Blending flour to your own specification…

A few days ago, I ordered some more flour. As I’d got the hang of the slightly problematic Shipton Mill type 701 strong white flour (or so I thought), I decided I’d go with that again, because it does make very nice, very light, bread even, as with my current loaf, with a hefty freight of oat bran. And then a loaf I was just about to put in the oven collapsed as I slashed it. Bugger, I thought – or something…

I’d talked to Shipton Mill about the apparently low gluten content of the 701, and they said that I could try their No 4 Strong Organic white (type 105) or the Bakers finest No 1 (type 101), but they might not taste as good.

I ordered 3 x 2.5kg bags of 701, and 2 x 1kg of the No.4. Before the collapse, above, I’d intended to use the No. 4 to make my 50% oat bread – the more robust gluten content should help it rise better.

However, in the light of the above collapse (not catastrophic. but bloody annoying – the problem is that 701 is very easily overworked, weakening what little gluten structure it has, and the very hot day caused it to over-prove), I’ve had a rethink.

A lot of flour is a blend of grains – this is what Shipton say about 701 “…a careful blend of the rare English wheat, Maris Widgeon combined with top quality strong organic Canadian flour to give outstanding baking results.” However, I still find it a little lacking in the gluten department, excellent though it is in all other ways. So, I thought – why shouldn’t I modify the blend?

What I want to do is retain as much of the virtue of 701 – tender crumb, light, open texture without big holes, crisp crust and a great taste – but beef it up a little, lose it’s fragility. So my plan is to add maybe 20% of No.4, which is billed on the Shipton website as “The high protein content gives the flour excellent baking qualities and provides a level of consistency which Master Bakers prize.”

Which is what I’m doing at the moment. I’m making a loaf with 300g 701, 60g No.4 (20%), and 200g wholemeal spelt, at 60% maximum hydration, which might well turn out to be slightly less..

By the way, since I’ve started weighing the water for bread, it’s shown that my measuring jugs are hopelessly inaccurate, so if you haven’t already, investing in a scale that weighs in 1g divisions is a good investment, and needn’t cost more than a tenner.

I also now have a tiny scale that will weigh in 0.10g divisions. Primarily, it’s for weighing coffee beans prior to grinding, but it’s also allowed me to convert my teaspoon measures of yeast and salt to weights, and then to Bakers’ Percentage figures.

Thus, for my standard loaf, which contains 566g (100%), of flour (an odd size, but it gives me a loaf of the right size for my brotforms), I have a teaspoon of yeast, which I now know is 4g, or 0.71%, and 2 teaspoons of salt, 18g or 3.18%.

Water is 60%, or 340g**, of which, depending on the flour and the humidity, maybe 15-20g will be unused. To be honest, the dough wouldn’t suffer a great deal it I just tossed it all in, but it would be sticky, and need dusting with flour, so it seems simpler to just hold a little back if that’s how it works out. I like a dough that, for it’s first kneading, is just slightly tacky – I don’t want to be scraping it off the worktop, or my hands, if I can avoid it.

**1g of water = 1ml. Different liquids vary very slightly (the fat content of milk makes it a tad lighter, for example, but as the fat content of whole milk is only 3%,** it won’t make a hell of a lot of difference if you treat it as water).

**Which is why I’ve never understood the paranoia about milk – a piece of buttered toast will have more fat than a pint of whole milk.

If such precision interests you, you can find details of my scale in this post. The supplier a head shop, but don’t let that worry you – it shows up as a jeweller on your bank/card statement and, anyway, it’s all perfectly legal. And if you don’t like my scale, they have a wide range to pick from – just don’t go too small.

To be honest, good bread making does depend on precision, but to such a fine degree? No, I don’t think so. It will, however, give you  repeatability in your breadmaking, because at best, spoons are only approximate measures.

Incidentally, my yeast is becoming unviable. I keep it in the freezer, and always make a starter to add to the flour, rather than toss the yeast straight in. I’ve noticed, of late, that the starter hasn’t frothed up as much, but decided I hadn’t waited long enough.

As a result, today, my loaf just doesn’t want to rise. So I’ve tossed what was left of my yeast, which I’ve been using for not quite a year (previously, it’s stayed viable, in the freezer, for 2 years), and opened a new pack, so next time I shouldn’t be hanging round for hours waiting for my dough to rise – I started this loaf at 13.30, it’s now almost 17.00 and the damn thing isn’t in the oven yet.

Ah – just had a thought. Fermipan yeast has a shelf life of 2 years, and I used to buy mine in Liverpool, from a store that must have had a good turnover. Of late, though, I’ve been buying it online, and it’s already a year old when it gets to me. I must keep an eye on that.

But, back to that loaf. No, it didn’t rise as much as it did, and it wasn’t my standard loaf (701 with 10% light rye flour), but a mix of 300g 701, 200g wholemeal spelt, and the 20% of No. 4 (that’s 20% of the 701, 60g). And even though it didn’t rise as much as it should, the end result is pretty damn good. With fresh yeast, it should be sensational.