Baking bread is a work of art. Why, you might ask? Understanding the ingredients that go into bread baking will create a masterpiece that will be delicious to the taste and beautiful to look at. Today, let’s talk about grains–specifically protein and gluten to gain a better understanding of wheat options for different types of bread and your baking needs. Have you asked yourself, why your bread doesn’t rise very high? Why does your bread fall? The answer may be just gaining a better understanding of flour and protein and gluten.
What does the term protein level in wheat mean and how does that affect the gluten level? Glutenin and gliadin are two simple proteins that are naturally present in the wheat kernel and the resulting flour. During the kneading process, these proteins are activated by the addition of water to form gluten. The terms gluten and protein are used interchangeably. The higher the protein level, the higher the gluten and the easier your bread will rise and create a beautiful loaf.
There are several grains at Kitchen Kneads that are recommended for bread. Successful loaves will need 70% of the flour that is used in a batch of bread to be a higher protein level. These grains would be hard red wheat, hard white wheat, spelt, kamut, and einkorn–all ranging in protein levels from 11-15%. The other 30% of flour used can be from a lower protein grain or even a gluten free grain. These grains would include rye, barley, oats, amaranth, quinoa, teff, millet, or soft white wheat to name a few. Blending grains together also creates a unique flavor that quickly becomes your signature in bread baking. Just remember your 70/30 ratio.
The protein level in a grain or flour helps us decide what type of bread the flour is best suited for and generally ranges anywhere from 6% -18% at the extremes. If the protein content is too low (around 6%) the gluten won’t be strong enough to form good bread because the gluten can’t provide the structure to trap the gas from yeast activity and help the bread rise.
For human consumption, a miller generally uses wheat with at least 8% protein. A protein level from 8%-10% can be used for biscuits, or other soft-pastry breads or cakes and cookies. All purpose flour generally ranges from 9% to 11.5%. You can bake a loaf with this flour, but it also performs well for rolls and pastries. Artisan breads and baguettes usually perform best with a protein level of 11% to 13%. To achieve a crusty crust and top quality crumb structure it is best to use 14% protein or higher flour.
One of the best ways to determine the protein and gluten level in flour is to ask a miller. Did you know that’s what the name Miller means, to mill grain? So that is exactly what I did…Kitchen Kneads buys their all-purpose and bread flour from Big J out of Brigham City, Utah. I had a great conversation with them. Big J tests all the wheat before it is bought from the farmers. The wheat is then tested after it arrives at the mill. Big J blends the varieties of wheat bought from farmers to create the perfect protein level. A miller will tell you, “You can’t make good flour out of bad wheat. Throughout the milling process, the flour is tested to make sure that all of the machinery is working correctly and the blends are still creating the perfect flour to make the perfect bread. Big J buys local whenever they are able. They buy varieties of wheat from Idaho, Montana, Kansas, Colorado, and Nebraska. Wheat is only bought from these states if it meets the specific guidelines that Big J flour requires. Huge shout-out to Big J for taking the time to make sure we all have baking success.
Baking bread requires the finest ingredients. Thank you to our farmers who have a passion for providing food for the world. Kitchen Kneads offers bread baking classes monthly. If you are just starting your journey of bread baking or want to take bread baking to the next level, Kitchen Kneads has all of the ingredients and tools you will need.
Sources: Big J Milling, Brigham City, Lindley Mills