This is a question from one of my customers, a real please.

I’ve come to the store at the wrong times…when you weren’t there.

Dear Mr. Kiss,

When I was 10, we moved to a house with an Italian prune plum tree. I’ve been making a plum cake for 55 years with Italian prune plums. So have family members. It is fabulously popular with friends who request them from the freezer for birthdays and Christmas. I thought that I could win the Pillsbury Bake-Off with this recipe….except for the extremely short seasonal nature of the key ingredient!

It’s batter, halved plums on top, with crumble on top of the plums. A marvelous contrast of sweet and tart, soft cake and cooked plums vs. crispy top.

So! About 2-3 years ago, the plums started sinking to the bottom, no matter who is baking the cake. I have all the same baking pans, measuring implements, etc. Here’s a CLUE! In the early ‘70s, (Are you too young to have been around for this? J ) generics first showed up. These were oddly showy, stark white packaging with stark black lettering. White bag that just said FLOUR. White labels on cans that just said CORN or PEAS. When I bought that generic flour, The Plums Sank To The Bottom! When I returned to Gold Medal and Pillsbury, the problem never happened again until the last 2-3 years.

So what has been changed in the processing of flour in the last couple of years???? I also tried King Arthur—same thing. They’ve done something that was done to that generic flour 40 years ago! Do you have any ideas?

Thank you for considering this mystery.


a Whole Foods Market Customer


Author Comment
About twenty years ago while competing in an ACF hot food competition, I saw one of the competitors make an apple cake that helped him win a gold medal. The main judge was the head chef of Disney World so you can be pretty certain it was no slacker cake. Although the guy was a friend of mine he and I were both extremely busy running our kitchens so instead of inquiring into how he made the cake I researched through my own cookbooks and found a suitable one in an early edition Silver Palate. It was a recipe for peach cake but the assembly procedure was with the fruit on top and that suited my needs. I offered it on the dessert menu with a vanilla and a caramel sauce interwoven. My point is that if you can't solve your sinking fruit dilemma, you might want to improvise your recipe. I've heard that the word crisis in Chinese, can also mean change and opportunity.
sdebrango October 2, 2011
I am cutting and pasting and putting into my evernote with my recipes. Thank you so much. I am so glad all the KA flour i have is good for the intended purposes I am however going to probably change to a different brand of flour. For so many years I used Gold Medal then I heard about KA and thought it would be better, go figure. Thank you again.
boulangere October 2, 2011
Write down the formulas and stick them inside a kitchen cupboard, that always helps me.
sdebrango October 2, 2011
That helps tremendously, so my KA AP flour is ok, whew. Just bought 25 lbs a few weeks ago. Thank you I become hopelessly frantic when it comes to math.
boulangere October 2, 2011
Oh good, cbc. That's clearly the easier route. Use the KA for bread - it'll be perfect.
cookbookchick October 2, 2011
Thank you, boulangere!! Of course, I don't mind! I had already made the switch to Gold Medal AP, but found I had a 5-pound bag of KA AP hanging around, so this is a huge help. You get my vote for Best Foodpickler of the Week!
boulangere October 2, 2011
Yes, cbc. There is a blending equation called a Pearson's Square which lets you calculate the percentages of 2 ingredients in order to arrive at a third. I went ahead, if you don't mind, and calculated it out for you. If you have an alleged AP flour which actually has a 12% protein content, and a cake flour, such a s SoftAsSilk or White Lily, which has around 9% protien, in order to blend a 10% AP flour, you'll need 66% of your quantity to be White Lily, and 33% to be the higher protein AP. Say a recipe calls for 2 cups of all-purpose flour. You have the KA AP and the White Lily. 2 x .33 = .66, or 2/3 of a cup of KA. That leaves 1 1/3 cups of White Lily. Sift them together and you're off to the races.
boulangere October 2, 2011
sdb, divide the number of grams of protein per serving (you'll find that at the bottom of the label). The bag of APF I have in front of me contains 3 grams of protein per serving. At the top of the label right under Nutrition Facts is the serving size: 1/4 cup, or 31 grams. 3 divided by 31 = .0967, or 9.7%, comfortably in the neighborhood of 10%, so a true all-purpose flour. Does that help?

