A problem that starts with "f" and ends in "lour"

I've been meaning to blog this for awhile, if nothing more than as a warning to any faithful readers who attempt the recipes posted here on The Casual Baker. For a number of reasons, the move across the pond has reduced my baking activity.

With freshly baked everything two steps in every direction, there's simply less demand for home-baked goodies. But this is only part of the story, since anyone who knows me can attest to the fact that I ardently subscribe to the "bake it and they will come" theory of a supply-driven market.

Then there's the previously mentioned challenge of working in a small, poorly equipped kitchen. But with the addition of a metric scale, a set of hand-crank beaters and a new oven, the situation is improving.

Finally we come to the availability of ingredients. On this front, I've done pretty well. Sulphured molasses? Just cut it with honey to take off the edge. Can't find buttermilk? Take your pick of substitutes in the longest dairy aisle you'll ever find. When all else fails, have your nearest and dearest bring/send you the hard-to-find tidbits in a care package.

But take away my all-purpose flour, my friends, and we've got a problem.

It seems that the difference between flour and farine extends beyond mere linguistics. Those in the know say it has something to do with protein levels, the ash content and the fineness of the milling. As a baker, I just know that the texture of my batters and finished baking is off, but in a way I can't quite place.

The best advice I've found is in a post called American Baking in Paris by David Lebovitz. Unfortunately I've found only partial success with his suggestion of using Type 65 flour and still find myself having to add additional flour over and above what the recipe calls for in order to keep my cookies from uniting against me.

So what does this mean for you? Well I do my best to provide measurements for North American flour, but don't hesitate to document your experiences with the recipes in the comments section. Why not start with a batch of Chocolate Chunk Gingerbread Cookies to see how I'm doing.

Chocolate Chunk Gingerbread Cookies

2 1/2 - 2 3/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons ginger
10 tablespoons butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1/4 cup unsulphured molasses (or 2 tablespoons each of sulphured molasses and honey)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 ounces dark chocolate

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and line baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, mix 2 1/2 cups of flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, ginger and cinnamon. Chop the chocolate into small chunks and set aside.

In a large bowl, beat the butter, sugar and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and mix. Add the molasses, honey and vanilla and mix again.

Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients in two batches, each time mixing just until combined. At this point, the batter should be sufficiently thick that you are able to handle it with your hands (add the additional 1/4 cup of flour if necessary). Stir in the chocolate chunks.

Shape the dough into rough balls using about 2 tablespoons of batter for each. Place balls on baking sheet and flatten slightly with a floured hand or fork.

Bake until lightly golden on top and firm around the edge (about 12-15 minutes).

Source: Adapted from a Country Living recipe for Chocolate Molasses Cookies.