We all know the benefit of good quality bread flour, which has a protein strength sufficient to make robust gluten that assures the baker a well risen and handsome loaf. This is what we know to expect in typical English bread flour. However, there are occasions when the strength of the gluten in strong bread flour will undermine what you are setting out to do.
Take, for example, the Danish pastries shown here in the photo – the type based on the folded square. They were made on my recent Patisserie – Viennoiserie course. When the flour is too strong, the folded sides unfold again when they are proving, or when they meet the shock of the oven. The gluten has not become totally relaxed and its propensity to be elastic has defeated your purpose as the pretty folded envelopes unfold to become failed flat things with their filling totally exposed.
The solution is two-fold: (i) weaken the flour by adding a good portion of plain flour to the bread flour; (ii) complete the making of the slab of Danish pastry many hours before you are going to use it, and let it sit in the refrigerator to relax fully.
In both the above solutions you are employing a tactic to beat the component of the gluten in the bread flour that gives it elasticity, wherein lies its strength and firm pull. By parking it in the fridge overnight after completing all the folds and laminations, it will have many hours to relax, and there will be less elasticity, less risk of the square shapes opening out.
The solution (i) is also achieved by simply learning about all the flours available on the market so that you have flours of weaker protein (and gluten of course) in your store. Flours of merely 10-11% protein will often suit your purpose, and imported European flours are suitable because their characteristics feature more pronounced extensibility of gluten rather than powerful elasticity and strength.
This discussion centred around Danish pastries is echoed when you think about pizza. I always get the students at PANARY to add plain flour to the strong bread flour when they are making pizzas all in one morning session (meaning they are not able to be parked in the fridge for 12 hours). The strong and bucky gluten in the bread flour is fighting you when you are trying to flatten the pizza into a thin disc, so something has to be done to render it less elastic, meaning weaker. Regarding imported flour, those famous Italian pizza making flours that you come across in specialist outlets here are surprisingly high in the actual protein count, but they are astonishingly stretchy (extensibility), and have so little elasticity that they are a dream to work with. That’s mother nature for you – European flour is big on extensibility, short on tough elasticity.
Yes, Panarians, the world of flour is diverse and exciting.