Join Date: Aug 2004
Musings on flour for those who want to go deeper, or, flour discussion
I have some thoughts about flour and all things made from flour based on personal observation, and a bit of science. I believe I feel a discussion coming on.
Observation 1: Cookies in the category of waterless dough, with lots of fat invariably come out thin and either soft and chewy or hard. This is due to a couple of factors. First, there are two main protien componants in flour. Before water is added, the flour can be jostled, stirred, combined with any dry ingredients, and/or fats, without the proteins joining together to form gluten. That is, there is no rubbery texture to the dough wherein it can capture any carbon dioxide to leven the dough. Therefore, as the dough is heated, the sugars caramelize, the starches brown, and oxidize, and the fat melts, carrying the flour particulate with it into a flat disk. The chewy texture is due to the syrupy nature of the cooked sugars combined with the egg and flour.
To make that same cookie lighter and more airy, and more tender, water msut be added to the recipe so that the protiens can combine to form gluten. Also, the starches will absorb some of that water, softening the particles into a more cake-like structure. And finally, the amount of time the cookie is baked will determine how much moisture is evaporated from the end product. Too much heat will overcook the ingredients, giving you a hard, but loftier cookie from the water-included batter. The cookie will rise properly, but will harden as the water evaporates and the starches sollidify. The texture will be much like shortbread. If not overcooked, the cookies will be softer, as well as fluffier.
This also works with pie crust. Until water is added to the pie dough, you can continue working it until your fingers fall off. This will not affect the tenderness of the pie crust as again there is no water to facillitate the combination of the protiens into gluten. After the water is added, the gluten will develop as the dough is worked, giving you a tough crust. Also, cold water is used in pie crust to help keep the individual "crust pebbles" formed when cutting the fat into the flour, from combining into a homogenous mass. That is, the cold water will help keep the fat seperated, even when the dough is rolled out. You will have a loose bonding of flatened granuals, or flakes, that will barely stick together, especially when using lard, due to the fact that lard remains more firm at higher temperatures than does butter.
After the water is added, the gluten begins to form and the starches start to stick together. As the dough is worked, it turns into a contiuous, homogenous mass, made tough by the rubbery gluten.
Now with breads, less fat is used, while more water is incorporated into the flour. This develops the gluten while the starches absorb even more water, making them softer. The gluten is rubbery, but not hard, and creates many little gas chabers, like little balloons, in the dough, giving bread its characteristic texture. Thus, the higher the protien content of the flour, the stronger is the gluten, and the larger the bubbles can become (as in a good artisan French bread). But contrary to intuition, it isn;t the water in the bread that makes it moist, but rather, it's the oil absorbed into the dough. Much of the water evaporates out during the cooking process, while alost 100% of the oil remains. Of course, there is still some water. This can be proved by leaving a piece of bread exposed to air for a while. As the moisture evaporates, the bread becomes hard.
Cakes have such a fine and delicate nature because there is so much less protien in the flour used to make them. Just enough gluten is develped to all the cake to rise. But it will collapse easil until the starch structures partially solidify enough to hold the cake shape.
One more thing, though all purpose flour is called for in most cookie recipes, it has less protien in it than did all purpose flour when many of these recipes were created. If a combination of bread and all purpose flour are used, then the cookies will benefit and rise better.
Ok, I got it off my chest. The floor is now open to comments.
Seeeeeeya; Goodweed of the North
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