This post was written for Dan Lepard’s forum. I am republishing it here for those of you who don’t visit his forum as it was a lot of work and it might be of interest. The back story is that various people have consistently had problems with using Allinsons strong bread flour to make sourdough and so Gill the Painter and others, have had a go at doing comparison bakes. (Edit: Dan’s forum no longer exists) I have put more pictures here than on Dan’s forum, that’s the only difference.
The flours I had a go with were:-
Allinsons strong bread flour, Waitrose Organic strong bread flour, Waitrose’s own Leckford Estate strong bread flour and Shipton Mill’s Untreated Organic no 4. All flours bought recently with similar use by dates on their bags. The Waitrose Organic and Leckford are cheaper by a few pennies than the Allinsons. The Shipton Mill is the most expensive of the four.
I made four doughs from four different flours as similarly as I could manage. I’m very aware that it is almost impossible to be truly scientific in a home kitchen, and I wouldn’t want anyone to treat the following as anything but anecdotal! If someone wants to lend me a bigger kitchen with an oven that can take more loaves in one go than mine, I’d love to try again properly….
Each loaf consisted of:
110 gr of mature starter (13 hours old, with one refreshment) at 100% hydration using the different flours for each loaf, all starting with 10 grams of my basic white levain
160 g filtered tap water
285 g flour
7 g french sea salt
I think that is about 63% hydration. Nothing too difficult there.
Prepared starters at 10 pm. Started mixing doughs at 11 am the following day.
Weighed everything out to the nearest gram using digital scales
Rough mixed each dough by hand followed by
Three short kneads at 10 minute intervals
1/2 hour rest Fold
1 hour rest Fold
1 hour rest Fold
2 hour rest First Shape
Bench rest 20 minutes
Shape into tight boules
Place on couche cloth
Final prove 2 hrs 15 minutes
Now I hit a problem. My oven can’t actually take four boules on the kiln shelf all together. So I had a choice; either cook two boules first and then the second pair, or use my smaller top oven and cook two of the breads on a tray with no steam.
I did the latter. It was either wait half an hour and then the prove times would be different, or have different bake methods. So at this point it stops being even vaguely scientific in any shape or form, but it is still interesting for what it shows about using steam and a kiln shelf….
So two breads were cooked on the kiln shelf with steam below as usual.
Two breads were cooked in the top oven, no steam on a tray and parchment. I cooked the bottom oven breads at 230 C top/bottom heat with steam. The top oven breads at 220 C without steam on a tray. The top oven runs hotter than the bottom oven as it is smaller. If I had put the breads in at 230 C as well, they would have burnt on the bottoms. It’s happened before.
Because the Allinsons strong bread flour is the one under scrutiny, I gave it the best seat in the house; it was baked next to the Waitrose Organic own brand on the kiln shelf in the bottom oven with steam.
Thoughts on making and handling the doughs….
The Allinsons dough stayed stickier and slacker than the others, but improved enormously with folding, as they all did. I shaped the Allinsons twice to try and get a really tight boule but it still spread more than the others on the couche cloth and the dough was the flattest going into the oven. Looking at the dough closely it seemed to have tiny bran particles in it that I couldn’t see in the others. So there is some difference there. Of the four flours I tried, the Waitrose Organic seemed to have the most strength, you could see the gluten development fairly quickly in the dough , however the Shipton caught up by the end of the bulk prove. The Leckford I didn’t pay that much attention to. But it seemed happy enough.
But looking at the visual results of the bake, there is virtually no difference in the oven spring achieved by the Allinsons and the Waitrose Organic. The striking difference is between the top and bottom oven experiences. The top oven breads are not at all pretty. Their slashes haven’t opened and they have done that funny shape thing, that I associate with underproving but now I think is to do, at least in part, with baking in that particular oven, which is a microwave/combi oven.
I tracked and labelled and double checked each time I went from bowl to board, to cloth to oven and out so I am sure that the finished breads are the ones I have labelled them as. I had to concentrate much harder than usual making these.
