French flours have their own formulation and classification systems. They are unique suited both to the type of wheat easily sourced in France, and to the baked goods typically produced with the flours.
Grading system of French flours
French flours are graded and classified based on the measurement of how much ash (or residual mineral content) remains in the flour per 100 grams. The number represents the weight in grams of ash.
A French law regulating the grading of flour on the basis of how much ash content is in it has been in effect since 1 October 1963.
For French flours, each of the types is treated not as a single kind of flour, but rather as a category of flour: there are many flours available within each type range, and many of which are flours proprietary to certain manufacturers.
For instance, though Type 55 is the flour used for bread, there is not just one flour called “Type 55”, there are many. The type really just is an indication of how white the flour is; to find out what it’s good for, you have to read the packet. Often the product names are meaningless, being just invented by the miller or factory. You can buy a Type 55 that is good for crêpes. Or another one that is good for crusty breads. Others includes ones that are good for country breads, ones that are good for sourdough breads and ones that are good for baguettes.
Sometimes you will also see an extraction rate (“taux d’extraction”) mentioned. This refers to the weight of flour that can be obtained relative to the amount of wheat that was started with, expressed as a percentage.
|Flour type||Ash content||Extraction Rate|
|Type 45||.45% (.4 to .5%)||70%|
|Type 55||.55% (.5 to .6%)||75%|
|Type 65||.65% (.62 to .75%)||80%|
|Type 80||.80% (.75 to .90%)||82%|
|Type 110||1.10% (1 to 1.2%)||85%|
|Type 150||1.5% (> 1.4%)||90 to 95%|
French law allows “farine complémentée” — “corrected flour” that has “corrective elements” to be added to the flour. Additives such as fava bean or soy bean flour oxidize the flour, which not only whitens it, but also strengthens the gluten of the weaker wheat grown by the French. Uncorrected flour is “farine de base.”
Some French flour terms
- A flour is called “ronde” (round) when it is a bit dry and granular;
- A flour is called “plate” or “fleurante” (flat or flowery) when it is very smooth and leaves a very fine powder on your fingers;
- A flour mill, as in a factory, is a “minoterie”;
- A water mill is a “moulin à eau”; a wind mill is a “moulin à vent”;
- Grinding is “mouture”;
- Panifiable on a packet of flour in France means “suitable for making bread.”
For Type 55: try mixing some all-purpose (plain) flour into bread (strong) flour. Bread (strong) flour on its own is probably too strong for any French recipe. The highest protein content you’d want in a flour for French bread would be 12 to 12.5%, tops.
Literature & Lore
To our horror, we discovered that French flour has more body than its U.S. counterpart, and that the French needed a third less fat to make a nice crumbly crust. Why was this? I wanted to know. We supposed that, in order for U.S. flour to last forever on supermarket shelves, it must have been subjected to chemical processes that removed its fats. The French flour, in contrast, was left in its natural state, although it would ‘go off’ more quickly and become maggoty. In order to make our French recipe work for an American audience, we tested different proportions of flour-to-butter… then we tasted the crusts hot and cold. Based on our experiments, we adjusted our ratios.” — Julia Child with Alex Prud’homme. My Life in France. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 2006. p 125.
“Être de la même farine” in French means six of one, half dozen of the other, or, it’s all the same (literally: to be of the same flour) .
“Rouler quelqu’un dans la farine” in French means to trick someone (literally: to roll someone in the flour).