What is First Clear and does it really make a big difference in rye bread? Is there a substitution for it?
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Here's a link to a page that does a pretty good job describing the various types and grades of flour that can be produced:
(If you hang around on this site long enough, you'll learn more about flour than you ever thought it was possible to know.)
I've made rye bread with first clear flour a few times, if it wasn't so expensive to buy in small bags I'd use it more often, it does produce a somewhat different bread (texture, color and taste) than what you get with AP or bread flour.
I also tried to see if my neighbor (who runs one of the local restaurant purveyors) could get it in large bags, and he checked with the local rep for one of the major flour companies. Apparently it's virtually unheard of (and thus essentially impossible to buy in large bags) outside of the northeast, unless I want to order it by the skid. :-)
And what's ironic is that it appears bakeries started using first clear flour in rye bread to save money.
So, most of the time I just use a high gluten bread flour in a 60/40 ratio with a coarse pumpernickel flour. I've also tried sifting some freshly ground WW flour to remove the coarsest part of the bran. We like the taste of the resulting bread, but it doesn't really duplicate first clear flour. If I could get some fine screens for bolting flour from my home mill, I might be able to get a little closer to a true first clear flour, I suppose.
Thank you so much, Mike. And yes, I do plan to hang around on this site long enough to get a little better educated (I've also started scouting out Breadtopia). I will check out the link you sent. Very much appreciate your kind and detailed response.