cookbookchick October 2, 2011
boulangere -- would you recommend mixing in some softer flour, such as White Lily or another cake flour, to the KA AP to lower the total protein content? If so, in what proportion?
sdebrango October 2, 2011
I just checked the protein content in my KA flours. AP flour is 3% per serving which is 1/4 cup. Cake flour is 2% per serving and bread flour is 4%.I am very confused. What do I divide? if 1/4 cup is a serving and the CF is 2% per serving is it truly cake flour? Same with the AP or do I now have a 25 lb bag of bread flour? Wow.
boulangere October 2, 2011
Yes! Wasn't that great of Chef Kiss? And what a great name for a chef! It seriously annoys me that AP flours are being labeled as such when they're actually BF. It's a recent trend, and a poor one. It's as though home bakers aren't intelligent enough to know how to mix a batter vs. a dough, so boost the protein content and they can't fait. Well, they can't succeed either. The batters are going to be tough, but by gosh they won't fall. Sorry if it's sounding like my undies are a bit too small, but it's looking like I need to visit my page and update my Pet Peeve note.
creamtea October 2, 2011
Thanks to you for all the information. I guess I should give credit to the WF Cooking Coach for going out of his/her way for the customer, though. That was impressive.

I've just had a look over all my AP Trader Joe's has the same protein content as my Bread flour from King Arthur. It's the first time I've bought it. I guess I will be using it for challah. I will have to look more carefully at the label next time!
boulangere October 1, 2011
Yes, totally agree about sharing. I posted a pickle earlier today, and all sorts of family recipes kindly and generously floated in. If you can't be generous with food, well . . . . . Terribly sad about the Russian piano teacher whose food died with her. Thanks, creamtea. The sharing of knowledge and experience here feeds us all.
creamtea October 1, 2011
Particularly with boulangere so graciously offering help. Seriously. Big raspberry.
creamtea October 1, 2011
Totally agree not sharing=foolish & selfish. My sister's revered Russian piano teacher would not share her recipes (or would leave something out). Her lovely recipes died with her.
Dona October 1, 2011
I agree, Gale. I don't understand not sharing recipes.
pierino October 1, 2011
Well, I certainly learned quite a bit from this conversation.
Gale October 1, 2011
This thread was so much fun to read (and learn from).

But I can never understand why people are stingy with "family recipes". Where would we all be without them? The joy of cooking is sharing.
Author Comment
Thanks everyone, she even wrote the flour companies. He admitted to seasonal variations to the flour but they blend from different lots of wheat to mediate these issues. he called into freshness of levaners could be a culprit. I passed on all of your good info to boot. she is not sharing the recipe beyond family boundries, sorry cooks!
May the power of the pickle compell you!
Thanks again,
boulangere October 1, 2011
Check the protein content on the KA CF, sd. Divide the grams of protein per serving by the total grams of CF per serving. If it's in the neighborhood of 7%, it's truly cake flour. Among grocery store flours, Gold Medal's unbleached organic AP flour is perfectly fine.
sdebrango October 1, 2011
Wow, "b" I use KA AP flour all the time. I had no idea about the protein content. I also have KA bread flour. So for baking cakes, pies etc what do your recommend I use. I had no idea about this. Should I use the KA cake flour for my pies and cakes? This is a revelation.
boulangere October 1, 2011
Third installment. Why has a company such as KA produced an AP flour which is actually bread flour for its protein content? Because your baked goods can't fail. Regardless of your elevation, regardless of the liberties you may take with your mixing procedure, there is so much protein in their AP flour that your cookies will not be flat. Your cakes and muffins will not sink in the center. I find this seriously annoying because, while they won't fail, they will certainly be more tough than necessary.
boulangere October 1, 2011
What we call AP flour is typically partially a blend of soft spring wheat and hard red winter wheat, for that middle of the road protein content. Bread flour, high gluten flour (think bagels) and whole wheat flours are typically milled from hard red winter wheat. Long story short, AP flour is AP flour wherever you are. I suspect that pierino has a good point about your oven temp. Spent $10 and get an oven thermometer. If your oven is on the cool side of whatever temp you test for, the protein structure in the eggs and flour is not gelatinizing in time to hold up your lovely plums.
boulangere October 1, 2011
If you're using King Arthur's All-Purpose Flour, you're actually using bread flour. I learned this the hard way by using it to make cookies. They were way too tough. KA's APF has a protein content of 12%, equal to that of bread flour. True all-purpose flour should have a protein content of 10-10.5%. If you're using Gold Medal AP flour, I agree with hardlikearmour that you want to be sure to use unbleached. For that matter, always use unbleached flour for anything. Except cake flour, and that's too much of a digression. The bleaching process does compromise the protein content by lowering it. But to return to your question, if you are using KA's APF, you certainly shouldn't be having a protein problem. It would help if you could post the recipe to your page here so we could take a look at the mixing procedure. I've never found that dredging fruit in flour makes much difference. If you adequately develop the gluten structure in your flour, you'll be fine. I don't think you have a problem with overmixing the sugar and butter. But do be sure you're using true room temp butter and eggs. If the eggs are coming straight out of the fridge, soak them in warm (not hot) water for 5 minutes. Crack them into a measuring cup and add them one at a time to the very pale, aerated butter-sugar, on low speed, allowing each to be fully incorporated before adding the next. Seriously, I'd love to see the recipe.
Sam1148 September 30, 2011
My mother was a child of the great depression.
Trying to replicated her southern recipes, flour was the key. Sometimes you have the brand they used in the reicpe or mostly likely, it's a 'given' in the recipe. Using Martha White Iilly brand, Martha White, or Gold Medal.

