Why White Lily

Have you ever read through any of your grandmother’s cookbooks or other old recipes and seen where flour is called for, White Lily is often suggested? I know that White Lily has been a Southern staple for years, but never truly understood why it was until fairly recently.

On the side of the White Lily Flour bag, one may read the following: White Lily has been using the highest quality ingredients since 1883. White Lily Self-Rising Flour is milled from 100% Soft Winter Wheat. Soft Winter Wheat has a low protein content making it ideal for delicate baked goods such as biscuits, muffins, waffles, and pancakes.” Furthermore, “For every cup of Self-Rising Flour used in a recipe, substitute 1 cup and 2 Tablespoons of White Lily Self-Rising Flour.”

Ok, Soft Winter Wheat has a lower protein content. So what does that mean? Well, wheat flour is comprised of two proteins, glutenin and gliadin. Combined with water, the proteins in the flour form an elastic-like sheet known as gluten. Since flours, their various proteins, and thus the gluten add texture to baked goods, a softer baked item, such as biscuits and cakes, doesn’t need such a tough structure as do yeast breads.

Our typical Southern all-purpose flour is milled from Soft Winter Wheat which simply has a less gluten forming protein. The flour is then bleached, making it whiter, though not affecting protein structure. Summer Wheat has a higher protein count, and most national all-purpose flours are a combo of Winter and Summer Wheat. The wheat is so named for the season it is planted…Winter Wheat is harvested in the spring. Summer Wheat is harvested in the fall; thus, often why the spring and fall are represented by green and brown wheat respectively.

“White Lily contains approximately nine grams of protein per cup of flour, whereas national brands can contain eleven or twelve grams of protein per cup of flour.” Virginia Willis states in her book, Bon Appétit, Y’all. Continuing on, “…high protein flour absorbs more liquid than does low-protein flour; if you attempt to make biscuits with a high-protein flour, you will need to add more liquid. Self- rising flour is all-purpose flour that is low in protein and contains a leavening agent and salt…if you have a recipe that calls for self-rising flour, use the following formula to convert all-purpose into self-rising: to 1 cup of Southern all-purpose flour, add 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder add ½ teaspoon fine sea salt.” That’s if you don’t have self-rising on hand – White Lily does make self-rising flour.

Some sense has been made. I can think of times when I was making biscuits and I had to keep adding buttermilk over and over. Was I using White Lily? Probably not if I had to keep adding more and more liquid. Mrs. Mary and Mimi always use White Lily or Martha White, which is another good Southern brand. That alone should be the reason why! Eat one of Mary’s biscuits and you’ll never use anything but White Lily.

So give a bit of thought about the flour you are using. Whether you are making some cornbread, biscuits, a cake, or muffins, the texture of all these breads is crucial. Since that texture is a direct product of the gluten structure formed when the protein from the wheat and water are mixed, low-protein wheat, Soft Winter Wheat, is your best bet. I hope you get to pass wheat fields sometime soon…they are absolutely stunning. I love the sharp greenness contrasted against a gray winter sky or a newly purposed blue sky of early spring. And Summer Wheat, harvested in the fall, is gorgeous in bouquets and arrangements. I hope you enjoy your baking expeditions, and from this Farmer’s garden home to yours, enjoy!