Behold my beautiful challah. Nice, huh? I made this challah recipe from “Baking with Julia” for the first time when I was in high school, pre-culinary school. The original recipe calls for “high-gluten flour, bread flour or unbleached all-purpose flour”. Woah nelly! Are those flours all interchangeable? From whole wheat flour, to bread, all-purpose, cake, and pastry flour, in recipes, each produces a different crumb and texture.
Harold McGee, food science pioneer, writes in his book “On Food and Cooking”, “Chew on a small piece of dough, and it becomes more compact but persists as a gum-like, elastic mass, the residue that the chinese named ‘the muscle of flour’ and that we call gluten. It consists mainly of protein, and includes what may well be the largest protein molecules to be found in the natural world.” Gluten content in flour is generally as follows, starting from the highest gluten content: whole wheat flour > bread flour > all-purpose flour > pastry flour > cake flour. High levels of gluten add the elasticity and chewiness you would find in a bagel or a sourdough baguette. Hmm, those things are delicious . . . gluten all around! Actually, McGee writes, “Not all baked goods benefit from a strong, elastic gluten. It’s desirable in yeasted breads, bagels and in puff pastry; but it gives an undesirable toughness to other forms of pastry, to raised cakes, griddle cakes, and cookies. For tender preparations bakers intentionally limit the development of gluten.” This can be accomplished primarily by choosing a low-gluten flour like all-purpose, pastry, or cake flour, by reducing the time kneading, adding more sugar, controlling water content, and by adding fats or oils.
So back to that challah. The dough includes whole milk, eggs, and sugar, indicating that this bread is not a gluten friend. Therefore I would save your money on the harder to find bread flour (Whole Foods) and suggest using all-purpose flour instead.