BEST FLOURS FOR BAKING BREAD
When it comes to baking bread, there are so many variables to consider: from what kind of yeast to use to kneading and proofing times to the best flours for different recipes. When it comes to a basic sandwich loaf, there aren’t many rules, but it’s good to know what results you’ll get based on what flour you choose. And when I use my trusted KitchenAid® Stand Mixer and KitchenAid® Professional-Grade Nonstick Loaf Pan to make the recipe, I know I’m going to get a better bread.
All-purpose. Bread. Whole wheat. White whole wheat. Just what are the differences between these flours and how do they affect baking recipes? I know firsthand that a simple ingredient like flour can greatly alter the outcome of a recipe, as I’ve had plenty of successes (and failures) with each type of flour depending on what I make.
To demonstrate how each flour affects a recipe, I made a simple, basic sandwich loaf bread. The differing results for each loaf, even though they were all prepared the same way, are quite striking; but all were equally delicious.
To start, let’s break down the types of flours I used:
All-purpose flour: This is probably the most commonly found and used flour on the market. You can find it bleached or unbleached (I always use unbleached as a personal preference, but some like to use bleached for cakes, cupcakes and pastries). Its name is pretty accurate in terms of its versatility; I can use it to make almost any baked good with decent results.
Bread flour: Generally speaking, bread flour is used to bake better bread. That’s because the protein content in the flour is higher than that of all-purpose flour, which is helpful to develop more gluten and thereby, a higher, sturdier loaf.
Whole wheat flour: Whole wheat flour is milled with the entire wheat berry and therefore yields a stronger wheat flavor. It also has a higher protein content than bread flour, which means it also yields a denser crumb.
White whole wheat flour: While whole wheat flour is milled with a red wheat berry, white whole wheat flour is milled with the milder, sweeter white wheat berry. In general, it can be a great substitute for all-purpose flour in recipes when you want to incorporate more whole wheat nutrition.
Now that we’ve got that covered, let’s bake bread!
To make a basic sandwich loaf, dissolve some active dry yeast in warm water (about 110°F to 115°F is ideal for yeast) and let it sit for about 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a small saucepan over medium-low heat, melt butter and stir in milk. Heat the mixture until it reaches about 110°F to 115°F. Remove from the heat and stir in sugar and salt.
To the bowl with the yeast mixture, add 2 cups of the flour of your choice along with the warmed milk mixture. Stir to combine and create a shaggy dough.
Using the dough hook attachment on the Stand Mixer, knead the dough on medium speed for about 5 to 7 minutes, adding just enough of the remaining flour until the dough is smooth, soft, elastic and only slightly sticky (it should feel tacky, but pull away from the sides of the bowl).
Remove the dough from the Stand Mixer, shape it into a ball, grease the inside of the bowl with a thin film of oil and place the dough ball back in the bowl. Turn the dough once to coat it lightly with the oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rise in a warm place until it doubles in size.
Once the dough has risen, punch it down, divide it in half, shape each half into a ball and place them on a lightly floured surface. Let the dough sit for about 10 minutes so the gluten can relax (this makes it easier to shape into a loaf).
To shape the dough, use your fingertips to gently press each dough ball into a rounded rectangle. Fold over the top third of the dough onto itself, almost like a letter. Then, fold over the bottom third to overlap the other layers. Use your fingertips to pinch the seam closed.
At this point, you should have a log of dough with a very taut surface, but if it doesn’t seem taut enough, repeat the folding process one more time by pressing down the middle and folding up the sides. Sometimes, I’ll also roll the log of dough gently against my work surface to soften the seam line.
Carefully transfer each log, seam side down, into two greased KitchenAid® Professional-Grade Nonstick Loaf Pans. Cover the pans with a towel or plastic wrap and let them rise again until the dough begins to rise above the tops of the pans.
Meanwhile, place an oven rack in the center of the oven and heat it to 375°F. Once the dough has risen, it’s ready to bake. Place the pans on the center rack about 3 inches apart and bake 30 to 40 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through baking.
When the loaves are golden brown and baked through (a good thwack with your fingers on the bottom of the loaf that makes a hollow sound will indicate that it’s done), remove them from the loaf pans and transfer them to a cooling rack to cool completely.
