Do you know the different types of flour and how to choose the one that's best for your desired baking outcome?
A guide for how to use the most common types of flour for baking and cooking. Learn about the role of gluten in the texture development of your favorite foods. Gain helpful tips on how to select flours for recipes.
All-Purpose Flour: If a recipe calls simply for "flour," it's calling for all-purpose flour. Milled from a mixture of soft and hard wheat, with a moderate protein content in the 10 to 12 percent range, all-purpose flour is a staple among staples. While not necessarily good for all purposes, it is the most versatile of flours, capable of producing flaky pie crusts, fluffy biscuits and chewy breads. A-P flour is sold bleached or unbleached; the two are largely interchangeable, but it's always best to match your flour to your recipe.
Cake Flour: The flour with the lowest protein content (5 to 8 percent). The relative lack of gluten-forming proteins makes cake flour ideal for tender baked goods, such as cakes (of course), but also biscuits, muffins and scones. Cake flour is generally chlorinated, a bleaching process that further weakens the gluten proteins and, just as important, alters the flour's starch to increase its capacity to absorb more liquid and sugar, and thus ensure a moist cake.
Bread Flour: With a protein content of 12 to 14 percent, bread flour is the strongest of all flours, providing the most structural support. This is especially important in yeasted breads, where a strong gluten network is required to contain the CO2 gases produced during fermentation. The extra protein doesn't just make for better volume and a chewier crumb; it also results in more browning in the crust. Bread flour can be found in white or whole wheat, bleached or unbleached. Unbleached all-purpose flour can generally be substituted for bread flour with good results.
Pastry Flour: An unbleached flour made from soft wheat, with protein levels somewhere between cake flour and all-purpose flour (8 to 9 percent). Pastry flour strikes the ideal balance between flakiness and tenderness, making it perfect for pies, tarts and many cookies. To make your own pastry flour, mix together 1 1/3 cups A-P flour and 2/3 cup cake flour.
Self-Rising Flour: Flour to which baking powder and salt have been added during milling. Long a Southern staple, self-rising flour is generally made from the low-protein wheat traditionally grown in the South. It's best for tender biscuits, muffins, pancakes and some cakes. Self-rising flour is best stored tightly wrapped in its original box and used within six months of purchase — longer than that and the baking powder in it begins to lose its oomph.
To make your own self-rising flour, combine 1 cup pastry flour with 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder and 1/4 teaspoon salt.
Gluten-Free Flours: There is a wide variety of gluten-free flours available today, made from all sorts of grains, nuts and starches. Some of the most widely available are based on rice flour blended with tapioca and potato starch. A small proportion of xanthan gum is sometimes added to help simulate the chewiness normally associated with gluten. Consult the specific recipe or packaging for information on how to substitute gluten-free flour for wheat flour in your favorite baking recipes.
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