So, About Flour

As mentioned in my Austrian Christmas cookies post, I am not (yet) a particularly accomplished baker. Prior to attempting Christmas cookies, the only things I used flour for were pancakes and my weekly bowl of udon. I did a bit of research years ago to find a decent replacement for Japanese 中力粉 (medium strength flour, also called udon flour) and ended up with a very nice Korean flour that I’ve used ever since. In America, the generally available flours are “all purpose,” bread, cake, pastry, and whole wheat — though even a cursory googling will tell you that there are a thousand more types and a thousand more variations, including, apparently, whether you have bought a southern or northern brand of flour. Who knew? In any case, the main difference between (American) flours is the protein (gluten) content of your selected flour. It ranges from 7-8% for cake up to 14% for whole wheat, with all-purpose being around 10% and pastry around 9%. That all sounds very scientific and easy to follow, I thought. Let’s bake some cookies!

So I opened up the trusty Gute Kuche and turned to page 487 for Vanillekipferl and was puzzled to see “300g mehl, glatt.” Wait, what? Mehl is flour, but now that I’m a FLOUR EXPERT I want to know which kind of flour to use and all this says is “glatt,” which means “smooth.” Ugh. BACK TO THE INTERNET! Googling “mehl,” it turns out that the Germans have a completely different system for classifying flours, numerical — because of course it is, Germans — and based on the, uh, “amount of ash (in milligrams) obtained from 100g of the dry mass of this flour.” Oookaaay. So, the German system is standardized by the Deutsches Institut für Normung (DIN) and the main types are 405 (approximately pastry flour), 550 (all-purpose), 812 (bread), 1050 (uh, different bread), and 1600 (whole wheat). But where the standard flour in an American household is all-purpose, it appears the standard flour in a German household is 405, or pastry flour. Fortunately for me, the standard flour in MY household is pretty close to pastry flour. Let’s bake some cookies!

But wait, what about “glatt”? The Germans didn’t mention that… Sigh. Back to the internet. Where it turns out that, of course, tiny little Austria has its own COMPLETELY DIFFERENT system for flour classifications. The most common flour in Austria is W480 (“sehr helles Mehl”), which roughly corresponds to the German type 405. But Austria adds a secondary descriptor for the size of the grain: glatt (smooth), griffig (grippy, closer to semolina I guess), and universal (between the other two). W480 can be either glatt or universal. So our “300g mehl, glatt,” probably means Austrian W480 glatt. Which lucky for me seems to be relatively similar to my trusty Korean noodle flour. And now that I’ve spent two hours reading about flour in German, I’m going to make a handy reference table so I never have to do that again:

Protein America Austria Germany 日本 Uses
7-8% Cake Flour NA NA 薄力粉 Cake, Tempura
9% Pastry Flour W480 (Glatt) Type 405 中力粉・うどん粉 Cookies, Udon
11-12% All-Purpose Flour W700 Type 550 中力粉 Pancakes, Knödel, Pasta, Bread
12-14% Bread Flour NA Type 812 強力粉 Bread
14% Whole Wheat Flour W1600 Type 1600 全粒粉 Whole Wheat Bread

Interestingly, although the 11-12% flour is called “all purpose” here in America, what different countries think of as default flour is very different. In America, it’s all-purpose. In Japan it’s 薄力粉 (cake flour) — which is probably why my long-ago homemade okonomiyaki was so terrible. In Austria and Germany it’s W480/Type 405 (pastry flour). In my house it’s this Korean flour, which I can use for both Austrian cookies and Japanese udon.