Part of my Baking Fundamentals series: Learn about the many varieties of wheat and gluten-free flours, what protein content implies, and what kinds of recipes you can prepare with each.
- What are the differences between flours?
- Wheat Flours
- Gluten-Free Flours
- More Baking Basics
- How do you use different flours?
- How do I substitute different flours?
- How do I know which flour to use?
- How do different types of flour affect baking?
- Can you use two different flours?
- What are the 7 types of flour?
- Are all flours interchangeable?
- What flour is best to use instead of all-purpose?
- Do different types of flour matter?
- Which flour is best for cooking?
What are the differences between flours?
When it comes to flours, the protein content is what really distinguishes one from another. Hard wheat flours are created from high-protein wheat (10-14% protein content), whereas soft wheat flours are made from low-protein wheat (5-10% protein level).
Consider this: the bigger the protein level, the more gluten there is. And the more gluten it has, the stronger it is!
Hence, if you want to produce an elastic dough that holds its form, choose a flour with a high protein and gluten content. Nevertheless, if you want to prepare a more delicate and sensitive baked dish (such as a cake or pastry), a lower-protein flour is recommended.
So, what are the different types of flour?
That’s a wonderful question with a lengthy response! Now let’s have a look at the many varieties of flour and how to utilize them.
We’ll start with the most popular wheat flour (all-purpose), and then work our way up in protein content.
When you see the word “flour” in a recipe, you can be 99.99% certain it refers to all-purpose flour. And if you only have one kind of flour, make it this one. It is the most adaptable and, quite simply, the least costly.
- Protein content ranges from 10-12%.
- Best used for: Nearly anything; after all, it’s named all-purpose for a reason! It’s fantastic for cookies, cakes, breads, brownies, biscuits, muffins, pie crusts, pancakes, spaghetti, pizza dough, and the list goes on.
Cake flour has the lowest protein concentration of any flour, making it ideal for softer, more delicate baked items. It is extremely fine and is usually bleached to weaken the gluten proteins. This means it absorbs more moisture and sugar than all-purpose flour, resulting in a more moist cake with a greater rise.
- Make your own cake flour by weighing out 1 cup all-purpose flour, omitting 2 tablespoons, then adding 2 tablespoons cornstarch and sifting it together twice.
- Protein content ranges from 5 to 8%.
- Cakes (duh), angel food cake, sponge cake, biscuits, muffins, and scones are the best uses.
Pastry flour has a finer texture than cake flour but contains more protein. It’s like having the best of both worlds: all-purpose flour and cake flour in one! It may make flaky and delicate pie crusts as well as delectably tender cookies. Oh, and the melt-in-your-mouth bread sticks. Yum.
- 1 cup pastry flour (from 3 cups cake flour). 3 cups all-purpose flour and 1Fun fact: I never purchase pastry flour since I create my own by blending 2 parts all-purpose flour and 1 part cake flour (i.e. 2 parts all-purpose flour and 1 part cake flour).
- 8-9% protein content
- Pie crusts, cookies, bread sticks, tarts, pound cake, and muffins are the best uses for this flour.
Self-rising flour is simply all-purpose flour with the addition of baking powder and salt. You should never substitute self-rising flour for other flours in recipes since those two components might upset the balance of the recipe. It is best avoided unless expressly called for in a recipe. Since it includes baking powder, it will lose its effectiveness after roughly 6 months (which is about as long as you want to keep flour anyway).
- 4 teaspoon salt. 2 teaspoons baking powder and 1Fun fact: You can create your own by blending 1 cup pastry flour and 1 teaspoon baking powder.
- 8-9% protein content
- Best for: Pancakes, scones, and other items that need a high rise.
00 flour may seem to be a James Bond secret word, but it just means doppio zeroflour. It’s exquisite, Italian, and pricey. It produces a different texture in the end product than all-purpose flour (i.e., thinner handmade pasta, which is fantastic), but unless you’re dead bent on making an exact reproduction of an Italian family recipe, it’s often acceptable to use all-purpose and give your wallet some breathing space.
- 11-12% protein content
- Pastas, thin pizza crusts, and crackers are ideal applications.
Bread flour is the strongest of the flours because it contains the most protein and gives the greatest structural support. In a bread recipe, you may simply substitute bread flour for all-purpose flour to get a more structured loaf (less of that mushroom effect on the top half of the loaf). When baking, you get greater volume, a chewier crumb, and even a finer browning on the crust.
- 12-14% protein content
- Breads (surprising, I know) and pretzels are the best uses for it.
Whole Wheat Flour
The issue with whole wheat flour is that it is more absorbent than all-purpose flour, so it need more liquid to accomplish its job. It results in stickier doughs and denser baked items. Consider the density of a slice of whole grain wheat bread against a piece of white bread.
Since it may be difficult to work with, beginners should start by replacing 25% all-purpose flour for whole wheat flour in a recipe, and then raise that amount as they gain confidence. It is particularly crucial not to overwork your dough when using whole wheat flour.
However, since whole wheat flour is more perishable than all-purpose flour, it must be discarded after three months in a cold, dark area.
- 13-14% protein content
- Bread loaves, muffins, and pita bread are the best uses for this flour.
Although it may seem to be cornmeal at first sight, semolina flour is manufactured from wheat and has a high protein content. It produces a thick and chewy dough with a rich taste and buttery color, making it a favorite among pasta makers.
- 13%+ protein content
- Pastas and thick bread are ideal.
Have you ever wondered why gluten-free bread is typically smaller and thinner? They cannot withstand the same workloads as their gluten-free equivalents since bread need gluten to rise and remain pliable.
You may have noticed that I did not specify the protein amounts of the flours listed below, but don’t be fooled; they still contain protein, but in the case of non-wheat based flours, a high protein content does not equate a high gluten content.
If you need to be gluten-free, gluten-free flour isn’t always the best all-purpose flour alternative. Depending on the brand, it may be composed of a variety of components such as rice, maize, tapioca, quinoa, and corn, and it often contains xanthan gum to assist replicate the chewiness associated with gluten. Check the packaging for instructions on how to replace it for all-purpose flour, or just take Cup4Cup Gluten Free Flour, which is designed to be a 1:1 all-purpose flour alternative.
- Best used for: About everything that all-purpose flour would be used for.
Almond flour (affiliate link) is a high-protein, low-carb flour that is popular in the keto diet. Since it is produced with blanched almonds, it has a slight nutty flavor while being moderate in flavor.
Since there is no gluten present, additional components are required to create structure (like starches, nut butters and leaveners).
- Paleo baking, cookies, cakes, brownies, breads, and muffins.
Oat flour is exactly what it sounds like: ground oats. It has a delicate flavor that is nearly sweet, and it has a superfine texture.
- In a pinch, you may create your own by pulsing 1 minute of old-fashioned rolled oats in a food processor.
- Gluten-free cakes, as well as cookies and breads made with wheat flour.
While coconut flour is rich in fiber and low in calories, it may be difficult to work with. You cannot replace it for wheat flour, and you should never swap more than 20% wheat flour for coconut flour in any particular recipe.
It absorbs a lot of moisture during baking, so you’ll need to add around 2 tablespoons more liquid for every 2 tablespoons of coconut flour used.
It is often blended with other gluten-free flours and leaveners in recipes, and it is widely used in gluten-free and paleo baking.
- Great for: Cookies, muffins, and brownies (but only when called for specifically).
I hope this was helpful! Is there anything more I should have spoken regarding this topic? Please let me know in the comments section below.
More Baking Basics
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The Importance of Room Temperature Butter
5 Baking Steps You Should Never Skip
Common Baking Ingredients’ Shelf Life