Shaping and moving to oven
The shapes of the boules are slightly distorted depending on how they sat in the couche cloth and what happened to them moving from place to place, it was quite awkward moving them from cloth to peel. The Waitrose one got a bit squashed somewhere along the line as you can see by the way it leans to one side. Normally I would have used bread forms, but I wanted to see how the dough held up in a cloth without the support of a form.
I slashed all four loaves the same way, and brushed water into the slashes before they went into the ovens, Nils style!
The Allinsons definitely spread out more, but as you can see recovered hugely and achieved the same height as the Waitrose Organic, though the crumb does look different, larger holes, a hint of a flying crust and it doesn’t look quite as even as the others, I can see flecks of bran in there,but it certainly was no greyer than the other breads, they all had a very similar colour on cutting.
Here are the crumb shots. It was overcast this morning, otherwise I would have taken them outside, so the colours are not perfect. The crumb colour was surprisingly uniform, the Allinsons having these small particles of bran visible. I wouldn’t call any of them grey, more a warm off white/creamy yellow colour. The colour I associate with unbleached white flour in the UK.
We took centre slices out of each loaf, chopped them in two, and arranged them on saucers with labels underneath, twizzled them around and did our best to do blind tasting.
For flavour and aroma the Shipton came out tops, maybe because I am used to this flour and know it very well, so even on a blind test I can pick it out? Or maybe it simply is better?
The Allinsons came joint second with the Waitrose Organic. The Allinsons was chewier than the Waitrose Organic, and the Leckford came fourth, slightly less flavoursome, but still perfectly acceptable.
I have to say, that I don’t make a lot of pure white sourdough, I prefer my sourdoughs to have some wholegrain in them for flavour, like rye or wholewheat, so it isn’t my favourite bread anyway. I prefer breads made with milk or whey or with butter in or caraway seeds if I am going for an all-white loaf.
So what is my conclusion? It is impossible to be really scientific at home, that’s the first thing. Secondly, the bag of Allinsons flour that I used made a perfectly decent sourdough using the method and timings given above. I can’t throw any light therefore on the results that other people have had. Maybe it is the very long proves that do the dough in, or using a very high hydration, or something to do with how acidic your starters are when you add them to the dough. I pass the question on to the next baker !
Since I have my moisture plus oven with steam injection the breads are better than ever, it helps a lot and of course its also the flour and weighing the ingredients
In my next life I want a moisture plus oven with steam injection like you Ulrike! But for now I will make do with my little tray under the baking shelf full of boiling water :) It definitely does something ganz wunderbar :)
Perhaps not scientific, but a good presentation and representative of a home baker’s predicaments and conditions- I thoroughly enjoyed seeing your breads and results.
You are a dedicated baker!
I salute you.
Thank you Heidi ! I think doing something like this just emphasizes the yawning gap between home and pro bakers, but one can only hope to slowly improve :)
Come up to Crich any time for scientific, or non-scientific baking trials with big ovens Joanna! You would be most welcome. :-)
Read this with interest and, as usual, am bowled over by your dedication to furthering your and our knowledge in this mysterious art.
I would love to do that, thanks Andrew :) I can’t resist a challenge and it was a bit of a puzzle this one, but I don’t think I have solved it with my baking on Sunday somehow. So many variables, so many different ways to approach the baking…
Fascinating reading, Joanna! We don’t get those brands of flour here, but I am always surprised at how varied the way different flours react, even if they’re supposedly the same protein and grain. The spelt flour we have here is a good example – our wholemeal is a rare 18% protein (it helps to know the miller!), whereas most spelt is much lower in protein, which is why bakers often find it difficult to rise. I think a lot also depends on how used to working with a particular flour we are, and subtle differences in the fineness of the flour. I’ve always found, for example, that I get much better results from roller milled flour than stone ground. Hmmm…going to head to Dan’s forum to read more. Thanks!! :)
Your spelt loaves always look so beautiful Celia! You get the miller’s special flour obviously :)
olá!!que pães maravilhosos,pena não ter estas farinhas de qualidade aqui no brasil muito dificil,somente em padarias,em super-mercado não tem ,já procurei ,so sinto que adoraria fazer estes pães,e nã posso,parabéns!!maravilhoso seu site,sempre nós surpreendendo,sua fã!