After some research, some of those companies ship different blends to different regions of the country. So, a Gold Medal purchased in midwest or NY might have a different blend for the AP flour.

Also...the big "Wow" moment was trying to make 'no kneed bread' (the NYT recipe).
The southern flour made it a big mess, using scoop and level with AP southern Gold Medal AP flour.

I started using a gram weight scale and measured by weight, adjusting for 'cup to weight' for Gold medal AP flour.
Then it worked perfectly. It's amazing how just a few grams of flour in a recipe can change the outcome.

We're lucky today..a gram weight scale is only about 20 bucks. So using that you can adjust for all regions of the country. (but don't use king Arthur AP flour for any southern recipe, unless you like bricks). Great for bread tho.
lorigoldsby September 30, 2011
I agree with Sam's suggestion to dust with flour...I do this with my blueberry muffins and it makes all the difference.

And HardLikeArmour's advice is always spot on.
AntoniaJames September 30, 2011
Sam1148, you're amazing. Where did you learn all this? ;o)

Voted the Best Reply!

Sam1148 September 30, 2011
A question about your question:
Do you dust the fruit with flour before adding to the mix? If you have fruit sinking problem, like in blueberry muffins, lightly coating the fruit with flour keeps it from sinking by making a barrier between the wet and dry and they tend to be well distributed in muffins, cobblers, or cakes.
Sam1148 September 30, 2011
Four can vary from region to region, season to season. Some are more soft, others are more hard.
I would imagine the 'generic' flour is more middle of the road..and might not coat as well or become more gummy and heavy.

The Gold Medal is a softer flour..and ground a bit more 'powdery' for making biscuits, cobblers..etc. That and "White Lilly" are the goto for biscuits, cobblers, and southern cooking.
Also the weight of flour/cup ratio depends on the flour type.
Gold Medal is 130g/Cup..while USDA flour (generic) is 125g/cup.
So that factor could also come into play.
pierino September 30, 2011
I think the problem may be with your oven and not the flour. Keep in mind that no two ovens are calibrated exactly the same. So while the dial might read 450, in reality it could be much lower.

Generic products? How about "beer".
AntoniaJames September 30, 2011
It may not be what's been done to the flour, it may be what's been done to the wheat. Even organic flours are made from strains of wheat that did not exist a few years ago. I'd direct this question to King Arthur, Pillsbury and to Gold Medal, as their internal teams, including the baking experts and food scientists in their test kitchens, are no doubt quite knowledgeable about changes in the product. And they may have a work around, too. (The rest of us can only guess.) I'd love to see the recipe, by the way. ;o)
hardlikearmour September 30, 2011
Maybe the flour is too soft. If you're not already using unbleached flour, that would be my first step. (Bleached flour has less protein, so won't form as much gluten.) You may also want to try decreasing the baking powder a bit (maybe a 1/4th teaspoon to start.) Also make sure you're not overbeating the fat/sugar/egg combo as that can weaken the structure of the cake.
I hope that boulangere and betteirene will weigh in. They have loads of baking experience and probably have some good insight!
Author Comment
and I do remeber generic products as a kid. HA!
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