Have you ever wondered how this single ingredient, flour, can be used in different recipes, and yet produce very different outcomes? From wonderful, flaky, tender pie crust to dense chewy bread? Let's talk all about baking with flour.
When you are at the supermarket you probably see a few types of flour and wondered what's the difference. Well, while there is so much more to learn about this one ingredient, I'm going to just tell you what you need to know about it for baking purposes.
- All-purpose flour - or plain flour (maida) is a great flour to use. And if used correctly, it can produce great results from flaky pie crust to chewy bread.
- Cake flour - has a lower percentage of protein that gives us soft tender cakes.
- Bread flour - has more gluten in it. And we use it in bread like pizza, where we want that extra elasticity.
- Pastry flour - is used when you need to make crumbly, buttery pie crusts and pastries.
What's the difference between these different types of flour?
All flour is graded by its protein content.
- All-purpose flour has a protein content of 10 to 12 % compared to:
- Cake flour, which is about 9% while
- Bread flour has a protein content of 11 to 13% and
- Pastry flour has a protein content of about 8%
What does protein mean?
Protein is directly related to the formation of gluten in baking. So, we use flour with less protein when baking cakes, and pastries. And we use flour with more gluten when baking bread.
All-purpose flour is composed of both soft and hard wheat flours, which can be bleached or unbleached. The strength and texture of the baked pies or bread is a result of the gluten that is developed when the protein in the flour is combined with heat and liquid.
That is why when making a pie crust we use our fingertips to work with the dough, trying hard not to activate the gluten. This gives us a nice flaky pastry.
On the other hand, the same flour, when kneaded rigorously with the heel of your hand, activates so much gluten that it gives us a wonderfully chewy bread.
How to make an all-purpose flour substitute?
All-purpose flour is a combination of soft and hard flour like a combination of bread and cake flour.
- ½ cup (60 grams) cake + (½ cup) 65 grams bread = 125 grams All-purpose flour
Cake flour is milled into a fine consistency and has a low protein of 7 to 9 %. Low protein means soft and tender cakes.
Protein is what gives us that soft, light texture to baked goods. Though, while I like cake flour in my vanilla cake, white wedding cake as well as red velvet cake, I don't' necessarily prefer it for all cakes.
When it comes to chocolate cakes, I always prefer my all-purpose flour. I find the cocoa powder combined with an all-purpose flour gives a better texture and lightness for chocolate cakes.
How to make homemade cake flour substitutes?
It's very easy to make cake flour at home. All you need is just all-purpose flour + cornflour. Cornflour has less gluten so it works as a tenderizing agent to making cake flour.
- Take 1 cup of all-purpose flour - Remove 2 tbsp.
- Add 2 tbsp of cornstarch/cornflour.
- Sift the all-purpose flour + cornstarch.
- It is very important that the flour is well mixed, so if necessary sift twice.
- Sifting aerates the flour and adds lightness to the cake batter.
- Now, measure out 1 cup - you may have a little extra because sifting adds volume to the flour.
- Now, you have a substitute for cake flour.
Pastry flour has an even lower protein content than cake flour - about 8%. It's often recommended when you want to bake goods that are tender, crumbly and flaky, such as pie crusts, biscuits, scones.
Homemade substitute for pastry flour
Use 2 cups all-purpose flour to 1 cup of cake flour to make 3 cups of pastry flour.
As I said above, the main difference is the amount of protein. Gluten is what gives bread dough it's stretch and elasticity. It's what makes our bread chewy.
Kneading the dough well is what creates a network of gluten strand that traps air. This, when baked, gives us that light and airy bread.
If a recipe calls for bread flour and you don't have any? You can just use all-purpose flour and a little more kneading. The bread will still turn out light and airy and no one will know the difference.
For years, I have used all-purpose flour for all my bread and still do for everyday bread. All-purpose if easily available and more affordable.
Self-raising flour is flour with added salt and leavening. Personally, I like to be in control of my recipes so I use all-purpose and add the leavening and salt myself.
If you ever have a recipe that calls for self-raising you can make it yourself by sifting these three ingredients. Don't skip on the sifting and you may need to do it more than once.
- 1 cup (125 grams) All-purpose flour
- 1 ½ tsp Baking powder
- ½ tsp Salt
Can't find the right flour?
When I was growing up, I did not have the luxury of different types of flours. All I had was plain all-purpose flour. That said, I was able to make wonderful flaky pie crust, croissant, cakes as well as bread all that with all-purpose flour.
My mom would say it's not the ingredient - it's you. You are the main ingredient in your recipe and for a long time, I'd laugh about it. Over the years I have come to believe it too.
If used correctly, all-purpose flour can produce great results.
So, don't worry if you can't find cake flour, bread flour or pastry flour near you. Use what you got, and with a better understanding of how to use it, you will make wonderful baked goods.
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