A Self-indulgent Rant About Ingredients

If you’re just here for recipes, you can click away now. This post is just going to be about ingredients and technique. And whether I’m cheating or not.

Yesterday I posted my latest pizza crust recipe. In it, I confirmed my idea from the last time I made it that high gluten flour — or “bread flour” — makes a huge difference in the texture of the dough. Gluten is a protein that forms long strands in the dough, trapping gas from the yeast, leading to higher rising, and also producing a chewier texture.

Now this was the third time I’ve posted about making pizza crust. (The other time was actually for calzones, but it was the same recipe.) And I’ve made bread several other times with all-purpose flour, up until my first try with bread flour when I made the rye bread.

So while I’m not an expert, I think I’m qualified to say whether the bread flour makes a difference in the texture of the dough. But apparently, I’m just cheating. I got this comment on the pizza crust recipe:

“baking” flour or “high gluten” flour are crutches. sufficient kneading will accomplish the same result
if you’re taking the time to cook from scratch, doesn’t your food deserve the attention of a full, and proper knead?

Let me start by admitting that I don’t know anything about the person who wrote this. They may actually be a world-class baker, and my feeble attempts are offending their sensibilities. But all I have to go on is what’s in the comment. So let’s see what I can learn from it?

First, is “baking” flour the same as “bread flour”, or is it “cake flour”? Because cake flour is actually lower in gluten. It is used when you want a crumbly texture, instead of the chewiness of bread. That can’t be what my commenter meant, can it?

Okay, so how about calling high gluten flour a crutch? Kneading is required to develop the gluten in flour. However, all-purpose flour simply doesn’t have as much gluten as … well, high gluten flour. Seems kind of obvious, even if you haven’t researched it.

So can you achieve the same texture by sufficient kneading of all-purpose flour to match the texture of high gluten flour? Well, excessive kneading will eventually make the dough tough, regardless of what kind of flour you started with. So there is some point at which you have developed all the gluten you can, and any more kneading will be counter-productive. If you go to this point with both all-purpose and high gluten flour, the high gluten will have — can you guess? — that’s right, more gluten!

Maybe after explaining how “full, and proper” kneading can turn one kind of flour into another kind of flour, my commenter can explain how you can replace butter in recipes with milk. After all, they’re both dairy products. Using “high fat milk” (yes, butter) is cheating, after all.

Or maybe we’ll learn that garlic, onions, and tulip bulbs are interchangeable in recipes. They are all plant bulbs, you know.
Am I overreacting? Possibly. But I take exception to the comment, “if you’re taking the time to cook from scratch, doesn’t your food deserve the attention.” I make my own bread crumbs. I make my own pasta. I make my own mayonnaise for Pete’s sake! I give it the attention it deserves.

If you want to tell me I’m cheating because I use an immersion blender for the mayo instead of doing it by hand, fine. I’ll admit I’m using a shortcut, and you could get the same result by hand. Then I’ll keep using the blender.

But tell me that you can turn one kind of flour into another kind by giving it the attention it deserves? That’s just being disagreeable. And might I suggest, if you think I don’t give food the attention it deserves, that you don’t waste any more of your valuable time reading my blog.
Thanks to everyone else who has commented on my ongoing learning experience with yeast breads. I truly appreciate every constructive suggestion, which has helped me get to where I’m finally happy with what I’m making. I’m sorry all of you had to see this. I’ll be back tomorrow with … hmm, let’s see … how about a bread recipe?