Why the fussy flour?

Reader Katie wants to know why I think Italian 00 flour is preferable to good ol’ all-purpose for making fatayer. Katie, I swear I’m not just being fussy. It’s true, Italian 00 more closely resembles the flours you find in the Middle East, so it’s more “authentic” in that sense, however there’s also a practical matter here. Italian 00 is simply easier to roll out. The dough it makes isn’t as elastic as dough made with North American all-purpose flour, so when you roll your little fatayer circles, the circles tend to stay flat instead of pulling back (which isn’t the end of the world, but it is annoying).

So the question is: why does Italian 00 make a less stretchy dough? If you look at the protein (gluten) content of both types of flour, they’re about the same, somewhere between 9 and 12% usually. So what’s the dealio? The dealio is that not all wheat protein behaves in the same way. Some protein is stretchy, some isn’t. And as you have guessed by now: Italian wheat protein is not stretchy. As I often say: it’s plastic, not elastic.

This fundamental point is lost in most discussions of flour, and it causes no end of confusion. We bakers are constantly asking: how much gluten, how much gluten, how much gluten?? What we rarely ask is: what kind of gluten? A high gluten content doesn’t always deliver stretchiness, or chewiness, or a big open crumb. High gluten, depending on the character of the gluten, can deliver attributes we don’t normally think about, like firmness.

Which means that if you’re into baking, it might be worth keeping a stash of Italian 00 around, particularly if you like to bake flatbreads like pita, or pizza, or naan, or make pies like fatayer (or like to make your own pasta). These days most restaurant supply stores keep it. So while you may have to buy quite a bit, it stores well in an airtight plastic tub. Something to consider, Katie! Thanks for the question!

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