Now that I’m settled in my winter enclave, I’m ready to start baking again – Task one, go out and find some “real” flour for bread. Non-bakers will not understand that the stuff sold at the local grocery simply won’t make superior bread, and frankly, I’m not going to apply all I know about baking to a loaf that I know won’t be as good as it should be simply because of using a mediocre flour – it’s amazing how much of a difference a good flour can make in home baking!
So I took myself down to the local Publix -where shopping is a pleasure- to see what they might have. Now, Publix is Florida’s upscale major food market – everyone knows the prices are a little higher, but also know that the quality will be better too – so I fully expected that I’d find a few upscale brands of flour – and I did. Publix carries King Arthur flours, a superior flour, but at a superior price ($3.89 for 5 lbs). I bought it, but I wasn’t happy.
Now, I’ve been spoiled – back home, I get my flour at a restaurant supply store – superior bread flour for about $23 for 50 lbs – good flour/good price! So I tried the local restaurant supply places here – each one I checked had the same policy – no sales to the general public, only other businesses. Even Costco struck out, since all their flour offerings were bleached, and I simply won’t use a bleached flour for my baking. Southern commercial conspiracy!
But Florida also seems to have more “discount” stores than out west – these often serve as outlets for merchandise that’s outdated, damaged, or just old. Food is often an offering, and although the prices are often super cheap, there’s often a good reason for that fact – so it’s clearly, “Buyer Beware”. I just happened to pop in to one of these stores in the neighborhood, mostly because they had a sign out front that said, “Flour – $1.49/10 lbs.”. As I entered, I encountered a huge stack of 10 lb. bags of Eagle Mills All Purpose Flour with Ultragrain. Frankly, I had expected a no-name brand, or at best, a name brand with an issue. But, Eagle Mills is a respected brand -howbeit, a member of the Continental Mills family, one of the minor players in the food conglomerate industry- so I bit and got a bag to try.
Back at the house, I did a quick and dirty web research and discovered that Ultragrain is a current Con Agra project, and is a relatively new (2007) development of a new hard white wheat grain coupled with a new milling process that grinds the whole grain more finely. Ultragrain is generally not used by itself, but is usually blended with a white flour, as in this case with the Eagle Mills All Purpose Flour. The result is a flour which looks much like a white flour but which retains all the qualities and nutrition of a whole wheat. Because of the finer texture, it does not suffer the gluten degradation to the extent that regular whole wheat does, and therefore proofs much like a regular all purpose flour. Additionally, although it looks and acts much as a ordinary all purpose flour, its protein and fiber counts are higher than regular white flour, making it a worthy replacement for AP for many baking purposes. It apparently has received a warm welcome in the baking community, and its commercial applications are increasing rapidly.
I haven’t used this flour for any baking yet, but I sure will very soon – and I’ll certainly be back here with the results when I do. But, of course, the jury is still out on just why this respected product is showing up in a food “after-market”. I do a lot of shopping in these places and I know that there’s always a reason why a product is there. Sometimes it’s just junk and cheap – lots of folks have a taste for this stuff, but I give it a pass. Sometimes quality brands show up because they are outdated, have been damaged in some way, or have been discontinued – and rather than just trash them, the manufacturer chooses to unload them in the food aftermarket, where it’s unlikely his regular customers will notice. It is at this level that I often find the best offerings, and the shopper needs to be alert to the manufacturer’s motivations – if the manufacturer is protecting the good name of a high quality product, he may choose to pull it from the shelves early, and unload it to the discounters, while it still has a reasonable shelf life. It’s my hope that’s what’s happening here. The “sell by” date on my Eagle Mills Ultragrain flour is July, ’10, which for a whole grain flour is reasonable and would indicate that the manufacturer is being ultra-cautious, or perhaps this product is about to be discontinued.
I’ll know a lot more after I bake with it – I’ll let you know.