French Flour

My ambition with these international flour sections is to offer something different from the usual table-type “world flour” charts. While those things do make a certain rough sense, they can mislead as much as they can inform. For the fact is there are very few true equivalents when it comes to international flours. Though flour looks uniform to the eye, it’s actually a highly complex system packed full of variables. I’m hoping to convey a sense for those variables in these sections, show why “equivalents” — especially American equivalents — are almost always going to be an imperfect match, but also perhaps open the door to some creative problem solving. 

So, French flour. Why is it so different from American flour? Well firstly and most obviously, because French flour is made from different strains of wheat. That may not sound very important, but subtlety counts for a lot in baking, and it’s surprising the effect that a small difference in the character of, say, wheat protein (gluten) can have.

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Gear Essentials: Building/Finishing

One thing I’m not is a talented decorator/finisher. However I know enough about finishing to know that you can achieve some remarkable things with a little gumption and a handful of tools. Here’s what my finishing arsenal looks like, all this photo is missing is my blowtorch, the pieces of which I hid so well from my kids that now I can’t find them. Oh well, life must go on.

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Gear Inessentials: Baking

The world of forms is a wide one. Here’s a small selection of specialties. They’re the sorts of forms you might use only once in a while, but when you want ’em you want ’em. A pudding mold (upper right) is key if you’re British, of course. Tube pans of various kinds are important for angel food or bundt-type cakes (tube pans are a world unto themselves, actually). Brioche pans are more for look than function, and as for the charlotte pan, I just happen to love charlottes, is all. I also use that thing for soufflés when I’m feeling pretentious (often).

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Gear Essentials: Baking (Part 2)

If you’re going to bake with forms — and there’s no saying you have to do that — there are basically six categories the average home baker needs: loaf pans, cake pans, tart pans, springform pans, pie pans and muffin pans. I keep several sizes of each, and I vastly prefer shiny finishes over dark nonstick, though sometimes you need a pan and can’t find anything else.

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Gear Essentials: Baking (Part 1)

I’m going minimal here because I wish to underscore how powerful this simple gear array is when used in combination with an oven. An oven stone, a few sheet pans (“half sheets” technically), cooling racks and some parchment paper will deliver a truly stunning amount of delicious bakery: breads, rolls, sponge cakes, galettes, cookies, bars, free-form pies and tarts…I could go on and on.

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Gear Essentials: Shaping

The “shaping” step, for some kinds of pastry, can be extremely involved. However you can do a heck of a lot with just the implements you see here (starting with the background of this and every Joe Pastry photo: a nice, solid maple board). The bench scraper on the bottom left is something most home bakers don’t own, but is invaluable for scraping up sticky bread doughs, portioning dough for rolls, cutting the ends off jelly rolls, the list goes on.

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Gear Essentials: Rising

Not terribly much here, and I’d never call a $150 folding proofer an “essential.” I just like it, is all, both for rising and proofing (proofing being the second rise just before baking). For rising you really don’t need anything more than a large bowl or pot and a cloth to cover. However proofing containers like those on the left there are quite helpful. The hash marks on the sides let you gauge how fast your dough is rising and to what volume. They have many other uses in the kitchen as well, like measuring large quantities of fruit or brining chickens. Trust me, you need some.

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Gear Essentials: Mixing

Of all the baking gear I have, my mixing equipment gets by far the most use. ‘Cause let’s face it, pretty much everything in pastry has to be mixed. Not necessarily by machine of course, but I myself would be lost without a stand mixer. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Mixing starts with measuring, so I use (mostly) a scale. A scale is essential for dry ingredients like flour which can vary quite a lot using dry measures and the ol’ dip-and-sweep method. A scale that does metric as well as imperial is handy when you’re converting a Continental recipe.

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The Whipping Method

I think of the whipping method as “European” and I don’t think that’s an inaccurate assessment, since you only tend to come across it when making spongecakes like génoise, joconde, ladyfingers or specialty cakes like rehrücken. I can’t think of any common uses for the whipping method here in the States, except perhaps for flourless chocolate cake. Essentially, the whipping method is how European bakers create very light cake layers in the absence of chemical leaveners.

You need a lot of eggs — plus plenty of sugar, which helps create a thick syrup that keeps the egg foam from collapsing. The neat thing about the whipping method is that it gives lie to the myth that egg foams can only be created with whites. Twaddle. Indeed in most instances where the whipping method is employed you’re whipping either whole eggs or egg yolks plus sugar. Egg whites plus sugar are a rarity in the whipping method universe because, well, then you’d have a meringue, would you not?

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The Roll-In Method

The “roll-in” method is the description for what you do when you laminate dough for croissants, Danishes and puff pastry. Effectively you’re “rolling” butter into a flour-and-water dough. Personally I think of it as “folding” it in, but there you go. Who am I to argue with decades of established pastry lingo?

There’s no question that laminating seems more like a technique than a “mixing” method, though when you consider that one of the chief aims of mixing is to incorporate fat it all starts to make a little more sense.

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