Flour may seem like a simple thing, until you get to the store and you’re suddenly faced with countless varieties.
We've come a long way since the flour-making days of old (we're talking around 10-15 thousand years ago) and boy are we spoiled with choices. We've got flours made from a plethora of ingredients, with countless milling techniques at play. And that's not even considering the gluten-free flour options on the market.
But sometimes a recipe doesn't give explicit instructions, so it's up to you to work out what's going to be best for your needs. This can certainly be a daunting task, and the wrong flour could skew your baking results. Because of this, it may be tempting to just go for the easy option and pick up a bag of Costco bread flour.
But is it really the best choice? Keep reading to learn all about the different types of flour and whether store brought brands can really compete with artisanal flour.
How Is Flour Made?
Flour is made into a fine powder by grinding various cereal grains. We usually use wheat for this, as it's the most common kind of flour, but you can use rye, corn, barley, and more. You can use flour to make bread, pasta, and an array of other baked goods. The actual process is really interesting and modern technology has made it easier than ever to offer varied kinds of flour.
After growing, we will harvest and clean the grains needed before gristing them. What's gristing, you ask? It's the process that happens before the flour is milled. Basically, we combine different amounts and kinds of grain to make certain qualities of flour. The proportions we'll use depend on the needs of the customer.
Crushing the Grains
Though we refer to it as crushing, the technique is actually more related to cracking. It's a method similar to that you may use if you were using a mortar and pestle. In the first ages of flour making, prehistoric humans actually used stones to grind their grains. Following that came the millstone, then early rolling mills, and now, modern mills are powered via electricity and strong motors.
The Sifting Process
The sifting process sifts the germ from the bran. This improves the overall characteristics and color of the flour and stops oil from the germ from affecting the quality of the flour. Once we have achieved the desired result, we may sift again. This is where particularly fine flour comes from, though there is also the option to make whole wheat flour.
Whole wheat flour may include the bran, endosperm, and sometimes germ of the plant, but talking about the different flour is a whole other thing. Shall we get into it?
Differentiating the Types of Flour
There are plenty of different flour options on the market, and each has its own distinct properties that make it ideal for a particular use. Some flours will be better for making bread while others are ideal for fine and delicate pastry work. Some flours have more nutritional content and protein than others, but may not be good for all applications.
Let's look at just some of the wide array of options out there.
This is the flour that you'll find in nearly every kitchen and every store shelf. Because all-purpose flour contains the endosperm of the seed, it has a longer shelf life than whole wheat flour. Different brands will have different levels of protein in it, which is what creates the elasticity in your baking.
You can't really go wrong with a good all-purpose flour, just make sure you're working with a brand that best suits your needs. All-purpose flour is best for:
- Pizza Dough
Whole Wheat Flour
As we mentioned, whole wheat flour has a higher density than regular, sifted flours. We use all parts of the grain to make whole wheat, and while the germ increases the density, it has the potential to lower the rising power of your dough.
The best thing you can do is leave your flour to rest before baking - around 20-30 minutes. Allowing the liquid in the batter or dough to absorb the bran and germ before baking softens it, resulting in a less gritty final product. That being said, whole wheat can be delicious and comes packed with loads of extra nutrients.
This kind of flour is best for the same things as all-purpose, though we wouldn't recommend making pancakes with it.
You can get both regular and whole wheat varieties of pastry flour, but it's great for cookies, pound cakes, flavored muffins, scones, pie crusts, and biscuits. This is because it uses softer wheat varieties, unlike the hard wheat of whole-grain or bread flour. It has a finer texture and overall lower protein content.
Because of the lower protein content, however, it is not ideal for bread making.
Cake flour is obviously best for cakes! It can make a lovely, airy, and spongy texture and this is because it is extremely fine. It is also bleached and has a low protein content. The bleaching process means the flour can absorb more liquid and fat since the starches become more open.
Again, this is not great for bread but is best used for angel food cakes, pound cakes, chiffon, and layer cakes.
Bread flour is packed with protein and, because of this, develops a strong gluten network. This is especially ideal if you're making chewy, textured products like artisanal bread, bagels, and yeast bread. While you can substitute bread flour for all-purpose flour, the lower protein content may mean you end up with a slightly wetter dough or batter.
You can also potentially use strong flour, as this has a higher gluten content than regular all-purpose flour.
Self Rising Flour
When you need a quick fix, self-rising flour has a leavening agent (baking powder) and salt already built in. It's important to note that you can't substitute self-rising flour for anything else, but you can make your own. Simply use 1 cup of flour, 1 and a half teaspoons of baking powder, and half a teaspoon of salt.
Remember self-rising flour has a lower protein content than cake, so it's not ideal for bread. It is, however, best used for biscuits.
