If you’d asked me ten years ago whether I thought I could ever get excited over a bag of flour, I’d have died laughing. No way! I mean, come on - are you serious? A bag of what? My thoughts on flour (not that I ever lost any sleep over them then) were more along the lines of, “Where the hell is it?” in a supermarket rather than of an ecstatic, jump-up-and-down-with-glee sort of variety.
But that was before I came across an old, slightly dog-eared copy of Rose Levy Beranbaum’s Cake Bible in a second-hand shop in Kirkcudbright. That was back in 2007. I soon became embroiled in a search to find a replacement for the bleached cake flour that seemed to be so crucial to the success of her most-raved-about recipes. Not that I’m obsessive or anything. Just saying …
I couldn’t simply ship in a whole load of cake flour from the US because the bleaching of flour had been prohibited in the UK since 1997. A bit of online research (okay, googling) revealed that the heat-treatment of flour provides a viable and successful alternative to bleached flour for use in high-ratio cake recipes. Eh Voilà! (I thought). Only, no. After tracking down a supply of heat-treated cake flour at Carr’s Flour Mills Ltd, I phoned them and was frustrated to be told that they only sold it in vat-sized amounts, and they wouldn’t sell any to me anyway because I’m not a business. To be honest, I think they were highly suspicious of my inquiry. They probably thought I was some sort of rival milling industry.
One thing led to another and my poor microwave came in for a bit of a battering as I nuked batch after batch of different flours in an attempt to recreate the heat-treatment process at home. When my hair-brained experiments actually began to generate visible improvements in the cakes I was baking, I started blogging about my results. I was surprised to find that I wasn’t the only one desperately seeking cake flour …
Why on earth were the UK flour mills so reluctant to sell their heat-treated cake flour to home bakers? John Lister from Shipton Mill popped over to A Merrier World to explain a bit of the background:
From the merry Miller in the wood…..Greetings…..stunned by the ingeniuity in the world, happily chortling here to learn of such madness and can hardly believe what happens in the kitchens of England……brilliant news on the cake flour, some years ago the global millers used to spend their time pumping chlorine gas through flour to denature and bleach it to make a perfect functional flour suited to cake making……in the last few years the process was outlawed for health reasons and heat treatment replaced it…..industrial sauce and cake manufacturers now use soft flours that are heat treated, such heat treatment processes are not readily available to smaller millers, still struggling with stone age technology, (Mill stones etc) so the idea of microwaving the flour is fascinating and a perfect solution by the sounds of it, am off to try this out, and will let you know the progress, John
Despite the obvious demand for heat-treated cake flour among home bakers, it seemed likely therefore that supplies would be restricted to commercial use for the foreseeable future.
So … does that explain why I’m so delighted to discover that at least two mills are now selling bags of heat-treated cake flour to individual consumers? (If you still don’t get my excitement, then you probably won’t have read this far anyway).
Dasha kindly left a comment on A Merrier World to let me know about the 16kg bags being sold by FWP Matthews Ltd. She says, “You need to place the order over the phone as it is not listed in their online shop. The woman I spoke to was super helpful and said that they usually despatch same day with a next day courier.”
The second supplier came to my notice via a comment from AliceL on Rose’s blog. This heat-treated cake flour is being sold in 2kg bags as The Ultimate Cake Making Flour by Cinnamon Square. Furthermore, Alice reported the results of her comparison of the variously-treated cake flours:
Inspired by Rose and Kate, I baked and compared 3 versions of [Rose's Favorite Yellow Layer] cake:
- one with USA Cake flour (imported via eBay at significant cost :)
- one with Kate Flour (made using UK Shipton Mills cake flour, no cornflour)
- one with UK “Cinnamon Square” heated Treated Cake flour (9.65% protein, no cornflour)
Results were all excellent. All three had good x2 rise and were tasty, moist and melting.
USA Cake Flour slightly higher in the centre (~2mm) and marginally finer texture.
Kate and Cinnamon Sq Heat Treated flour cakes were indistinguishable from each other. Just very slightly more fluffy/crumbly than USA cake flour – a tiny bit of Xantham gum would work there I suspect.
Can you hear my feet banging now as I jump up and down with glee?!
Sorry – must dash. Off to buy some flour …