I love bread. Before moving to Argentina I had been experimenting with baking my own bread. I made Bittman’s no-knead bread, Reinhart’s pain a l’ancienne, bagels, various forms of sandwich loaves. I became a fan of King Arthur Flour, acquired a baking stone, and learned how to create good steam conditions in my high-end convection oven to make a crisp crackly crust. So what if I could go to the farmer’s market and get a delicious loaf of Acme Bread in the time it would take me to measure out the flour? It was rewarding to bake my own bread, and boy did it taste good.
Then I moved to Argentina. And I discovered the travesty that passes for bread here. The national sandwich, the sandwich de miga, is made of huge sheets of Wonder Bread with the crusts sliced off. The ubiquitous panaderías (bakeries) sell pale dinner rolls with soft crusts. It’s as if the bakers spritz SPF80 on all their breads before baking — I couldn’t find a single loaf with a nice tan. There is no bread culture here.
It’s okay, I thought. I know how to make my own bread! Unfortunately, that is where I discovered how little I actually know about the underlying science of breadmaking. Up until now, I had been using formulas without really understanding what was happening. Now, in a land of inconsistent ingredients and kitchen appliances, I’m having to really understand what makes bread work, not just follow prescribed steps, because the flour I have or the temperature of my oven or the humidity of the air varies a lot from day to day.
Let’s start with flour. There are two main types of flour available: harina de trigo tipo 000 and tipo 0000. The 000 is supposedly for use with bread, while the 0000 is more similar to all-purpose flour or perhaps cake flour (according these threads on The Fresh Loaf). I remember to get 000 rather than 0000 because pan (bread) has 3 letters. King Arthur bread flour, which is what I used in the US, advertises a consistent 12.7% protein. I’ve read that artisan breads do best with around 11-12% protein content.
Unfortunately, all the bread flour I can find here has protein content in the 9-10% range. Here’s what I’ve found in the grocery store brands:
|Favorita Pizza y Pan||9%|
|Pureza Integral (whole wheat)||10.6%|
|Casa China harina integral (whole wheat)||27%|
As you can see from the table, the protein content does not seem to bear any relation to whether it’s type 000 or 0000. OK, so I’ll stick with the 000 for now because that’s what the Internet says to do.
My first experiments with high-hydration doughs in Buenos Aires led to sticky messes which were impossible to knead. The same recipe which worked so well back in the US made such a wet dough that instead of rising upward during proofing, it just oozed outward. I had to pour it into the oven. Instead of lovely baguettes, I ended up with flatbread.
How could that be? One factor, I discovered, is that the protein level in flour influences its water absorption. The higher the protein, the more water it absorbs. Aha! The lower-protein flour I have here must require less water!
Will this discovery result in better bread? Stay tuned to find out.