(1) Yes. It is still flour, right?
(2) No. They sell bread flour for such stuff.
(3) Maybe. When I don't have anything else on hand.
(4) I don't make bread.
If your answer is (4), what are you waiting for? Start making already! Or bribe somebody to make it for you. For your info, I can be that somebody. Or get one of those bread maker machines, despite that they yield funnily shaped loaves.
The question seems like a no-brainer to me. Or maybe I am too simplistic. If I am making bread, I would go for bread flour. Ditto for cake, unless the recipe specifically calls for plain flour. The world is now so spoon fed, so don't fight it. Just go with the flow. You following me?
Now, I would like to point you to last Sunday's article which appeared on the "Ask The Foodie".
Perhaps due to space constrains the columnist was not able to write more on the subject. His article probably isn't as lucrative as advertisments from clients such as West Coast Plaza. So I want to share a few of my thoughts and notes on this matter.
I usually make a loaf of the so-called "Asian preferred bread" with only 7 ingredients: bread flour, plain flour, instant yeast, salt, sugar, milk, and butter. I knock out most of the Western breads and pizzas with bread flour as well.
Why? It is not just because the flour has been labelled so. It is because of the higher protein content in the flour that provides a better crumb structure for a well risen yeasted bread.
Here's a quick science lesson on bread making: "When water is added to flour, two proteins, glutenin and gliadin, combine to form gluten. Gluten forms a network of proteins that stretch through the dough like a web, trapping air bubbles that form as the yeast ferments. This creates the characteristic air holes of perfect bread." So obviously the higher the level of protein, the stronger the gluten network.
So let's compare the various types of white flour that are commonly used in general baking.
~ Plain Flour (aka All-purpose Flour) ~
This flour is a blend of hard and soft wheat, which may come bleached or unbleached. Protein levels range between 8% to 11%. Flour that is bleached naturally as it ages is labeled "unbleached," while chemically treated flour is labeled "bleached." Bleached flour has less protein than unbleached. Unfortunately, in this part of the world we are left to hazard a guess on whether our plain flour is bleached or not. Free chemicals with your flour? How nice.
~ Bread Flour ~
This flour is white flour made from hard, high-protein wheat. It has more gluten strength and protein content than plain flour. It is unbleached and sometimes conditioned with ascorbic acid, which increases volume and creates better texture. Protein levels range between 12% to 14%.
~ Self-rasing Flour ~
Self-rising flour, sometimes referred to as phosphated flour, is a low-protein flour with salt and leavening (baking powder) already added. It's most often recommended for biscuits and some quick breads, but never for yeast breads. Exact formulas, including the type of baking powder used, vary by manufacturer. Recipes that call for self-rising flour do not call for the addition of salt or leavening agents.
~ Cake Flour ~
Cake flour is a fine-textured, soft-wheat flour with a high starch content. It has the lowest protein content of any wheat flour, 8% to 10% protein. It is chlorinated by way of bleaching which leaves the flour slightly acidic, sets a cake faster and distributes fat more evenly through the batter to improve texture. When you're making baked goods with a high ratio of sugar to flour, this flour will be better able to hold its rise and will be less likely to collapse. This flour is excellent for baking fine-textured cakes with greater volume and is used in some quick breads, muffins and cookies.
In summary, when making bread go with bread flour, or plain flour if you are confident of the quality. Let's move on to the next ingredient mentioned in question - yeast.
I am just guessing that the lady asking the question must have been using active dry yeast since she added the yeast to a water and sugar solution. This step is unnecessary for instant yeast since it is genetically engineered from different strains of yeast tailored for bread making. I just add them to the flour directly in the mixing bowl. I love shortcuts. And since instant yeast is genetically engineered, it is more potent than other types of bread making yeast, hence you will need lesser amount (25% lesser than active dry yeast). Lesser yeast in the dough, lower chance of an overly yeasty smelling bread.
So how much yeast to use in a loaf?
The columnist pointed out that you will require 1.5g of yeast for every 100g of flour. That's 1.5% yeast-to-flour ratio.
By the way, for more serious bread making, I prefer to deal with metric measurements (e.g. grams or ounces) than volumetric (e.g. teaspoon or cups). Reason? The bread baker's ratio. For more info on this ratio, head over to Cookistry. But when I am in a casual mode, I'm not too bothered by this.
A quick comparison with my previous loaves, you will find that my Soft White Bread II formula calls for a 1.3% yeast-to-flour ratio while my Fluffy White Bread has a 1.2% ratio.
So my theory is that if you use the right flour, you will need less yeast to achive the aeration of a fluffy white bread and hence the lower chance of a yeasty smelling bread.
Other scrapes of notes
Yeast Still Alive? As I mentioned above, I use instant yeast which I add directly to the flour without proofing it in sugar solution. The downside of this shortcut is that you can't be entirely sure if the yeast is still alive until it is too late. So do check your yeast occasionally, especially if you haven't used it recently. Expiry dates aren't quite useful if the opened container of yeast haven't been stored properly. I use Bake King Instant Yeast and keep the opened bottle in the fridge.
Bread Flour. Not all bread flour are created equal. So the quality varies among manufacturers. I use Bake King Bread Flour with good results. I'm hoping to try other brands, if and when I do find them.
Wholemeal Flour. When adding wholemeal flour into dough, I tend to notice that the dough comes together more quickly and drier. This is a good addition to increase the nutrition level of the bread. I like to swap just a scant 10% of total flour used for wholemeal. I am still very much a white bread person. I use Prima Wholemeal Flour since it is the only wholemeal flour available at most supermarkets.
Lastly, the article refer readers to check out books from Peter Reinhart, which I would like to point to a specific book of his - The Bread Baker's Apprentice. Really excellent book and easy to understand. There even seems to be some sort of a cult following for the book which they have codenamed it BBA.
Other books I would recommend for understanding the breadmaking process: Baking Illustrated and Dough.
Baking Illustrated covers more than just breadmaking but the notes preceeding each bread recipe provide information to make a better bread. But do note that measurements for the ingredients here are volumetric and recipes are for Western breads.
My breadmaking finally made a breakthrough after I had read Dough and watched Richard Bertinet knead an ultra wet dough confidently on DVD. My view on breadmaking was radically changed. I used to think that baking a bread was almost equivalent to performing a pin-hole surgery - everything must be precise. If you ask me again today what I think of breadmaking. I will tell you this: it is VERY accomodating. No mixer? Just knead by hand. Dough too wet? Add more flour. Dough too dry? Add more liquid of your choice. Can't bake now? Let the dough sit out longer. This book contains many recipes for European style bread.
However, to make those fluffy and cottony white breads, I usually look to the Japanese website Cookpad for recipes. Even if you don't read Japanese, do check some of the recipes as they provide step-by-step photos. The measurements are mostly metric and they tend to bake smaller loaves. Most of my bread recipes come from there.
This is not a paid post for any of the brands nor books mentioned above. It is just my personal preference.