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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

We are addicted to the white stuff

Of course, we mean, addicted to what is probably the best flour in the world. And if it is not the best, it must come a close second. This is where it all starts from:

the Rieper mill is in the Pusteria Valley, and just across the road a tumultuous creek adds to the picture perfect surroundings of the green woods that crawl up the Dolomites.

Rieper apparently also manufacture feeds for livestock, but what we are really after is the perfect flour that they make in all manner of varieties, and which unfortunately does not make it too far outside Alto Adige. What a pity! The result is that every time we come this way we have to fill our luggage with the portentous stuff.

The Yellow variety is the most popular with us, and maybe if we give you its vital statistics you’ll see why:

Proteins: 14,6 %

Water absorption 61,0 %

Dough stability: 11,0 min.

W: 340

P/L: 0,57 mm H2O/mm

So, what does it all mean? These are the kind of numbers that you would find e.g. in those strong North American flours, which here, though, come with that extra fine milling that 00 flour has. The strength of a flour, which in practice measures how much gluten it contains, is correlated with the protein content, and it allows you to prepare baked goods that need a long fermentation, since the high gluten content will enable the dough to develop a strong gluten “network” that will not decay with a long fermentation, and will give you those beautifully fluffy brioche, the gorgeous Panettone, the spongy baba’ and so on. But you would not be able to prepare such delicacies with “just” a strong flour: the flour must be fine if so has to be the end product. So this brings us to “00”: what does it mean?

In Italy, flour is classified based on the yield from milling: the highest yield is from wholemeal flour, then as you extract more and more, thereby reducing the yield, you obtain 2,1,0 and 00 flour, which is the finest, and which, by the way, you can now find also in UK supermarkets shelves. Only, it costs an arm and a leg! But 00 flour is much finer than sieved flour commonly found in the UK, and you will see the difference if you bake the same muffin or sponge with standard flour and with 00.

And, nobody prevents you from using this beautiful stuff for bread (of course, you’d use natural leaven, wont’ you?). This is some we made earlier….

Ah, and you may manage not to develop dependency on the yellow Rieper if you try some of the Blue (“00”), or of the Red (“0”), or wholemeal, or polenta, or spelt, or organic, or Breatl mix, or...

Sigh…we are writing all this for free -maybe we should start selling our advertisements :-)

p.s. for the more technically minded: those stats reported at the beginning are measured with various machines called Brabender farinograph, Brabender Extensograph, and Chopin Alveograph.

The “strength” is measured by the index W. If the index is too low, it cannot be used for leavened baked goods, while higher values (above 300) is suitable for very long fermentation. But strength is not all, and the quality of the finished good depends crucially also on how extensible your flour is. This is indicated by the P/L ratio. Disks of “standard” dough (that is with a given percentage of water and mixed for a set amount of time) are “blown” into until they break. The Chopin alveograph draws (a bit like a seismograph) the deformation of the dough, drawing a curve. The highest vertical height of the curve is the P value, which measures the maximum pressure exercised by the gas blown in the dough before breaking, or if you wish the resistance of the dough. The horizontal length of the curve registers instead the maximum extension reached by the dough before breaking. So with a P/L ratio of e.g. 1.5, which is typical of durum wheat flour, you need a lot of energy to break the dough, which does not extend much. A ratio of 0.5-0.6 is deemed balanced. The area beneath the curve gives you the value W, for the strength of the flour. A nice picture is available here, although the indications that you get in Italy are a bit more stringent: so with a W between 120 to 160w the flour would be most suited for baked goods that do not require volume, e.g. biscuits or grissini. Between 160 and 250w the flour is considered as medium strength, and is already suitable for many types of bread, including ciabatta, and pizza. Between 250 and 300/310w you have flour obtained by milling the best grains, and you can basically produce most goods that need long fermentation, like baba, panettone, and bread of course. Above this, the very strong flour can be used for specialty breads – these can absorb up to 90% of their weight in water.



Anonymous said...

Very interesting article. I must look out for some of this flour. (On a side note I love the mid-century modern packaging).

I have just about perfected my focaccia and am now working on my Pagnotta but it is difficult to find a decent recipe and to get those huge uneven holes in the finished product.

Incidentally do you think there is anything to the assertion that the provenance of the water used in the recipe makes a big difference?

Man-Woman said...

Hi Joesan,
for recipes the best place we can suggest is gennarino, especially the message board - trouble is, it is all in Italian. But if you want the 'big holes' in your bread, in that link you can see the pictures for such a loaf, and you can also see more pictures (perhaps less clear), and above all read the procedure in English, here. In both cases it is, we think, one of Jeffrey Hamelman's recipes. Just note that the proportion of water is lower in the Italian version, and we suggest going for that one (70% idration). Good luck!

As for water, sure it must play a role, but we think that is by far outweighted by the role played by flour: just play around with different types, and you will see the difference (this Rieper flour is a case in point). Of course, before you use your tap water, make sure you have left it in an open container for a few hours (e.g. overnigth) to make sure clorine has evaporated, otherwise it will kill your leaven/yeast...

Anonymous said...

Hi man-woman

Thanks for the great information. That forum looks very interesting. I can always get my girlfriend to translate for me as she is Italian. Though I guess I should really try and learn myself.

I recommend that you take a look at Dan Lepard's books. He is a true artisan and very generous in sharing information and advice also.

I hadn't considered the chlorine in the water issue. I wonder if it would evaporate in the fridge if it hasn't already done so in the pipes? Anyway great food for thought.

I haven't been able to find the Rieper flour in London but, on a side note, I did manage to find some caputo flour for my pizzas.

Happy dining...

Man-Woman said...

thanks Joesan, glad you liked this. Yes, we do know Dan Lepard's books, and presumably you know his forum, too? We agree he is very helpful and available. And being a Brit, he has the best advice on local flour. As for Rieper, we haven't been able to find it in London, either, but where the heck did you find caputo's? is it the red one?
Happy baking :)

Anonymous said...

Hi Man-Woman,

Yes, love the forum.

Take a look here for the Caputo -

Free delivery on your first order. I bought a 25kg bag because I love pizza! Want to try making my own mozzarella next time - which idea all my Italian friends scoff at...

Man-Woman said...

Joesan, a million thanks for the super tip!
and yes, you should go for your own mozzarella, but be aware that you will need young "siero" to begin, so you might have to prepare another cheese before hand...

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