a marginally higher mineral content compared to the Lancer. The stronger sheen in the Lancer would also account for the colour differences through reflected light.
Aroma and Flavour
This was an interesting point, everyone who took these samples to the nose immediately commented on the differences. The spitfire sample had a pronounced forward note. Fragrantly robust with a gentle dose of acid twang.
The Lancer was more timid and took time to come forward. But it was also fragrantly complex with a nice mix of backnote twangs that lingered ever so gently.
Flavour was also different, with the spitfire more pronounced much like its aroma. However, the Lancer was more polite and waited longer before coming forward.
It’s interesting that two varieties grown in almost the same soil and climate have these subtle differences. I can only wonder what effect on flavour, aroma and texture a different soil, climate and season may have on the same varieties.
We’ll try with other samples later and see what we find. In the meantime we might try some further testing with these samples to see what interesting things we uncover.
Good luck and keep baking!
(This post is related to our post on Single Origin Flour.)