If you’re just getting started in baking, or even if you’ve been baking a while but never ventured beyond all-purpose flour, the different types of flour can be a bit daunting.
We’ve decided to break it down for you around the most common flours used so that you can understand a little more about the science of baking, and how these flours might be switched in to different recipes to yield different crumb consistencies.
It should be noted that this first post is just going to cover wheat (and gluten) based flours. We’ll cover gluten free flours at a later date. Don’t be daunted by that either. There are a lot of gluten free flours that can be mixed in with wheat based flours for additional flavor and texture, so they are well worth knowing about too as you progress as a baker. Just keep in mind that mixing a gluten free flour in with a wheat flour makes the baked good no longer gluten free, so it should not be served to anyone with a gluten allergy!
Standard Baking Flours
All-purpose flour is a mixture of high and low gluten protein flours, formulated to make a consistent baked good for the most diverse amount of recipes. While other flours may be more specifically suited to a particular recipe, AP flour can usually be used interchangeably when other flours are called for in a recipe.
Bread flour is made exclusively from hard, high protein wheat. The additional protein and gluten content give a baked good more structure when combined with a volatile ingredient, such as yeast in basic bread.
Cake flour is made from soft wheat and has the lowest gluten content of any wheat flour. This allows the flour to be lighter, especially when matched with a high sugar recipe. The lightness allows the cakes to keep a risen and fluffy texture without collapsing.
Pastry flour is made from soft wheat. Its gluten content falls somewhere between cake flour and all purpose flour. It is not readily available in stores, but can be mimicked using a 2-1 ratio of all purpose to cake flour. Best uses for Pastry Flour include pie crust, biscuits, brownies, cookies, and quick breads. Pastry flour should not be used for yeast breads.
Self rising flour is typically all purpose flour with salt and baking powder (a leavening, i.e. rising agent) added to it. You can make your own, or buy it in the store. To make your own, for every one cup of flour, add 1 1/2 tsp of baking powder and 1/2 tsp of salt. Stir with a whisk to make sure it is evenly distributed. Self rising flour is used for biscuits and quick breads most often.
Whole Wheat Flour
Whole wheat flour is made from the whole kernel of wheat. Typically it is higher in fiber and nutrient content than any other wheat flour. The gluten level of whole wheat flour is mid-range, so it is usually combined with other flours in baked goods for stability and texture.
Flour is best stored in the freezer or in air tight containers. It will keep for up to a year in air tight containers, and possibly longer in the freezer. It is recommended to remove the flour from the paper bag it is shipped in and transfer it to another container upon purchase.