What Is Artisanal Flour?
Artisanal flour is inherently no different t regular flour since the ingredients are largely the same. The differences lie in the product's quality and the quality of the goods you can make from it. Artisanal flours often produce a better aroma and flavor and are better for making crusty bread with tender insides.
They're great for sourdough, enriched bread, French or Italian style bread, and pizza doughs. They will typically be unbleached, have no chemical additives, and are made with superior ingredients. Some flavors you can expect from artisanal flour include:
- Deep, nutty notes
- Earthy aromas
- Cocoa and brown sugar notes
Artisanal flour is also typically prepared with more care and in smaller batches, so we can ensure the quality of the product. For example, stone-ground methods are just one way of making artisan flour, which gives you better texture and more natural flavor.
Our artisan baking flour has a high protein content, with around 11.5% to 12.75%, and is ideal for better-tasting sourdough bread, rolls, bagels, and pizza dough.
What’s the Difference Between Costco Bread Flour vs Artisanal Flour?
We certainly know Costco for its variety of goods, and they have a ton of bulk goods, including flour. And price-wise, you're going to get more for the same amount, which is important to note. We can't dispute that artisanal flour is more expensive, as any quality product is.
However, buying in bulk may not be as profitable as you think. Flour doesn't have an unlimited shelf life. In fact, Healthline states that most flours only stay fresh for around 3-8 months. The way you store it can certainly have an impact, but it’s not indefinite. So buying a 25-pound bag of flour may seem ideal, but are you actually going to have a chance to use it all before it goes bad?
The second notable point is that Costco bread flour is potentially lacking in the same flavor as other brands. While your products won't flop, you may find that the quality of your baked goods is lacking in something. Yes, Costco bread flour is cheaper, and that may be enough for some, but for more serious bakers and people who care about the quality of their ingredients, is it really the best choice?
If the question lies in why would you use artisanal flour when you can use cheaper brands, the answer is why not? Since baked goods and bread are just another way of saying "I love you," then why not use a product that will produce a better taste, a more satisfying chew, and a crustier exterior?
Making Bread With Artisanal Flour
Even if you've never made homemade bread before, this easy, crusty, artisan bread is for you. It's the ideal beginner recipe, especially if you're just dipping your toes into using higher-quality ingredients. We know there's already a certain level of stress involved and we don't want to add to that.
This is a no-knead, no-machine bread recipe that is 95% hands-off. Even experienced bread makers will appreciate this recipe since it delivers a rich flavor profile with a slightly crisp and ultra chewy crust. Plus, you'll get those signature holes, just like ciabatta or French bread.
While you only need four ingredients, you can absolutely add your own mix of herbs, cheese, and spices to make a variety of flavors. Here's what you'll need:
- 3 and 1/4 cups of bread flour (we recommend Lehi Mills Artisan Baking Flour)
- 2 tsp instant yeast
- 2 tsp coarse salt
- 1 and 1/2 cups cool water
- Optional extras
Before we get into the recipe, here are a couple of tips for making killer bread. It may seem shaggy at first, but just keep going. It'll come together, we promise. Your dough will also be slightly sticky, even after it's been mixed.
You can use the recipe to shape two loaves of bread or 1 boule. Let them rest as the oven preheats and when you think they're done, give them a tap on the crust. If it sounds hollow, you're done.
Here's our method for a super easy, super tasty loaf of artisanal bread.
- Whisk the flour, yeast, and salt together
- Pour in the water and gently mix with a wooden spoon
- Shape into a ball, cover with cling wrap and set aside
- Leave to rise for 2-3 hours
- Lightly dust a nonstick baking sheet with flour or cornmeal
- Turn the dough out and use a sharp knife to cut it in half
- Place dough halves on the sheet
- Using floured hands, shape into loaves about 3 inches apart
- Loosely cover and allow to rest for 45 minutes
- Heat the oven to 475°F.
- When ready to bake, use a sharp knife to score the bread with 3 slashes, around 1/2 inch deep
- Bake for 20-25 minutes
- Remove from oven and allow to cool for at least 5 minutes
Note: You can store any leftovers at room temperature for up to 5 days, or in the fridge for 10.
Quality Ingredients for Quality Baking
Baking is an exercise of love, patience, and gratification. Bread can take hours to make if you include the rise time, and baked goods put a smile on people's faces. Yes, there are tons of options out there for flour and if you're someone who bakes a lot, it may be tempting to buy a big bag of Costco bread flour.
But have you ever asked what flavor and quality you may sacrifice by doing so? If you've never used artisanal flour, then now might be the time. Ready to take a new step on your baking journey? Check out our supply of high-quality ingredients, flours, and baking goods.