Firstly…

Part of the reason I’ve never gotten heavily into Continental flours here on Joe Pastry is because everything I’ve made here I’ve made with American flours. That’s not because I’m a snob (well, not a BIG snob, anyway) but because I know that for most people outside of Europe, European flours aren’t very easy to get, and when they are, they aren’t very reasonably priced. I’d rather that Joe readers who are interested in European pastries take them on using ingredients they can lay their hand to — not wait (or spend) until all the perfect ingredients have been procured. What results may not be perfectly authentic, but then…what’s that?

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What is “Ash Content”?

First let’s get a show of hands. How many people here have had someone brow-beat them with the term “ash content”? Come on, don’t be shy. There’s no shame in it. Put’em up. Yep, I thought so. There’s a certain type of bread head out there that simply loves to do that. But let me tell you, there’s nothing about ash content that’s hard to understand. Once you have a general sense for what it means, you’ll be able to go toe-to-toe with even the most heavily-tatted, ringed-and-plugged artisan bread bakers. Just don’t go making fun of the bleak industrial Throbbing Gristle and Mica Levi records they listen to. I won’t be able to help you in that instance.

But what exactly is “ash” and why do you find it in European flour? The answer is that there actually is no “ash” in European flour. Europeans use the term “ash” as a catch-all term for everything in their flour that is not pure wheat starch. Things like bran, germ, protein, minerals and other nutrients. The higher the “ash” content, the more of those kinds of things you find in the flour.

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European Gluten

Europeans don’t talk gluten content like Americans do. They talk “ash content“. But that’s not to say that they ignore it. Gluten (protein) is implied in ash content for reasons the post on the subject, I hope, makes clear. But let’s talk about European gluten a little, because it’s different than ours, and that’s something that most people overlook when they’re trying to replicate a Continental bread or pastry.

As I point out frequently, not all gluten is the same. The stuff we know as “gluten” is actually a combination of different wheat proteins, and depending on the relative proportion of those proteins, the gluten in this-or-that flour can have very different characteristics.

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