One of the repercussions I certainly didn’t envisage about the pandemic was a shortage of bread flour. Not just the supermarket stuff, but that from artisan producers and micro-mills. I suppose the wonder of modern technology where you can type “bread flour” in to a search engine and be presented with a selection of suppliers means it’s easy to be indiscriminate. Even rye flour is missing from the shelves in both the virtual and the real world. I sincerely hope that those who are buying these more unusual flours are aware that they will perform slightly to completely differently from homogenous, blended, mass-produced flour.
I usually buy my flour from Bakery Bits or Hodmedod’s as I like to support small-scale regenerative farmers and millers, and enjoy seeing how the flours perform. I mainly make sourdough and save my regular yeast for cinnamon buns and Richard Bertinet enriched loaves. I only have a rye starter which I will hopefully be able to keep going if I can rustle up some rye flour to feed it from somewhere! It’s a bit skinny at the moment as my rye canister is depleting steadily.
Experimenting with new flours is great, but the British flours tend to be lower in gluten as they are softer than the stronger hard wheats produced in central Europe and North America. This is because of our soil and climate: wheat originated in hotter drier areas and the cool, damp and cloudy weather we have here simply can’t get the wheat as strong as places which have a more continental climate. Lower gluten means less strength in the bubble matrix that makes the bread fluffy and light. Consequently, the dough needs careful handling to retain as much of the airy structure as possible, and it won’t puff up and burst in that glorious, Instagram-able way that hard wheat/super strong flour does.
Here are some of the flours I am currently using:
Now, I find this YQ flour is very reactive, and overproves quite quickly, so makes a much speedier sourdough – about 6 hours from start to finish in my cool-ish house. It’s a coarse-milled wholemeal flour and makes a delicious loaf, but even with 50:50 regular strong white, it tends to split where it feels like it, although this could be because the lamé makes less of an impression as the ‘skin’ doesn’t form as well with a wholemeal compared to fine white flour. I’ve not tried a 100% YQ sourdough; perhaps I should, but I would probably use a tin as free form is quite an ask for a lower gluten dough at the best of times. It brings a gorgeous nutty depth of flavour…I should definitely make some digestive-type biscuits with it.
Here is a new-to-me flour: this is the Q (for Quality) flour from Wakelyns Agroforestry:
Agroforestry is the incorporation of trees into pasture and crops, providing habitat, shade, protection, nutrient exchange and many other advantages associated with a more natural way of planting. Population wheat is adaptable and consistent as it has genetic diversity so rather than the boom and bust related to good and bad years with regular wheat, this provides farmers with a lower, but more guaranteed return. The resulting grain, with its ability to find sustenance through its root system and relationship with fungi in the soil, is more nutritious than the majority of wheat grown in this country.
Barley flour has virtually no gluten, but I like it in bread as it gives a smoothness and toasted flavour to the finished loaf. I substitute no more than a fifth of the flour, otherwise the lack of gluten will be detrimental. It is also fantastic in scones and biscuits.
Dan Leppard’s book The Handmade Loaf has a number of recipes involving different flours, so if you have got your hands on some of these beauties, maybe look up some interesting ways of using them to make the most of their unique properties. Crackers, scones, wraps: plenty of bread substitutes that don’t need that all-important gluten, and gives us a chance to appreciate the hard work that goes in to supplying us with these grains.