Friday, February 13, 2015

Testing the Flour

I am no food blogger.  I like a good recipe.  I am happy to trust experts in all fields, and cooking is no exception.  Fabulous folks create and test fabulous recipes, and I take those recipes and make delicious food.  Good enough for me.

The problem:  those recipes keep failing in Jakarta.

Tried and true recipes, ones I've made for years, these recipes keep falling flat in Jakarta.  Simple things like lemon bars turn out caramelized - kind of delicious, really, but absolutely not presentable.  And more complex things like yeast coffee cake don't rise, and sit on the plate small, dense and full of butter.  Don't get me wrong - butter is delicious.  But Grammy's cardamom coffeecake is basically flour, yeast, butter and cinnamon sugar.  When the flour and yeast don't work, you're just eating densely packed butter and cinnamon sugar.

Chatting with baker friends have raised a few issues.  The butter here may be denser, with more butter fat than in the US.  The sugar here is thicker, less granulated.  And the flour here is somehow wrong.

So, we can add a bit less butter.  We can run the sugar through the food processor.  But what is the problem with the flour?  How do we adjust for flour being somehow wrong?  I'm not inclined to believe that it is low quality.  I've happily baked with store brand flour in the states and with King Arthur Flour - quite honestly, I never noticed a difference.

Today, we ran a test.

Dave received a food scale for Christmas - a toy for making different pizza crusts, a skill where Dave has begun to excel.  Today's brownies called for 1 1/2 cups of flour, and specified that would be 6.25 ounces.  I measured out the flour in Gold Medal from the US and in Segitiga Biru from Indonesia.  Here are the results:

Indonesian flour unsifted and sifted - 6.4 ounces
US flour unsifted - 7 ounces
US flour sifted - 6 ounces

So, this little project got us absolutely nowhere.  As it turns out, the Indonesian flour came the closest to the appropriate measures. We had theorized that Indonesian flour was somehow lighter than US flour, likely from the sifting process.  This does seem true - the US flour was notably different after we sifted it.  But the Indonesian flour also seems to measure true to recipes, and the US flour does not.  That being true, Indonesian flour ought to work more reliably than Gold Medal.

This is why I am not a food blogger.  I am no scientist, and my rambling results above leave me wanting to dust off my hands and then throw them up in the air.

But no!  Because I don't want to spend twice as much on imported flour, I will press on!  The next experiment - baking the same recipe side by side.  The brownies currently in the oven promise to be amazing.  And also include butter, sugar and flour in very prominent roles.  On my next free day, I'm making two batches of these amazing brownies, and comparing the results.

Anyone who drops by that afternoon will be forced to try two different brownies and analyze the results.  Should be a good day :)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

My guess is that there is a difference between the gluten (protein) content of the flours. I don't know how you would be able to confirm this hypothesis (perhaps it says on the label?), but I'm not sure it would come across through weighing-- humidity and extra air are generally what cause the same volumes to weigh different amounts.