So, how did each flour do? Here’s the breakdown of the results:
All-purpose flour: I needed just a little more than 6 cups of flour to get the right consistency for the dough once fully kneaded (this was for two loaves). The dough itself was very soft and supple and it rose beautifully in the loaf pan. The end result was a light-crusted loaf with a soft interior, the softest of all the loaves I baked. It didn’t rise as well as the bread flour loaf did, but it definitely yielded an ideal bread for sandwiches.
Bread flour: To me, this was the clear winner. Just like the all-purpose flour, I needed about 6 cups of flour to get the right consistency for the dough, and it rose beautifully. The end result yielded a tall, golden brown loaf with a moderate sturdiness and texture. I can see this loaf working well for heartier sandwiches like BLTs and paninis, but also used for French toast or a bread pudding.
Whole wheat flour: Much as I love using whole wheat flour in bread recipes, I’ve never had the best luck baking a loaf entirely from whole wheat flour – I always need to either use a combination of all-purpose flour with whole wheat flour, or alter the liquid content (whole wheat flour tends to need more moisture). While the dough only needed about 4 cups of flour to get to the right consistency, the loaf didn’t rise very well and the end result was very dense. While it doesn’t make for an ideal flour for this particular recipe, I did love the whole wheat flavor of the loaf.
White whole wheat flour: The result of this loaf was a middle ground between the loaves with whole wheat and all-purpose flour. While it behaved much like the whole wheat flour (I used 4 cups for the dough, and it didn’t rise too well), the crust was light and the crumb soft, though slightly denser than the all-purpose flour. For this particular recipe, I can see a combination of white whole wheat flour and either all-purpose or bread flour yielding a fantastic sandwich loaf with more whole wheat nutrition.
Bottom line: Not all flours are created equal, and it’s important to know how each type will affect a recipe before you get into the kitchen. But once you do, have fun with it! In the end, you’ll end up with a recipe you love and trust.
BEST FLOURS FOR BAKING BREADMakes 2 9-by-5-inch loaves
2 1/4 teaspoons (1 packet) active dry yeast
1 cup warm water (about 110°F to 115°F)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon salt
4 1/2 to 6 1/2 cups bread flour
In a bowl of a KitchenAid® Stand Mixer, combine yeast and warm water. Let sit 5 minutes until yeast is dissolved.
Meanwhile, in a small saucepan over medium-low heat, melt butter. Add milk. Heat mixture to 110°F to 115°F, or until warm to the touch. Remove from heat. Stir in sugar and salt.
Add milk mixture to bowl along with 2 cups flour. Using a wooden spoon or dough hook attachment, stir mixture to form a shaggy dough.
Turn dough onto a floured work surface and knead 10 to 15 minutes, adding just enough of remaining flour as needed to form a smooth, soft, elastic and only slightly sticky dough; OR, knead dough 5 to 6 minutes in Stand Mixer with dough hook attachment on medium speed, adding just enough of remaining flour as needed to form a smooth, soft, elastic and only slightly sticky dough.
Shape dough into a ball. Lightly grease bowl with oil, then transfer dough to bowl. Turn dough once to coat. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let dough rise in a warm place 1 to 1 1/2 hours until doubled.
Deflate doubled dough and divide in two pieces. Shape each piece into a ball and place on a lightly floured surface. Rest 10 minutes.
To shape dough into a loaf, use fingertips to gently press each dough ball into a rounded rectangle. Fold over top third of dough onto itself like a letter. Fold over bottom third to overlap other layers. Use fingertips to pinch seam closed. Dough should have a taut surface; if not, repeat folding process once more by pressing down middle of dough and folding up sides.
Carefully transfer each shaped dough, seam side down, to two greased KitchenAid® Professional-Grade Nonstick Loaf Pans. Cover pans with a towel or plastic wrap and let rise 1 hour until dough begins to rise above tops of pans.
Meanwhile, place an oven rack in center of oven and heat to 375°F. Once dough is risen, uncover pans and place on center rack about 3 inches apart. Bake 30 to 40 minutes, rotating pans halfway through baking.
Remove loaves from pans and transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.