There was a terrible loaf of bread. It came out of the dutch oven. There was spongy, wet crumb, an okay crust. Some flavor.
I had followed the recipe as written.
(I would learn later part of the problem was using volume not weight)
The bread still didn’t work.
It has been a long time baking. I have moved onto using a scale and weighing everything. My kneading is done with a stand mixer. I’ve even gotten bannetons and a lape.
Yet, the single greatest contribution to my bread quality has been my flour. Flour can seem expensive – particularly in a pandemic when its sold out.
(There was a frustrating moment at the grocery store where the only flour available was White Lily – terrific for biscuits, but not quite right for bread)
To further complicate things, I am only talking about wheat flour. I’m not bringing in corn, almond, rye, or the other plants. Only wheat!
There are a few variations, but flour is either soft, all-purpose, or hard. Also known as cake, all-purpose, and bread flour.
(“What about self-rising?” That’s just AP flour with some chemical leaveners already mixed in)
I don’t buy cake flour often. It is just as easy to use a boxed cake mix. Everything is ready to go in a boxed cake mix – including the flavor. Also, I like making bread.
I always have unbleached AP flour. Lately, I’ve considered buying bleached. Not instead of, but in addition to. The bleaching creates a slightly weaker flour, stronger than Cake, but better for some baked goods.
I don’t think my wife can handle two kinds of AP flour in the pantry. So I’ll stick to unbleached.
The color is nicer.
Bread flour is full of protein and makes better gluten. Make a loaf with AP. Make a loaf with bread flour. There’s a very real difference.
Of course, even then, there’s differences in brands. Store brand flour is okay, but name brand flour is one area where the name can matter.
The best mills carefully monitor and control their wheat for consistency.
The best of these bread flours, the most consistent, the finest for bread has been King Arthur.
I spend a little extra, but it’s noticeable.
Behind King Arthur I will use Gold Medal. If you are very serious about baking, you will notice King Arthur is a bit better. But Gold Medal is fine for a casual baker who likes consistency.
Store and generic flours are fine, I guess. I usually have some cheap AP flour on hand for thickening. But for baking, you need a name. That name is King Arthur.