Originally Posted by CanuckJim
I'm right with you. As you might imagine, I go through a lot of flours and have tried many different types, from fancy durham to spelt, for different applications and customers. Right now, I get all my flours from a place called Grain Enterprises, although I'm working on a few things with one of the local big guns, Dover Mills. I've baked with King Arthur flours and like them very much, but, unfortunately, there is no distributor in Canada, and KA told me "we don't export." Might have something to do with tarriffs and NAFTA. I could order from them myself, but the cost would be prohibitive. And, sure, it's occurred to me that a distributorship here would be an opportunity, but I don't think the time is right yet, and I only have two hands and one head; sometimes vice versa.
I never use supermarket flours for a bunch of reasons, but chief among them is freshness. Here, at least, there's no best before date or mill date on the bags, unlike what I get from Grain Enterprises. (Think additives and shelf life.) My rule is that if you can smell anything at all in a bag of flour, except a hint of grain, dump it because it's turning rancid. I sprint away from bleached, enriched flours, or ones with any additives at all. It's less a health issue than a flavour one, and any kind of additives affect rising. The perfectly risen loaf is difficult enough without this stuff, and, personally, I don't want to eat it if I can't pronounce it. Shelf life is shortened with fresh, unbleached flours, sure, but flour is right up there with water when it comes to ingredients' cost. When you think about it, per gram, salt is more expensive.
Having said that, it's important to remember that flours are very frequently blended by the miller to get what he's after. Caputo Tipo 00 is a case in point; ditto KA's Artisan Bread Flour. Sort of like a vintner, I guess.
For "white" flours, I try to stick with the red wheats, soft or hard winter. These have the highest gluten count and rise predictably well. The best of these are grown on the prairies: Manitoba, Saskatchewan, North Dakota, South Dakota. Good, unbleached hard red winter wheat flour isn't white, more like beige, because only a percentage of the bran has been sifted out. All purpose has its uses, like the Peter Reinhart batard I made yesterday: half AP, half hard white, with a TBS or so of gluten flour added for strength and a pinch of vitamin C (ascorbic acid) for tang. Good crumb and a crunchy crust. For wheat breads, I use the freshest I can get my hands on but find that straight whole wheat does not rise that well without spiking, or a sponge, poolish, biga, what have you. Usually, I find a mix of whole wheat and hard white works best. Or, you can start with a hard white formula and add bran or wheat germ to it (this is where the nutrition resides). The classic French pain au levain formula includes about 10 percent whole wheat and/or rye flour to hard white; then there's meteil rye or seigle rye. Nancy Silverton adds wheat germ to many of her white flour formulas. All are based on differing percentages. The permutations are endless and fascinating.
There are plenty of natural sugars in any good flour; the art is to get them to break out during fermentation, along with enzymes, to get that great taste.
I'll use organic flours, but, for me, the price is very high in a commercial operation. These require the addition of barley malt powder or syrup anyway, and there's a lot of resistance to passing on the cost.
I guess my mantra is freshness equals flavour, additives are anathema. There's nothing at all wrong with white flour, so long as you know what wheats were used and how fresh it is. It's perhaps not as nutritional as wheat flour, but that can be altered at will. Beyond that, I'm still in my infancy regarding which flours where and when and best.