Bleached vs. Unbleached Flour…

As we all know, in baking, there is not very much room for improvising. When you’re cooking, you can add a dash of this here and there, estimate your ingredients for the most part and generally, it will turn out the way it’s supposed to. You’ve seen how those Iron Chefs just throw ingredients around and it’s perfect…When it comes to baking, you absolutely must measure your ingredients to get the desired results. Baking is picky…and even scoffs at any variation of ingredients not called for in any given recipe. Baking is slightly snobby.

This past Thanksgiving, I offered to make both pies for our family’s celebration at my parent’s house. I had all my wonderful new baking gadgets from our wedding and I was thrilled to use them. I’ve never had an issue with grandma’s pie crust recipe in the past and my mom claims it’s foolproof.  The night before I had made a pie for Brendan’s family celebration as well, and there was just something not quite right with the crust. It was very soft, and fell apart on me not matter what I did and was sticking to my mat no matter how much I floured it. It had a very odd texture and the color was very light when it came out of the oven. I managed to patch it together for the pumpkin pie, but something just didn’t seem right. It even tasted a bit off. I blamed it on being a little sloppy during my measuring. (slap on wrist)

The next day, I set out to begin my double pie making for our next Thanksgiving celebration. I measured everything EXACTLY. Refrigerated it even more than it called for, and started rolling it out. FAIL. I scrapped it. Tried again. DOUBLE FAIL. What in the world was going on? The tears started welling up in my eyes…and I went to the source. My mom. What on Earth was going wrong? She couldn’t figure it out, but she was already whipping up a batch of pie crust at home and was on her way over.

One look at her pie crust and something was different. It was more of  beige color, less bright white, it had elasticity that my crust didn’t have, and it rolled out like a dream. We couldn’t figure out what the difference was…then we took a look at my flour. It was Bleached. I have always bought unbleached flour, because that’s what my mom has always used. I have never even contemplated buying bleached.

Clearly, I wasn’t paying attention last time I was at Lund’s.

There is just something so wrong about consuming something that has been chemically altered to be…pretty. We looked at the texture of the flour and it was different. It was a finer texture and a different color. I immediately Googled bleached vs. unbleached flour, and there it was in a Cooks’ Illustrated online forum:

“The chemical bleaching of flour changes the way the proteins form gluten and absorb water. Because of these differences, bleached vs. unbleached may react in a slightly different manner.”

In this case, I needed the untreated, natural gluten to make my pie crust stay together…and the chemicals had destroyed that for the most part. As I thought back a few weeks…my crepes fell apart, my Swedish pancakes were a mushier texture…and it was all because of the bleached flour. See? I knew there wasn’t anything good about it…

Warning: using the wrong ingredients (even if you don’t know it…) may cause broken pie crusts, tears, and a Thanksgiving Eve breakdown. Thank goodness for my mother who came to my rescue.

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