Finished product texture is ultimately the most important attribute that helps define a product, explains Rob Ostrander, director of technical solutions, Ardent Mills.

It is key in the development process to create a signature product that becomes familiar and becomes associated with the brand or bakery, he says. Ardent Mills offers tailored sourcing and blending capabilities for customers with experienced technical experts who work hand in hand with them to help determine what that finished product’s signature texture will be and help troubleshoot any challenges along the way. 

Retail bakers are experimenting with whole grains, ancient and specialty grains, and ingredients such as chickpea and quinoa to keep up with consumer demand for cleaner label, higher protein and other trends, Ostrander shares.

“However, these ingredients do not have the gluten-forming components that wheat does, which poses a challenge in formulation,” he says. “As these are frequently combined with refined flour, bakers may need to increase protein content. For example, if a retail baker typically works with a flour such as Denrado or Minnesota Girl they may need King Midas Special or Magnifico to help carry the alternative grains and provide great development and cell structure. The higher protein flours also hold up better in long fermentation processes.”

When working with cake flour, he explains, use this flour when you want to carry high sugar and oil or shortening and want a more tender product.

As for all-purpose flour, this flour is versatile and can be used for scones and biscuits or soft rolls. Pastry flour is the preferred soft wheat flour for cookies, brownies, quick breads and muffins without chlorination, Ostrander explains.

There are other options, as well.

“Many times, retail bakers are working in limited space facilities where preblended mixes may be a good choice. These base mixes provide the functional ingredients to which flour, yeast and water are added,” he says. “At Ardent Mills, we have flour and grain blending capabilities with our Innovative Bakery Resources (IBR) plant in Oregon. Additionally, Ardent Mills recently acquired the assets of Firebird Artisan Mills, which expanded our specialty and gluten-free portfolio for customers looking for enhanced offerings.”

Hi-ratio cakes

Tom Santos, a field sales rep at General Mills Foodservice, explains that when making hi-ratio cakes, many bakers use Gold Medal Purasnow. Because of the high amount of liquids used in making cakes, the proper type of flour is important. Cake flour is a lower protein (8.5-9%) winter wheat flour milled and treated to absorb the liquids and produce a tender, moist cake.

For all-purpose flour, this flour is usually milled between 10-11% protein winter wheat, all-purpose flour is aptly named because it is used to make everything from breads, rolls, muffins, cookies and cakes, Santos explains. When used in cakes, it will produce a denser product than cake flour.

Same with bread/rolls, the bread will not be as chewy and firm as using a higher protein flour. Similar story with cookies as they will be slightly less tender than using pastry flour.

“That is why it is named all purpose. It can make just about anything,” Santos says. “This flour is also seen in every restaurant as the base for breading proteins and vegetables.”

Bleached or unbleached

Jeff Yankellow, director of bakery and food services sales at King Arthur Baking, points out that with cake flour, protein and ash will generally be low, and the biggest differentiator will be bleached or unbleached. For cake flour bleaching is used to lower the pH, which is a critical factor for certain formulas. For other formulas there will be an indirect impact but not critical. For others it won’t matter.

In general, Yankellow points out that protein is the go-to standard in the US. “This is good in that it is easy to communicate,” he says. “A baker can assume a lot of things about performance based on the protein. It also allows for an easy understandable language. But it’s far from perfect and is relied on too heavily to indicate performance. Bakers must be aware that protein quantity and protein quality are not mutually inclusive of each other. It is very possible to have flour milled from different wheat, having the same protein content perform very differently. The same one that may work great for one process may be terrible for another, and vice versa.”

The farinograph data for hard wheat flours, which indicates absorption and mixing tolerance, is helpful to some bakeries more than others. There are minimums one would want to see. Large commercial bakeries may make automatic adjustments to their process based on this data. Other bakeries may not pay any attention other than knowing that if the results change drastically the flour may perform differently. They are good indirect indicators of the wheat blend.

My final word, he stipulates, is that numbers are great indicators but baking is the single best way to judge, and baking multiple batches with the same flour over time is even better.

“We should never forget that baking is an art. Flour is one of the primary mediums of the craft. It is always going to be susceptible to changes that we are dealt by mother nature,” Yankellow says.

Drivers of Innovation

Ardent Mills regularly conducts research to understand key drivers and identify new areas of opportunity for innovation. Called our ‘Drivers of Innovation,’ this consumer-centric research has led to a focus on ingredients in the food as medicine and the well and good spaces, explains Matthew Schueller, director of marketing insights & analytics, Ardent Mills.

Within these categories, health, clean label, high protein and keto friendly are all hot topics. In fact, interest in a low-carbohydrate lifestyle continues to grow as consumers seek solutions that match their personal health values and preferences.

And although this market is a great opportunity, it’s also a challenging environment for bakers. Ardent Mills’ Keto-Certified Net Carb Flour Blend provides bakers with uncompromised formulations for keto and low net carb applications, Schueller says.

The “food as medicine” trend is another area of focus for consumers, he says. They are looking for ingredients, foods, beverages and supplements that support gut health and overall well-being. Linked by consumers to immune function, consumers’ approach to supporting a healthy gut is becoming more proactive, as they strive to gain control over their personal health and well-being.

“Within this trend, organic grains are becoming more popular with these consumers, as they perceive organic grains and flours as a ‘healthier’ option,” Schueller says. “They are using organic grains and flour in solutions that may offer functional benefits that may help contribute to gut health, higher fiber and protein and immunity boosters.

“At the same time, there is interest in what we call ‘modern craft,’ which is the desire for irresistibly delicious, high-quality foods. A great example of this is decadent desserts. Ardent Mills has a line of Simply Milled organic white, whole wheat and durum flours that help customers make products to meet these evolving consumer trends.”