Sally BR has translated this for me :) Thanks Sally!
Caroliny says : Hello! What wonderful breads, it’s too bad we don’t have these high quality flours here in Brazil it’s too tricky, in bakeries and grocery stores I’ve searched and searched, could not find
I wish I could make all these breads, it’s too bad I cannot, but congratulations for your wonderful site, I am a huge fan of yours, you are always surprising us with beautiful breads.
olá caroliney ! I am sorry I don’t speak Portuguese but thank you so much for your lovely comments. :) I don’t know much about sourcing flour in other countries, but maybe Sally BR at the Bewitching Kitchen does, or someone on Dan Lepard’s site might be able to suggest where to get good flour in Brazil. Hope to see you again soon!
Oh my a steam injected oven. Didn’t know they existed but I think I need one now.
Love your dedication Joanna. One day I would like to do something similar with the different ‘hydration’ amounts (I still feel like I haven’t done my sourdough time to be even talking with those words in it) in sourdough. I recently lowered my hydration in a couple of loaves and had completely different results.
How many different flours do you usually have going in your kitchen?
What an interesting post Joanna, that it’s the baking method rather than the flour that makes the real difference. Although of the two baked in your steam oven (and like CityHippy I’d not heard of a steam injected oven either), on looks alone the Allinsons would have been my 2nd choice..
Choc – I don’t think it is the baking method alone. It is the whole process, how much water to flour, how strong the starter is, how acidic, how long the proves, how you handle the dough, how you move it. The steam and the heat affect how much it rises. Bread books talk about all the stages that go into a loaf and how a change at any of those stages significantly affects the final outcome. I am not planning on switching to Allinsons as my main white flour, but I wouldn’t worry about using it if that was what was available and it seems to be one of the widely available supermarket flours.
Brydie and Choclette – There is lots of awesome baking kit in Germany but it comes at a price! My ‘steam oven’ is a small Mermaid metal tray which sits on the rack below the potters kiln shelf I use for a ‘stone’. I put the bread on the shelf. Boil the kettle and put about a half inch of boiling water in the tray. After the bread has sprung and just started to colour, I open the oven door again a bit and let some of the steam out, so that hopefully the crust will firm up. I have lots of different flours in the cupboard, I like to try them out, I am very fond of Shiptons Bakers White too, but I was pushing it doing four! I don’t keep sackfuls though, just regular domestic size 1.5 kilo or 1 kilo bags. I bake bread maybe twice a week for us, only more if for someone else.
Joanna, this is amazing work, and you make amazing bread! (I know you didn’t try it but I feel a bit less guilty about using Hovis flour; if you can give me a reason to, though, I might switch.)
Hi Emily, thanks so much for dropping by and the kind words :) Honestly? I don’t think anyone should feel guilty about using branded flour, if you are happy with the results of your baking then I think there is a strong case to be made for sticking to what you know as it is easier to concentrate on other stuff, like improving ones shaping and so on. Is it Hovis wholemeal that you use, or does Rank McDougal put out a white bread flour under the Hovis brand? I only associate Hovis with wholemeal and the boy on the bicycle ads :)
I associate Hovis with wholemeal as well but it’s the strong white flour I’ve been using (I think they also make a super-strong, haven’t tried that). Don’t see anything about Rank McDougal. At this point I think flour is the least of my worries as I’m still getting the techniques down (esp. shaping) but you’re right, might as well keep one variable constant for now. :)
Emily, as far as I understand it, Hovis is a brand name bought by Rank. Also own the “Granary” bread tradename. Allinsons is owned by Silver Spoon. More links to all these and other flour producers here
The other big miller/flour company here is Allied Bakeries. I am not up on the politics and economics of flour production in the UK, maybe I should find out more.
I like visiting local mills and supporting them when practical.
The nearest to here is Shipton Mill. I go sometimes if I go over to Westonbirt. You can find out if there is a mill near you here:
best wishes, Joanna
Very impressive indeed Joanna – and I’m so glad you came to the same conclusions as me on the Allinsons yearning to spread somewhat, as I found when I removed the doughs from the brotform or banneton. Though, following your helpful advice, I’ll shape as many times as it takes to achieve a dough that feels like it’s ‘set’ in future. I also find your conclusions about the Allinsons chewy crumb interesting. I’ll check that out when I get round to baking with the Waitrose organic.
