Brain Food 101: The Different Types of Flour

Orange Cake

Recently, I’ve felt like I need to revisit my earliest blog posts. The first few recipes, the first few Brain Food 101 posts: they have good content, but the quality of the writing leaves something to be desired. So here we go: the types of wheat flour, revisited.

Gluten is made up of two proteins, gliadin and glutenin. When combined with liquid, gluten forms a strong network of protein strands that traps air bubbles and creates an elastic support structure for baked goods. Doughs and batters with more gluten proteins absorb more liquid, forming a stronger gluten network. Different types of wheat flours have different levels of gluten, so you’ll want to choose wisely in your baking adventures.

Bread Flour:

Bread flour has a high gluten content, typically between 12-14%. The extra gluten helps trap air in the bread dough, making the final loaf light, springy and chewy. Bread flour is best for yeast breads, as you’d expect, but is also a good choice when making pastries that have lots of layers of fat and air, like cream puffs.

Don’t use bread flour for lighter pastries or cakes, though; it will absorb too much moisture and leave the final product tough and dry.

Cake and Pastry Flour:

Cake and pastry flour have the lowest protein content, and are usually only around 8 or 9% gluten. Cake flour is different largely because it is bleached to make it whiter in color and to help thicken the batter a bit. Both are best for more delicate pastries and cakes, like angel food cake.

If you choose to use cake or pastry flour for cookies, your cookies will likely spread more than they would if you used all-purpose four. Because there is less gluten, it will absorb less moisture than all-purpose flour would, leading to the spread. To counteract this, use a little less liquid in your cookie dough.

Do not use these flours for bread dough, though. Because they have less protein, they won’t trap as much air, and your bread will be dense and tough.

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Potato Trials

At the Harvest Fest a few weeks ago, I met the baked potato of my dreams: crisp, dark skin and buttery and fluffy on the inside. All they needed was a bit of butter or sour cream. I’ve never had a potato so delicious, and thus set out on a quest to replicate them at home. I tested three varieties of potatoes (Russet, Yukon Gold and red) and baked them each in three different ways.

Russet-Potatoes.jpg

My Baked Potato Protocol:

Knowing that potatoes need steam vents, I poked each potato 7 or 8 times with a fork.
Knowing that a bit of oil is needed to promote the Maillard browning reaction (which makes the skin brown and tasty) and a crispy skin, I brushed each subject with canola oil.
I baked all potatoes in a preheated 350 degree oven for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until the outside felt crispy and potato was tender when squeezed.

The Potato Trials:

I wrapped one of each variety in foil.
I sprinkled one of each variety with sea salt.
I left one of each variety au naturel, pricked and oiled, and directly in the oven.

The Results:

FOIL-WRAPPED: In every instance, the foil-wrapped potatoes had almost soggy skins. Their insides were dense rather than fluffy. Obviously, as the potatoes cooked, their moisture turned to steam and softened the skin. Not the ideal baked potato.

UNWRAPPED:
Russet: The skin was browned and crispy, but the flesh inside was airy and fluffy.
Red Potato: The thin skin was slightly tough and browned, but not crispy. The insides were more dense than fluffy.
Yukon Gold: The thin skin was slightly tough and browned, but not crispy. The insides were more dense than fluffy.

SALTED v UNSALTED:
Russet: The skin was slightly chewier than the unsalted, but the difference was hardly noticeable.
Red Potato: The salt did not affect the inside of any of the potatoes tested. Its sole benefit was a slightly tastier crust.
Yukon Gold: The salt did not affect the inside of any of the potatoes tested. Its sole benefit was a slightly tastier crust.

BEST OVERALL

Russet potatoes definitely made for the best baked potatoes. The skins were crispy and browned, while the inside was light and fluffy. Of the three varieties, after all, the Russet contains the most dry starch. These starches separate and pull away from each other during cooking, creating tiny air pockets, aka fluffliness.

In contrast, the starch cells of red and Yukon Gold potatoes stick together during cooking, giving the potatoes a more solid texture.

(BONUS EXPERIMENT):

I suspected that I could get an even better baked potato, so I tried baking a Russet potato for 70 minutes at both 400F and 425F. For ultimate skin crispiness, 425F is the way to go!

Russet-Potatoes-2.jpg

Potato Trials

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 1 hour

Yield: 1 potato

Potato Trials

The perfect baked potato should have a dark and crispy skin with a fluffy interior. You can add any number of toppings, but a little fresh butter is all you really need.

Ingredients

  • 1 Russet potato
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 1 teaspoon coarse sea salt

Instructions

  1. Place a baking sheet on the bottom rack of an oven and preheat the oven to 425F. Stab the potato all over with a fork. Seven pokes should be plenty.
  2. Brush the potato with canola oil to lightly coat it. You may not need all of the oil. Sprinkle the potato on all sides with the salt.
  3. Place the potato directly on the top rack and bake for 60-75 minutes. The potato is done when the skin is crispy but the insides feel tender when you gently squeeze the potato.

Make Ahead and Storage

If you bake more than 4 potatoes at a time, you may need to increase the cooking time by 10-15 minutes per extra 2 potatoes.

http://www.savvyeat.com/how-to-make-the-perfect-baked-potato/