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Fundamentals: Standard Baking Flours

by Jamie on May 10, 2011

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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

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

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

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

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

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.

Storing flour

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.


{ 45 comments… read them below or add one }

Erin May 10, 2011 at 5:51 am

Thanks for sharing the info of flours all in one page. Whenever I am thinking about making substitutions in the past, I’ve had to scour the web.

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Apron Appeal May 10, 2011 at 6:41 am

Really, Whole Wheat flour is Graham flour. I had no idea. So cheesecake with a graham cracker crust really is better for you? ;)

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Maris (In Good Taste) May 10, 2011 at 7:46 am

This is a wonderful post, very interesting, informative and relevant to us all.

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Nourhan @ Miss Anthropist's Kitchen May 10, 2011 at 8:16 am

Thanks for the informative post–it really helped! :)

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megan @ whatmegansmaking May 10, 2011 at 8:28 am

Interesting to see it all laid out here like this! I’ve wondered what the difference was – I just use whatever the recipe calls for :)

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Drena Paulson May 10, 2011 at 8:37 am

Hi. Thanks for the info and your web page in general. I’m a Pastry Chef and find a lot of good things here. One question. At work I occasionally run out of AP flour but end up with still bread and cake flour in their bins. I’ve been using a 1:1 cake:bread ratio as a substitute. Is this adequate or do you think another ratio works better? I would love your input. You can use email if you prefer.

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Celine May 10, 2011 at 8:38 am

Thanks for the post! I’ve just started venturing in to different types of flour. Any good recipes in which to use rye flour?

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Amanda May 10, 2011 at 8:57 am

Great info… I learned a lot!

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Christy May 10, 2011 at 8:57 am

This is a very informative post, and although I don’t bake, it is very interesting to learn about the different types of flour :)

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Mary Beth May 10, 2011 at 9:02 am

Thanks for sharing this post! I’ve often wondered these things myself, and it’s nice to have it all in one place.

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AudraG May 10, 2011 at 9:17 am

What a great post! I’ve printed out the info to post on the inside of my pantry door.

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Jamie May 10, 2011 at 4:24 pm

AudraG-

Thanks for the tip! We’ve amended the post to include the print function! Great idea!

-Jamie

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Kristin May 10, 2011 at 9:23 am

Great post. I’m going to bookmark this one.
Though, it should be noted that graham flour is a type of wheat flour, but not synonymous. Other examples of wheat flour are semolina flour and whole wheat flour. Graham flour is coarser than whole wheat flour, so you would usually use a bit less or get a more dense product.
Regardless, nice summary, I love it!

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Jamie May 10, 2011 at 4:23 pm

Kristin–
Thanks for the info, we’ve amended the post!
-Jamie

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Rebecca May 10, 2011 at 11:08 am

Thanks for this post! It is just what I needed!

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Elizabeth Jenkins May 10, 2011 at 11:09 am

Thanks for the great info. I’ve got some pastry flour I’ve been wanting to use-now I know what I’ll use it for….Lemon Bread!

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Vimitha May 10, 2011 at 11:48 am

Nice informative post…

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SarahJ May 10, 2011 at 12:03 pm

Great information! Thanks! Do you know why it is recommended to remove flour from it’s paper bag for storing?

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Jamie May 10, 2011 at 4:30 pm

Sarah–

I have always read that flour should be placed into a food grade sealed container. Flour absorbs odors, so if it’s not in a sealed container, it could take on some odors from your pantry (onions). Some even recommend freezing it for 48 hours before use to “kill” flour bugs.

I simply pour my bags into a container that has a sealed “locking” system.

-Jamie

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Elizabeth May 10, 2011 at 12:08 pm

Great stuff!!! I’m really looking forward to the gluten-free flours. I’ve been wanting to diversify my baking just incase it is needed. Awesome stuff! Thanks!

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ShopCookMake May 10, 2011 at 12:58 pm

Thank you for posting this. Sometimes it’s a little overwhelming for us non-bakers to understand the many types of flour.

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Eileen May 10, 2011 at 1:12 pm

Hi Jamie!

I stumbled upon your website recently and I have to say that I’m an immediate fan! I love your blogs and the photos are outstanding. Keep it up! Looking forward to read more of your baking addictions!

All the way from the Philippines,
Eileen

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leslie May 10, 2011 at 3:37 pm

Wonderful info. I am sure you helped out a lot of people!

