I haven't done all that much baking since we got here, but every time I have have, it's seemed like something was just slightly off (except for a couple disasters that were terribly off). Everyone else told me that everything was great - but I was feeling like I was losing my touch (or maybe my mind). About a month ago I finally quit using pancake mix and made some pancakes from scratch, and the exact some thing was wrong with them - they were just a little too floppy and squishy - and even though he said they tasted great John could tell the texture was different from when I had made these pancakes before. This got me thinking that maybe the problem wasn't elevation or Celsius conversions or that the ovens here are smaller - maybe it was the flour.
And as soon as I considered this, it seemed like the most obvious thing ever. What was I doing assuming that the flour here was exactly what I was used to? I did a little internet research and found this blog post which is incredibly helpful, spelling out what all the different kinds of flour in Japan are, and listing the kanji for them! From this I was able to determine that the flour that is most readily available - and that I had been using - is actually cake flour!
|The literal translation is "Weak Flour"|
This means that the gluten content is lower than all-purpose flour, and that it creates a much more delicate crumb, which might be great in a cake, but would be terrible in a pie crust. And even though some of the things I was making were cakes, my recipes were calibrated for all-purpose flour.
|This is "Strong Flour"|
Armed with the knowledge I had gained online, as well as my ability to understand pictures, I found this bread flour in a fancy grocery store. Bread flour has a higher gluten content, which creates a chewier texture - think bread or cinnamon rolls, but would make an awful muffin. All purpose flour has a gluten content right in the middle of cake and bread flour, so I got fancy and mixed my own "all-purpose " flour with a roughly 50-50 ratio. Edit: Having experimented some more, I find that I prefer 2/3 strong flour + 1/3 weak flour. But when I'm feeling lazy I just use the strong flour and it's usually fine.
|Yes, I brought a flour sifter to Tokyo|
If you're not as crazy as me, or you can't find bread flour, I've read that you can substitute 1 c. + 2 T. of cake/weak flour to approximate 1 c. all-purpose flour. Just for the record my flour mixture made great pancakes this morning!