Joe’s To-Do List: International Flours

There’s been an unusual spike in interest in American/European flour equivalents here on the site. It’s a subject I’ve flirted with over the years, mostly by offering advice to readers from other countries looking for flours that work with various recipes. I’ve had an extremely primitive table on the subject, posted in the ingredient section, but something more robust will be needed if I’m going to get into this topic in any depth.

I dread it, because there’s no such thing as an exact match between an American flour and a Continental flour. The reason, because there are so many different attributes you nave to line up. Flours differ not only in their extraction rate and gluten content, but in their gluten quality, their grind, the wheat they’re made from, and so on and so on.

The result is that “equivalent” flours usually won’t work for every application. Italian 00 flour is a great example. It’s got a baby powder grind like an American soft wheat flour, yet has a fairly high amount of protein, though that protein is of the “firm” European variety and not the “stretchy” American variety, so in some applications it feels like it’s low-protein. So what is this flour good for? When it comes to making noodles, it’s akin to an American all-purpose. For cakes and cookies it performs more like a soft Southern flour in my experience. For breads it is again more like an AP, assuming you’re making a flat bread like pizza or some sort of fine-textured roll or sandwich loaf.

So the real question when you’re translating recipes between America and Europe is: what are you making? For that reason things like tables don’t really work. I’m going to have to give this some thought. A separate section probably…maybe with more descriptive content for each flour instead of numeric information, which isn’t terribly helpful for a lot of people. Then again…hmm….

7 thoughts on “Joe’s To-Do List: International Flours”

  1. I can’t wait… when I was in England I gave up baking because I didn’t understand and adapt to their flour. Their bake goods are great; mine were a miserable embarrassment.

  2. Oooh! I envision Joe in a lab coat mixing King Arthur’s Italian-style and White Lily to approximate Antimo Caputo 00 flour! Or Kyoryokuko and Sítio do Moinho flours to recreate our favorite cake flour! No pressure Joe! But you promised…

    1. Let’s not get a head of ourselves here, Dave. Joe Pastry World Headquarters doesn’t have a research lab as yet. However we’re hoping to break ground on it in Q4 of 2021 if the grant money comes through. I’ll do my best until then!

      Cheers,

      Joe

  3. Hey Joe,

    I don’t know if this will be much help, but I can tell you what adjustments I make to try to adapt American recipes to European flour. I have lived in Belgium and France for the past 12 years and really started baking when I lived in Belgium (I didn’t much care for their bread, which surprised many Belgians because they are super-picky about bread, but I digress…), so I have had very few opportunities to go the other way and try out European recipes with American flour.

    Anyway, I’m not a pro by any stretch, but here are my observations:

    T160 – generally whole wheat and high protein. I use it for whole wheat bread and occasionally for a pastry crust. When using it for bread, I often add some vital wheat gluten because it tends to contain sharp bits of bran and germ that poke holes in my gluten and give me less rise (at least, that’s how I think it works — please correct me if I’m wrong).

    T110 – the least common of the ones I will mention, but my favorite for whole wheat sandwich bread. It is also the one that has given me the greatest success just subbing into an American whole-wheat bread recipe with no other changes. In French it is referred to as “semi-complète,” essentially semi-whole wheat, and I kind of look at it as a flour that comes straight out of the grinder as a 50/50 blend of whole wheat and white bread flour. I know that’s not technically accurate, but with so many flour varieties to choose from I have had to allow myself some mental shortcuts. I feel like the protein contents I usually see are 11-12%. I also use vital wheat gluten when baking bread with this one.

    T80 – for a very long time I thought of this as the equivalent of strong white bread flour, but I’m no longer quite convinced of that. Sitting next to a finer flour like T65, it has a distinct beige tinge and a slight flavor. I guess maybe it still has some of the germ, just finely ground? The protein content is generally fairly high, but it can be surprisingly low — I’ve seen lower than 10% before — so I’m always careful to read the label if I plan to bake bread with it.

    T65 – of late, this has become my go-to for both all-purpose (protein below 11%) and strong bread flour (protein above 11%). Sometimes I have separate bags, but if end up with one around 11% I will use it as a dual-purpose flour. Protein content varies widely in T65 — I currently have a bag that is 9.5% and another that is 12.2% — so you really need to read the label if you’re using it for baking or pastry.

    T55 – I think this is what a lot of French people buy for all-purpose. I keep it around for things like pancakes, dusting fish before battering, etc. I haven’t paid much attention to the protein content, but when I have it has generally been in the 9.5-10.5% range. I don’t do a lot of pastry beyond pie crusts, but I imagine that if were to branch out I’d need to have a closer look at T55.

    T45 – I have always thought of this as pastry flour and, for the reasons stated above, have never really much looked into it. In France, it is often sold in small bags and marketed for sauce-making purposes.

    I guess it’s all a bit bread-centric, and it is definitely based mostly on trial-and-error and some educational blog-reading (Joe Pastry was always my go-to when I first started baking back in Belgium — thank you Joe!). Still, I hope there is something in there that is interesting or useful to you for this project. Regardless, I’m looking forward to the end result!

    1. Are you kidding? This is GOLD baby!

      Thank you very much for taking the time to send me this, Alan. It will help me make a strong start on a difficult project!

      Cheers,

      – Joe

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