In the April/May 2011 issue of Australian Baking Business I talked about changes in European bakeries and ways to set a point of difference between you and your competition.
Following on from that, let’s look a little deeper into one of those products and provide an example of what can be achieved if you come to understand the differences that exist and utilise increased knowledge and skills to your advantage.
One of the greatest things to come out of the Southern Cross Baking Group’s Australian team preparation for the Louis Lesaffre Cup is that for the first time ever, we have French flour now available for purchase and use here in this country. It is significantly different to what we’re used to, so let’s look at the reasons why it is so different and how it may help you, your staff, and your business.
Over past last few months of practice I have had an opportunity to look closely and learn of the significant differences between French flour and Australian flour. Many people in the industry may not even realise that there is a difference, but if you have ever attempted to duplicate the true French-style baguette with it’s thin crisp crust and nutty aroma you would soon realise that while it is possible to get close, they always fall a little short by comparison.
The flour I‘ve been using comes from famous French millers Grands Moulin de Paris, the oldest mill in Paris and a company that has been a pleasure to deal with and very supportive of the Australian Teams’ efforts for the Louis Lesaffre Cup.
The first major difference between the two flours are the different wheat varieties used due to the vastly different climatic and soil conditions that exist between the two countries. The softer wheats relish these cooler, wetter environments and tend to dominate the market, being used across all aspects of French baking. The French classify their flours very differently to Australia as well with flours known more by their ash content rather than here in Australia where the focus is on protein.
The most common of these is T55 flour, widely used in the production of the baguette and in many classic French products. It is also common practice to blend this with higher or lower ash content flours to obtain specific outcomes in flavour, aroma and volume.
What a lot of us don’t realise is that many French flours are sold containing additives such as gluten, ascorbic acid, inactive yeast and diastatic malt. These are added in order to fortify weaker flours and provide good handling characteristics and baking outcomes, but can reduce flavour and aroma as a result. Like in Australia, many French flours have over the years gone down the road of using this flour type and different and shorter production methods to speed up production and reduce reliance on skilled labour.
Many French bakers are moving back though, using the old traditions and looking to bring back the flavour, crust and aroma, and of course the customers with it. French Flour of Tradition is a flour that contains no additives and is more like a baker’s flour that you would find here in Australia. That however is where the similarities end.
It is easy to understand and appreciate the differences between the flours by understanding the differences in the two bread markets and the products that are sold. Here in Australia our dominant method of bread production is instant, or no-time dough method, mainly for the production of soft-white breads. The major characteristic of this is that the mills incorporate high levels of mechanical starch damage. This gives great water absorption and allows for quicker access for enzyme activity to break down starch into simple sugars for consumption by yeast, or quicker activation. The resulting bread has a softer crumb and crust but lacks flavour and aroma due to high levels of oxidation caused by the intensive mixing generally given.
By comparison, in France and other parts of Europe, the predominant method of production is still longer fermentation, either using preferments or the newer style using cold fermentation in either bulk form or in the final-proof stage. As a result, the mills tend to mill more specifically for that flour type, lower mechanical starch damage, softer wheat varieties and higher ash content. This gives plenty to the requirements of the longer fermentation process allowing for lower yeast usage, shorter mixing times and allows for greater development of flavour, aroma, and the crust characteristics that great French breads are known for.
As a result of the development work done by the Louis Lesaffre Cup team, this knowledge will be shared with Laucke Flour Mills and Manildra in order to aid with future flour developments in Australia.
How could this help you?
Times are changing and if our recent trials are any indication then it may not be long before we have this flour type milled here in Australia. There are opportunities that exist and consumer trends and customer demands will hopefully, and ultimately, drive bakers to demand different and better flours for the production of such products.
Through my training I have been making a whole lot of baguettes and putting them on sale and promoting the fact that they’re made using French flour. We have as a result been able to develop not only a market for these products but a unique marketing opportunity that gives a pretty big point of difference between ourselves and competitors. We have people driving vast distances to get these baguettes and also great media interest as well. We have recently changed our croissants over to using French flour as well, again promoting the fact that they contain French flour.