Working with High-Extraction Flour

As I was watching a YouTube episode from Proof Bread in Mesa, AZ, Jonathan mentioned that Proof uses Type 85 flour, which is a high-extraction flour where 85% of the wheat kernel is retained in the milling process. At the time, I was trying to make a transition to including more whole wheat into my bread for nutritional reasons and Jonathan mentioning his flour really intrigued me. So that put me on a quest to find Type 85 flour.

I did finally find a Type 85 flour through Azure Standard, but they were sold out. Then I ran across their Ultra-Unifine Unbleached Bread Flour and got really intrigued. This is what sold me:

“We’ve taken a strong, full-bodied hard red wheat flour and refined it slightly by removing about 10% of the bran,” said  Azure Mill Manager. “In the milling industry it’s known as a particle reduction processing technique. We’re taking an already fine Unifine flour, sifting out some of the bran and giving you a finished product that has softer flavor notes, rises better and adds a little lightness to your artisan breads.”

I love this flour! But I have to admit that though it kneads and folds and feels like regular bread flour when you work with it, it acts a lot like whole wheat flour when it bakes; that is, it doesn’t have the oven spring that I’m used to with white bread flour. But that is to be expected because even though 10% of the sharp bran particles have been removed from the flour, there’s still a lot of the germ and bran left over. So given that, I’ve had to make adjustments.

First of all, just like with baking with 100% whole wheat flour, I’ve upped the hydration ratio when I’m working with this flour. I experimented with 73%, then went up to 75%, and today I prepared a 78% straight dough.

The 73% hydration dough produces an okay oven spring, but has a fairly dense crumb as one would expect from a whole wheat flour. It’s not bad, and by no means does it taste bad, but it is a little dense.

The 75% hydration dough has much better oven spring with a much more open crumb than the 73%. And it amazed me how just a 2% increase in water content could have such an effect on the oven spring.

Finally, the 78% hydration dough… Well, I think I found the sweet spot. As I mentioned, I just did a straight dough today. I made two baguettes and a small batard, and they all turned out fantastic!

You’l notice that the crumb on the batard is a little wonky – not sure what that was about, and though the baguette crumb seems to be dense, it’s actually not. As opposed to big holes, there a lot of small holes. The bread is amazingly light in texture.

I didn’t change a thing with respect to how I prepared the dough. I just added a bit more water. It really made a big difference. And while I think this might be the sweet spot for hydration, I think I’m going to try a dough at 82% hydration to see how that works.

So now that I’ve got the basic sweet spot, I’ll start working with a poolish and then I’ll cold proof overnight. I’ve found with high-hydration flour, a cold-proof works best and the dough will hold its shape better when I score and put it in the oven, promoting a more vertical rise as opposed to spreading out. I’m also going to see what adding a bit of diastatic malt powder will do to open it up even more.

Stuff like this just gets me SO jazzed about baking bread! There’s a definite precision that you must observe, but at the same time, variations in the environment force you to make adjustments on the fly. It’s a lot like golf where even though you develop the basic swing, conditions like wind direction and humidity force you to make adjustments. And it’s that constant challenge of making adjustments that keep you coming back for more!

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