When I moved to Maine, I didn’t think too much about differences between German and American flours.
All-purpose flour was, obviously, your Average Joe among flours. Bread flour was meant for breads. Duh! And whole wheat and rye flours? Stupid question! Exactly the same as German “Vollkornweizen” and “Roggenmehl”.
But then I saw something called “Cake Flour” at Hannaford’s. Hm…. a special flour for cake baking, why that? Then there was “White Whole Wheat” – really, white? My chemical alert siren went off! Was it bleached and bromated like some of the flour brands in the baking aisle? (Don’t worry, it’s a special kind of albino winter wheat.)
I started wondering about different flour types only after I tried to bake “Brötchen” – German everyday rolls. Thanks to Peter Reinhart’s “Bread Baker’s Apprentice” I already knew the merits of slow fermentation, and that steam was needed to create a good crust.
But, though my German Brötchen were not bad, something, somehow, was not right. The crumb was totally different from what I was used to in Germany. Not loose and fluffy that you could easily pull it out, but chewier, with larger pores, more like French bread.
After a while it dawned on me that US-wheat has much more protein than European wheat species. The flour contains significantly more gluten, so that the dough has a more stable structure, and breads rise higher. My German-American rolls were suffering from hyper-glutenism!
In The Fresh Loaf forum for hobby bakers I read later that many Americans, interested in baking German Brötchen, were utterly puzzled by this problem.
During a visit in Germany, my friend Ingrid asked me to bake those baguettes I had raved about on the phone. I went to her supermarket’s baking aisle, and – found myself as clueless as before in Maine!
Never having baked any breads in Germany (only cakes and Christmas cookies), I could only imagine that the German all-purpose flour, Weizenmehl Type 405, probably wouldn’t be the right thing. I knew Vollkornweizen (whole wheat). But all those other flour types – Type 550, 1050, 1700 – what about them?
I had not the slightest idea, and the descriptions on the packages didn’t much to enlighten me, either. The type numbers refer to ash content, not protein. If you incinerate your flour – this is what you would be left with (along with a barking dog, crazed by the smoke alarm.)
After serious consideration I decided on Type 1050 – it had to have more gluten than softie flour 405, but surely less than the highest numbered flour, Type 1700, whole wheat. I didn’t realize that a medium type, like 1050, would just be sifted, with some of the bran removed, and a bit lighter.
So, what happened? My Pains a l’Ancienne turned out much healthier than planned – after all, they contained a good portion of bran. But even though they were flatter and darker than they should have been, they tasted very good. And my friend Ingrid was happy.
WHEAT – Approximate Equivalents between US and European flours
|US Flour||D||F||I||AT||% Protein|
|Whole Wheat||1600 |
*) Substitute: 77% Bread Flour + 23% Whole Wheat
**) Substitute: 57% Bread Flour + 43% Whole Wheat
In Austria there is also another differentiation: the “Griffigkeit” of the flour – how the flour particles feel like when you rub them between your fingers: griffiges Mehl (Dunst and Feingriess) is coarser than flour, but finer than semolina. Doppelgriffiges Mehl (= Dunst) is especially used for fine pastry, pasta and strudel. It has a high content of bran – I would substitute with whole wheat pastry flour or a mixture of pastry/whole wheat pastry. Glattes Mehl, smooth flour, is the equivalent of cake flour.
SPELT – US-Equivalents of German and Austrian Flours
|White Spelt||Type 630||Type 630|
57% White Spelt
+ 43% Whole Spelt
|Type 1050||Type 1050|
|Whole Spelt||Type 1600/|
France and Italy don’t have sifted, lighter, spelt flour types.
Whole spelt you may find in supermarkets with very good selection or in natural food stores. White spelt you can to mail order from specialty stores. In Germany both are more readily available, also high-extraction spelt (no equivalent in the US, but you can substitute a mixture, see above).
RYE – US-Equivalents of German, French and Austrian Flours
|White Rye||Type 815||70||R/500|
82% White Rye
+ 18% Whole Rye
66% White Rye
+ 34% Whole Rye
|Medium Rye||Type 1370||–||–|
|Whole Rye||Type 1800|
Most American supermarkets carry only whole rye flour – if they offer it at all. White rye and medium rye can be ordered from online baking stores (like King Arthur Flour or New York Bakers here in the Northeast). For the lighter medium rye types you can substitute a mixture (see above).
Medium ground rye meal aka pumpernickel flour is sometimes available in natural food stores and can be mail-ordered. For coarser rye chops/cracked rye there is only DIY (if you own a grain mill.)
Ancient grains, like Einkorn, Emmer and Kamut, recently made a comeback in the US. In my new home state Maine a real grain renaissance has happened, vigorously supported by the Maine Grain Alliance and their annual Kneading Conference.
This post – originally published in 2012 – has been updated, completely re-written. and the tables formatted for better visibility.