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All-Purpose Flour Sourdough Bread

No bread flour due to the pandemic? All-purpose flour lives up to its name.

Due to the pandemic, I go to the grocery store only one day a week. Each time I walk the aisles in my mask, I look in the baking section for bread flour. Unfortunately, in the eight weeks I’ve been sheltering in place there has been scant bread flour. Recently though, there’s been an uptick in all-purpose and specialty flours like spelt, oat, and rye.

Since I’m quickly running out of my supply of bread flour, I decided to conduct an experiment–build a bread using only lower-gluten flours. Could it be done? I had hope.

I took my basic bread recipe, which normally uses bread flour, whole wheat flour, and dark rye flour, but replaced bread flour with all-purpose flour and whole wheat flour with spelt. These flours don’t have high gluten content.

Sloppy Baker’s Tip: For the uninitiated, spelt is an ancient wheat, cultivated since about 5000 B.C. and a food staple in Europe from the Bronze Age through Medieval times. Don’t expect to find it in a big paper package like typical flours; it’s often in the specialty/natural foods section of the grocery store and comes in a pouch about the size of a bag of candy.

The dough was much more slack and sticky than higher-gluten versions, and required more stretch and folds to build up the gluten and smooth out the dough. As I stretched out the dough, it tended to tear, even later in the process. The difference was noticeable.

Sloppy Baker’s Tip: Even though the dough tears a little, don’t be afraid to stretch the dough and treat it a little roughly. You’ll need to really work the dough to build up the gluten.

After the stretch and folds, I covered the bowl and let the dough ferment on the counter for a couple hours until small bubbles began to appear on the surface.

The preshape went as planned, at least initially. I poured the dough (which still seemed slack) onto the counter and did my preshape as normal. I was able to get nice domed loaves, but within about 15 minutes the domes flattened and spread. Everything seemed off and I figured the bread would fail. Still, I soldiered on.

When I stretched the dough for shaping, it felt very loose with little elasticity. Normally, my dough feels like it wants to spring back to where it came from, but not this bread. Still, I shaped the dough as I normally would and made a nice boule, which I placed in a bowl, covered, and let prove overnight in the fridge.

This morning, I preheated the oven and Dutch oven to 490 degrees, scored the bread, and baked as usual–20 minutes covered at 475 degrees, then uncovered and reduced to the temp to 450 degrees. The resulting loaves are pretty. They had a nice little oven spring and good color, but are a little smaller than sourdough made with bread flour.

The crumb is soft and a little less chewy than other sourdoughs. All in all, a nice bread.

It seems they really mean it when they call all-purpose flour all purpose. No bread flour? No problem.


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