But the most amazing thing for me in your experiment is the difference caused by the different baking methods. There really is no comparison between the loaves baked with stone/steam and those baked in the oven without stone/steam.
On a more general level, under those circumstances (no stone or steam), baking in a cast iron pot goes a long way in overcoming both those shortcomings and produces good looking, tasty, well-risen loaves.
Blue, I want to see your pot baked bread! I have heard so many people say great things about that method. I have a pot, but still haven’t got round to trying it out. :)
Joanna, I thought you knew! All of the loaves that I baked up until about a month or so ago (when I got my stone) were pot baked in my trusty second-hand Le Creuset! I place LC in the oven with its lid when I switch the oven on to heat (max. temperature which I think is 260°c on my range cooker) for approx. 30-40 mins before I put the dough into it. Ne’er a problem with the enamel cracking or whatever, though it does definitely look war weary inside. The thoroughly heated cast iron does a good job of simulating bread stone conditions and I’m pretty sure it generates steam too.
The pot would keep any steam that comes from the dough in the pot so the dough would generate its own steam, I guess. I knew you had tried pot baked, but I didn’t know you were a devotee Blue :) When we have finished these four loaves, I promise I will try baking in a pot, but you might have to remind me how you get the dough in there, is it on parchment or something like that?
Not so much a devotee – it’s just that I didn’t have a breadstone to work with. And, if I’m honest, using the LC pot made breadmaking so much easier. It took some of the difficulty out of shaping (the pot ensures a nice round shape) and you don’t have the hassle of steaming (that’s why I felt I was more or less back to square one when I got my breadstone – a beginner in many aspects all over again! ).
My way of getting the dough into the pot is to place a large sheet of baking parchment (40cm x 40cm-ish) onto a peel. I place the peel/parchment on top of the brotform and turn the dough out onto the parchment/peel gently, the same way you would turn a tarte tatin onto a serving plate. After slashing and flouring the surface of the dough, I remove the heated pot from the oven, take the lid off, and lift the four corners of the parchment with one hand, supporting the dough underneath with the other hand and then lower it gently into the pot. If the corners of the parchment come above the rim, I either fold it back or cut it off and get the lid on quickly. Once the pot is back in the oven, I turn the temperature down to that required by the recipe.
Go on – give it a go! :)
I will – thanks for the beautifully detailed instructions – how can I not do it now? :)
Joanna, I saw your post right after I got the email notification, but could not comment until now – life got in the way
You did such a wonderful job testing the different flours, it’s very impressive! And the best part if that now you have all these amazing loaves of bread to enjoy…. the real fruits of your experiment!
(I can never do that with mine… :-)
Hi Sally, we are munching our way through them, a couple have gone in the freezer, (couldn’t really give loaves away with slices cut out of them – too weird) Currently eating the loaf (Allinsons) known as the Pyramid. Large holes, butter and damson jam falling through, chewy, matured nicely in the last two days….
I tell you what, if you give me a loaf missing some slices, I’ll be very grateful and love each bite of it!
Any time Sally :)
You did a great job keeping an eye on all those different samples! A bit like in a barn in Yorkshire?!! Hope you’re both OK.
I’ve passed on starter and Mick’s instructions to 2 more converts at work – hooray!
Hi Allison – well it was all in one room so a bit different ;) It reminded me of that 3 cups trick, you just have to hope that no one switches the labels. I’ve only once managed to pass on starter, and that was to my German friends, so you are doing a better job than me :)
Poor old Allinsons coming in for such stick on Dan’s site. I feel so sorry for him.
I knew you could handle 4 loaves well.
My baking experiment didn’t really come to a conclusion about Allinsons. Although I think I’d say it’s a little harder to handle than it had previously occurred to me.
What are they saying now? It’s perfectly OK flour to bake with, if they really don’t like it then why don’t they buy something else? There’s plenty of choice out there after all.