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Katrina May 10, 2011 at 3:47 pm

Thanks for the info :)

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Amy @ A Little Nosh May 10, 2011 at 4:25 pm

This is great. I was just saying the other day that I don’t know the difference between any of the different flours out there. Thanks!

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Trish May 10, 2011 at 7:23 pm

This is a great article! thank you for posting it! The only other question I can think of is the difference between bleached and unbleached. :)

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Becca May 10, 2011 at 8:47 pm

Hmm. I never knew that about storing flours. I usually just leave it in the bag because the containers I have fit awkwardly next to eachother and don’t hold all of the flour to begin with. Maybe I should invest in some bigger containers.

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Mary May 10, 2011 at 9:42 pm

Do you recommend any brand over another? If you were baking a very special cake, which brand is the best all – purpose, or cake flour? I also wanted to duplicate gourmet cupcakes after I had a SPRINKLES cupcake and have been wondering about flour and powder cocoa……Any advice would be appreciated. BTW I love your blog!

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Amy May 10, 2011 at 11:02 pm

Thank you so much for this!

It’s a topic I’ve been wanting to read more about and I was happy when it showed up in my reader!!!

Best,

Amy

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Medina May 11, 2011 at 7:43 am

Hi Jamie,

Thank you for your website. It is truly amazing!

I just needed to know what i could substitute cake flour with as over in the UK cake flour is very hard to locate. Any advice would be appreciated.

Thanks

Medina

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Tee May 11, 2011 at 11:43 am

Hi Jamie,

Where does 00 flour fall into the picture? I’ve only been baking for the last few months and been using it and so far so good! Thanks for the info.

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Jennifer May 11, 2011 at 2:20 pm

Thanks for breaking down the different types of flour. While I’ve been baking forever, I’ve only recently started trying different types of flour depending on what I’m making.

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Chris May 11, 2011 at 10:09 pm

fantastic post all bakers to read. :) Thanks for this!

I am not sure where my head was a while back, but I grabbed a 50# bag of pastry flour instead of the 25#. Needless to say I have been using it in anything and everything I can! lol

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Lynn J May 13, 2011 at 1:29 am

Thanks Jamie great information.

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The Waspy Redhead May 13, 2011 at 3:53 pm

Great post! I’m bookmarking to reference in the future. I only keep AP, cake & whole wheat in the house.

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Chels R. May 14, 2011 at 4:22 pm

This was just fascinating. I bake a lot but even I didn’t know all of that. I’m the type of person who follows a recipe and doesn’t tweak a thing or make my own up. So to have this knowledge will help when I do decide to branch out. Thanks for posting this.

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Alicia C. May 16, 2011 at 2:01 pm

Thanks for the list. It’s always good to have a handy reference! You’ve put this in a great format for printing – I can hang it on the fridge for easy reference!

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Caroline @ chocolate and carrots May 19, 2011 at 7:47 am

Great information! Thank you for the flour lesson! :)

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Janet Farias May 22, 2011 at 1:44 am

What a great post! Thanks for doing the legwork, I’ll definitely be keeping this one. :-)

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Tricia in Washington July 18, 2011 at 9:33 pm

I just found you. I know I am going to enjoy your blog.I have always wondered about the different choices in flour.

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Maricella July 31, 2011 at 6:03 pm

Thanks for explaining! I have seen a few posts where people have posted things saying that to make AP flour turn into “self rising cake flour” all you have to do is add the baking powder and salt. I don’t know much about flours, but I know that doesn’t work!

I have a question. If i want to make self rising pastry or cake flour, do the measurements for making self rising AP flour convert over or do I have to use different amounts?

Thanks again! :)

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Jamie July 31, 2011 at 7:11 pm

Maricella-
Thanks for stopping by. I have honestly never made self rising pastry flour or cake flour, so I am really not much of a help here. Thanks.
-Jamie

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Maria August 10, 2011 at 11:01 pm

Great post! Can’t wait ’till you do the gluten free flours!

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Devereaux May 29, 2013 at 9:47 pm

I made a loaf of the “English Muffin Bread” It was wonderful and very good. I will tweak, the recipe next time 1 T more sugar and only 1/2 t salt and less time in oven or a foil tent. I am inspired!! Great Site!

D

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Jamie August 12, 2013 at 9:49 pm

Devereaux,

I’m so glad that you enjoyed the recipe and thank you for sharing your adjustments! Have a lovely day and thank you so much for following MBA!

Jamie

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