Friday, July 21, 2006

flour power

Even though there are so many wonderful bakeries here in Switzerland, offering an impressive array of rustic loaves, I still bake bread. There’s something very satisfying about dough rising and the aroma of baking bread filling my home. But flour shopping is a challenge here. Since there are so many different flour types available in Switzerland, it is important to know what you’re buying so you can get the correct result in your cooking and baking. So here is some basic information on flour and comparisons between US and German flour types (Germany and Switzerland use the same flour rating system), but remember these are only rough guidelines. German flour is very different than US flour and there can be vast differences in flour labeled or numbered the same because of the variation between mills producing what seem like identical flours.

What to use?

Here are the flour types generally available in the US and their closest German counterparts. In the next section, there is a more exhaustive list of Swiss flours and how they can be used.

US Flour Name Description Protein Level Similar German Flour
cake flour white flour with low protein and finely milled so flour feels like satin. Used in high-sugar and angel food cakes. 6.70-8.00% not available
pastry flour made from soft wheats, which are low in protein and are finely milled but not as fine as cake flour 9.00-10.60% not available
all purpose white flour with average protein level suitable for general baking (quick breads, muffins, cookies, pastries, low-sugar cakes and gravies) 11.00-11.80% Weissmehl, Weizenmehl, Zopfmehl, Backmehl
bread flour white flour with high protein level Best for bread making. 11.70-13.20% not available
high gluten flour white flour, much higher in protein and a little darker than standard bread flours. Used for specialty breads like rye breads, Italian hearth, and multi-grain breads. 13.30-15.00% Bauernmehl, Ruchmehl (maybe)
light whole wheat flour white flour with some bran and germ to produce whole-wheat bread
whole wheat flour prepared by grinding the entire wheat kernel. contains at least 95% of the whole wheat berry 12.5-13.5% Vollkornmehl
graham flour coarsely stone ground whole wheat flour.
available in Reformhaus
semolina or durum flour made from durum wheats, unlike white and whole-wheat flours. Granular and usually bright yellow. Used for making pasta. 12.00% Hartweizenmehl

When selecting a flour, the protein or ash content will give you a clue as to what you’re buying (in addition to the picture on the flour bag).

Protein & Gluten– who cares?

In short, less protein is good for cakes, cookies and sauces, while more protein is good for bread, especially rustic, European-style loaves. The amount of protein in flour determines how much gluten can develop in your dough (protein+water=gluten). Gluten is important because it is responsible for the elasticity, extensibility, and gas-retaining properties of yeast-leavened baked goods (read more about protein and gluten). It is important to use a flour that as an appropriate protein level for whatever you are baking.

  • 9% protein = cakes and pastry
  • 10-11% protein = cookies. muffins, sauces
  • 11-13% protein = sandwich bread, pizza, challah
  • 13-15% protein = rustic loaves

Most flour packages in the US and most in Switzerland list the flour’s protein level, either as grams or percent. But I haven’t been able to find any white flour with a protein level below 10% or above 11%, which means you’ll have a tough time finding either cake flour or bread flour here.

One caveat: protein level does not indicate quality or provide a universal standard. The type of wheat and milling techniques greatly affect the flour. So a German flour could be very different from a US flour with the same protein level.

Ash Content

Instead of protein level, German/Swiss flour is usually rated by ash content. Ash measures how much of the entire wheat kernel is in the flour. This provides some indication of the flour’s grade and/or milling quality. This is important for professional bakers, but not a critical selection criteria for most casual home bakers. I haven’t been able to find any useful information on how ash content should be used to select flour.

White vs. Whole Wheat

White flour contains only the endosperm, while whole-wheat also contains some or all bran and germ. Since germ and bran impede the development of a good, elastic gluten (remember why gluten is important?), high protein white flour is much better for making bread. When using whole-wheat flour, you typically use a combo of white flour and whole-wheat flour so the dough will have enough gluten (from the white flour) to rise properly.

However, high protein white bread flour (above 11%) is not available in Switzerland. So you may want to use one of the high protein flours like Halbweissmehl (13%) or Ruchmehl (14%) which are partially whole-wheat and have high protein levels. This will take some experimentation. If your dough doesn’t rise properly, has a too dense crumb, or collapses after baking, this may be a sign of not enough gluten being formed. So you could try substituting in a small percentage of Weissmehl to counteract the effects of whole wheat flour.

Flours Available in Switzerland

Here are some of the flours I’ve found at Migros, Coop, Globus, Jelmoli, and Reformhaus. I’ve included my best guess on what this flour is in US terms.

German Name Protein US Counterpart Description
Weiss-mehl, weizenmehl
all-purpose white white flour milled from hard wheats or a blend of hard and soft wheats
Backmehl 11g

Halbweiss-mehl 13g light whole wheat flour with some bran and germ to produce whole-wheat bread
Zopf-mehl 11g white, low-protein
Bauern-mehl 15g country bread a little rye includes 5% rye flour
Ruch-mehl 14g "grey" flour, wholemeal flour is this whole wheat?
Vollkorn-mehl 13.5g whole wheat flour with all bran and germ
Urdinkel-mehl 14g spelt

Flour Numbers

German and French flour are often numbered (using different schemes), giving some indication of how the flour can be used. The higher the type number, the stronger the flour, meaning more protein. The below chart gives the closest US flour counterpart to the German flour numbers.

Flour #

Ash Content


Flour #

US Flour Name





Type 00

pastry flour

This is a very fine flour similar to our cake flour. It can be used for sauces, cookies, pies and other baked goods. It is the most popular household flour in Germany.





.50 to .58%


Type 0

all-purpose flour

stronger flavor than 405, usually used for bread baking

This flour is good for baked products leavened with yeast. It is a little finer than our all-purpose or plain flour. It is used for white bread.


bread flour

strong bread flour





.64 to .89%


Type 1

high gluten flour

This flour is used for light-colored breads made of wheat and rye flour.


1.050 %


Type 2

first clear flour

This flour is darker than our unbleached flour. It is used for darker-colored breads made of wheat and rye flour made at home.




whole wheat

This flour is used for darker-colored mixed wheat and rye breads.



German flours, even the Type 405 which is the closest equivalent to Cake Flour, generally have a minimum of 10% protein. Consequently, it is very hard to make a cake or pastry recipe written for English speakers with German flour, as the protein content is too high.
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