Coming on strong: choosing the best flour from
On bags of flour in UK supermarkets the words “strong white” and “plain” – and occasionally the ridiculous “strong plain” label, courtesy of someone presumably doing their bit to discourage all home baking – are emblazoned on the packs as if they meant something.
Now when I write a recipe and in the ingredients ask for “strong white flour”, all I mean is go and buy a bag of flour labelled “strong white” and use it.
If you push me, I‘ll explain that in the UK, strong flour is typically flour for breadmaking, and plain flour is flour for cakes and biscuits.
But to be really honest, the truth is much more complex as I frequently use plain flour for bread recipes, and strong white flour for cake recipes.
Italians and English do not categorise flour in the same way.
Italian flour is graded by colour (technically called extraction rate - that is the extent to which the bran and the germ are extracted from the flour).
It is marked 00 to 04 where 00 is really really white and 04 is rather closer to whole meal.
The exception is Durham flour but let's not go there now.
English flour, on the other hand is graded by both colour (white, brown, whole meal) and by gluten content, or strength (plain, strong, extra strong or words to that effect) and we believe that the stronger the flour, the better the bread.
All else being equal, stronger flour makes bread that rises higher and has a more evenly textured crumb.
A wheat flour typically milled in Italy, where millers grade their flour by using a ‘zero’ rating. A single zero flour is quite coarse in texture, like very powdery semolina, whereas triple zero is much finer like cornstarch. But everyday flour is usually classed as double zero, or ‘00’.
In cake recipes it can be replaced with plain flour;
in bread, pizza and pasta recipes it can be replaced with strong white bread flour.
It is often lower in protein than British flours and so produces a much crisper crust in bread, and a finer texture in cakes.
Using Italian 00 instead of plain flour: If baking powder is used reduce it slightly. By the way, Italian 00 produces a lovely light scone.
Using plain flour instead of Italian 00: in breadmaking, use a mixture of half strong white (see below) and half plain flour, but the dough produced will not be as stretchy and extensible. 00 produces a much crisper result that can’t be imitated with either flour. In cake making use slightly more baking powder but no other changes
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