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Differences between Flour in America and Flour in Israel

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For those baking in America, did you ever wonder why your Jerusalem friend's rugelach recipe is not working for you? And for those baking in Israel, did you ever wonder why the knish recipe in your American cookbook isn't succeeding?

Jay Engelmayer, Senior Culinary Lecturer for the Jerusalem Culinary Institute, has been experimenting with the different flours in America and Israel. He explains the differences between American and Israeli (and often European) flour. And he suggests which adjustments to make when using an Israeli recipe in America or baking in Israel with an American cookbook.

Q: Is the main difference between Israeli and American flour a matter of different amounts of gluten?

A: No. The flour in America has also been processed more, from bleaching and bromating to adding additional gluten. All purpose flour in Israel bakes like an unbleached, un-bromated, "organic" style flour that one might find in the U.S.

Q: If an American recipe calls for 1 cup of all-purpose flour, what should someone baking in Israel use?

A: Typically, I have found that adding 1-1 1/2 tablespoons of raw gluten powder (it needs to be sifted into the flour or it will not work well) would allow for the same or very similar results

Q: If an Israeli recipe calls for 1 cup of all-purpose flour, what should someone baking in America use?

A: Use a brand like Heckers which is more natural and has higher protein content than most all purpose flours (like Pillsbury). If Heckers is not available, use organic fine ground flour with no additives.

Q: In Israel, what is the difference between all-purpose flour and cake flour?

A: Cake flour typically has leavening agents such as baking powder in it so as to give it extra lift. I try not to use this type of flour at all because it is hard to know exactly how much baking powder they added. Each brand of cake flour in Israel has its own formula with slightly different amounts of leavening agents.

Q: After experimenting with the differences between American and Israeli flour, what conclusions have you reached?

A: Flour is certainly not flour. While a carrot may be a carrot, flour is not flour. Each brand of flour differs according to how it is processed. And as baking is a science, each addition or subtraction of additives in the flour can affect the outcome of the recipe.

Many people will see acceptable results with all kinds of flour. But in the four star world, "acceptable" is not always acceptable. In Manhattan, I saw pastry chefs cutting their own flour according to their own special formula. Gluten, baking powder and in some cases strange even potassium bromate (which helps in the fermenting of dough) could be a part of their formula.

I believe that anyone who bakes often at home should become familiar with different flours. If you usually bake cookies with an all purpose flour, try using a different kind of flour like a cake flour or even a high gluten flour. Using the same recipe, you will get different results. You might prefer one over the other. Also, for those who have the patience, experiment with ordinary flour by adding a little of this and that to make your own baking mix. Aside from being a fun scientific "trip", it will help you gain a better understanding of baking by dissecting and in theory recreating the core ingredient.

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