Saturday, February 26, 2011

New Batch of Wheat - Protein Content Affects Breadbaking

After an hour of sponging/rising time
I recently got a new batch of hard white wheat.  This is the first time I've tried Azure Standard wheat after years of using Montana Wheat's Prairie Gold.  It entered my mind that I should test the protein levels, but I was lazy and dove right into making bread.  I knew I was in a bit of trouble, when after starting the sponge and leaving it to rise for an hour (half that time should have been enough), I found very little rise or activity.  It should have looked puffy and bubbly, but instead it looked barely different than when I left it.  Thankfully, from prior experience, I knew what to do...The back story:                                                                 

After a few years of using Montana Wheat's Prairie Gold hard white wheat for milling, then baking my bread, with good success, I was having problems.  Using my tried-and-true techniques and recipe, the dough wasn't developing the usual good, smooth, stretchy texture, and the loaves weren't rising well.  The bread itself was crumbly.  
The dough was getting overly warm while kneading in the mixer, and I thought maybe the mixer was at fault, but wasn't sure.  I turned to the Gardenweb Cooking Forum for advice.                                                                                                                                                
"Grainlady" identified the problem: too little protein in the wheat.  This can vary somewhat from batch to batch, due to the wheat field's growing conditions. (If you want to know more about what factors affect protein content, check out this page, which goes into more detail.)  She recommended I do the following test to check the protein level:  

"Measure 2 cups plus 1-T. flour (measure by scooping a dry measuring cup into the flour, filling it, and slightly packing the flour as you level it off against the side of the flour container). Add it to a food processor with the steel knife. Add 1-cup of water. Process for about 30 seconds.                                                                               
If your flour is high protein (somewhere around 13-14%) it will absorb 1 cup of water producing a sticky dough ball when processed for 30-seconds in the workbowl of a food processor with the steel knife. If the dough ball looks somewhat "loose", then you may need to add vital wheat gluten to the flour to increase the protein, or reduce the mixing time and see if you get better results."                                                                                                                                                             
After seeing my photos of my results, she said that if the wheat had adequate protein, the dough should have made a more distinctive ball shape.  In addition to increasing the amount of vital wheat gluten and cutting the kneading time, I should let my first stage 'sponge' for longer than the 25 minutes recommended in my recipe.  (She recommended a 2 1/2 hour sponge, but with that batch I found 1 hour to be enough.) I found elsewhere on the internet, that adding mashed potato to the mix would help, so I did it all, with much more pleasing results.                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

After 90 minutes rising/sponging time-
Notice how much farther up the center post
So back to the present...After another half hour or so, the sponge looked much better, so I was certain that adding a mashed potato and doubling the vital wheat gluten, as I'd learned in my previous experience, would get me satisfactory bread.  No need to do the specific protein test, as the sponge symptoms and response to the added ingredients tell me enough of the story.  I will just make sure I employ the same  routine through using this 25 pounds of wheat.

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  1. Wow! What a difference! I love the science behind it, too. For gf eaters, garfava flour is the go to high protein flour, but a lot of people don't like the bean flavor, so I usually recommend substituting with sorghum or soy flour which are also high protein. I've never done a protein test like that, though. I'm thinking I could probably do a smaller test with my mini-chopper. Thanks for sharing this info.

  2. I always love to know the science behind cooking and baking. What I don't understand is why adding potato (not known for it's protein content!) helps with low protein flour.

    And thanks for the info about the other flours. I used to know some of that, as we, for a few years, thought Princess Bossy was allergic to wheat...But she actually wasn't.

  3. you are not a are a bread technician!

  4. Still very much a novice...Learning more every day and so much farther to go!

  5. That last one's a gorgeous loaf. I've not had huge success with whole grain breads looking and tasting great so I'll be interested to see how this develops.

  6. Fresh milling and using hard white wheat instead of red made all the difference for me in baking whole grain bread. Before I had to mix in a good amount of all-purpose or bread flour, but that loaf you're looking at is 100% whole grain except for a 1/2 cup or so of vital wheat gluten.


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