OverviewAt the most basic level, wheat grain is put through a mill, which produces a white-ish powder flour... Well, actually it's not quite that simple.
First of all we need to distinguish between the different grains that can be made into flour: wheat of course, but also rye, barley, buckwheat, etc. So we use "flour" (pure and simple) to mean wheat flour, then talk of rye flour, barley flour, buckwheat flour, chestnut flour, etc.
TypeThen a further distinction is made according to how much of the outside of the grain (bran) is left in. The purest, whitest flour (but not inevitably the best), contains only the inner part of the grain, the others contain a variable proportion of bran, right up to whole: wholemeal flour.
In France this proportion of bran included is indicated by a type (T). This number indicates the ash ratio of the flour, the proportion of minerals remaining after the flour has been burned at 900°C. The higher this number is, the higher the proportion of bran there is in the flour. This table summarises the main types of flour and their uses:
|Type or "T"||Called||Usage|
|45||Cakes and pastries|
|55||Courante||Breads and viennoiseries|
|65||Breads and viennoiseries|
|110||Wheatmeal||Wholemeal and speciality breads|
|150||Wholemeal||Wholemeal and speciality breads|
|Type or "T"||Called||Usage|
Milling methodA third distinction can be made according to the milling method. If nothing is indicated, it means that the flour has beeen made by industrial steel mills. If it's labelled "de meule" (stone-ground) it means that the flour has been ground using real millstones which give it a special flavour (and price, which is to be expected).
OrganicIn addition, "organic" quality ensures that flour is of high quality, without chemical products used on the grain, or added after milling.
It's so complicated...Yes, as you can see it's a professional classification system and beginners can get lost in the jungle of numbers. To avoid that, in answer to the question "Which flour should I use?" we can summarize simply as follows:
- I'm making a cake or pastry: use T45 if possible, otherwise T65 is fine
- I'm making bread: use T55 minimum, ideally T65 up to T80.
- I'm making a speciality bread: use T80 and above.
[Translator's note: Both the UK and USA use "strong" flours for breadmaking. French flour grades do not correspond exactly to UK types, but are at least fairly close the the US percentage system for "soft" flours.]
Where to buy flour?As soon as you need a flour that's a little out of the ordinary, it's difficult to find it in the local supermarket. The best way is to look in yellow pages to find flour-mills, then call to find out if they will supply to individual customers (See about that my best addresses page). This is ofen the case now because of the widespread use of bread-making machines.
You may well be able to buy a range of several different flours at cheap prices, and if you're lucky you can chat with the miller, which is always a good and instructive experience.