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Experts recommend using a low-protein flour, like Progressive Baker® bread flour, for the best performance in artisan breads. But the level of protein provides only a partial measure of how the flour will perform during baking. The quality of the protein counts too. Best results come when you use a low-protein flour containing high quality protein.
Protein quality refers to the protein's ability to lend a good balance of characteristics such as extensibility, elasticity and fermentation tolerance to the dough. Low-protein flour forms less gluten, creating a dough with less strength. That's good, because it allows you to achieve the desirable crisp crust, fermentation flavor and irregular hole structure that distinguishes artisan breads. However, if the dough is too weak, it won't hold its shape during the final proof.
Wheat itself has no gluten; it contains two types of protein that, when blended with water, form the gluten. A high-quality protein can absorb more water, helping to develop a good dough with less gluten. High-quality protein also gives the dough better fermentation endurance, so it won't collapse if delays prevent you from getting it into the oven exactly on schedule.
No specific test exists for measuring protein quality. It can only be assessed through actual baking tests, where the protein performance of different varieties of flour is compared and evaluated. At our Bake Lab, scientists perform extensive baking tests with every new wheat crop. We conduct some of the most stringent tests in the industry to evaluate the performance of Progressive Baker® flour in many different applications. Our goal is to provide bakers with flours that deliver consistent baking performance, batch after batch.