Baking ingredients

Flour Power-What’s your Flour IQ

flour piled high on a table
Image by Bruno Glätsch from Pixabay

A baker’s best friend. What would we do without it? Fundamentally, its the backbone of baking as a pivotal and important ingredient. With all the brands out there, which type is best for what? If you are like me, I often wondered what the difference was between all of them!

Ironically, it wasn’t until culinary school (some 13 years ago….)that I found out the secret to that mystery. More importantly, when to use them and for what purpose. Before I give you the “scoop” (pun intended), I have to share a funny store regarding the subject matter.

Lesson Learned

Rewind back to 2005, when I was a Top 10 finalist in the YWCA Chocolate Chip Cookie Contest. Yep, that is where I got the eye opening experience that not all flours are the same.

First, we were required to create a unique cookie formula for the big contest. Second, it had to be trans-fat free. Long story short, I tried to use cake flour in my recipe creation. That was a big mistake.

YWCA Baking Contestant Badge
YWCA Chocolate Chip Cookie Contest 2005

Although the cookie tasted amazing, it spread way to much when baked. Unfortunately, instead of a cookie, it was more like a monster cookie! Ha ha. Structurally, it just didn’t quite make the mark.

Flour Really Matters

Looking back, it’s easy to see now. Cake flour and sugar were the culprit. The cookie didn’t have the proper ratio of both allowing the cookie to spread so much in baking. Additionally, the cake flour didn’t provide the necessary means to hold the cookie into the right shape. Thus, allowing the extra spread of the cookies.

Lesson learned! I always remember that when I bake and still chuckle about the experience. Oh, the winner of the contest had an amazing cookie loaded with chocolate chips and Black Strap Molasses! What did my recipe consist of….??? Cream cheese, orange zest, and of course, chocolate chips!

Baking 101

misen place for baking

My kitchen is equipped with the staple flours used for baking and described below. As you will see, you can make simple substitutions to create other varieties of flours without the need of purchasing all of them. Yeah!

Not every flour is alike and if used properly in the correct recipe, will give you the best outcome and product desired.

Come let me share what I learned as I journeyed in my baking career.

Protein-Why Necessary?

Confession time….. I never knew that flour contained protein. Baking and pastry class brought all that to light. Initially, I was like, why does flour need protein?

Gluten is the answer. A fancy term that describes this easy equation:

Water + Protein + Stirring = Gluten

More Protein= More Gluten

Gluten requires protein. Protein provides elasticity and stretch to doughs. The higher the protein content, the more structure it brings to baked goods.

Assorted flours contains different percentages of protein. What a light bulb moment for me. For instanBread flour and all-purpose contain the most, while cake flour contains the least.

For example, homemade bread like Italian or French, requires more structure than a muffin or cupcake. Hence, a flour containing more protein will be ideal to use here.

As a general rule, the tougher the baked item, the more gluten you need.

Mixing Matters

collection of kitchen whisks

Mixing is another property that can determine how much gluten is produced. Generally, the more mixing you do, the more gluten that is formed.

Muffins are what come to mind to illustrate this point. Using the muffin mixing method is required to reduce the amount of gluten that will form and preventing extra gluten from developing.

In this method, wet ingredients are added to the dry ingredients, then mixed by hand instead of an electric mixer. This prevents overmixing and the development of extra gluten which will make the muffins tougher.

All-Purpose

All purpose is exactly what the name represents, its all purpose for your baking needs. Used in an array of baking but not always the best for everything. This is my go-to flour!

My favorite brand: King Arthur (hands down), White Lily

  • Blending between soft and hard flours
  • Contains about 10.5% protein
  • Used in cakes, muffins, biscuits, and cookies

Bleached or Unbleached? What is best?

There is no difference in these two versions except the bleached version will give it a whiter color. This is a result of the bleaching process where the flour is treated chemically. Typically, I like using the unbleached.

Cake

The name says it all, it’s a perfect flour to use in cake recipes. I remember the first time I used this and could not believe the incredible light and fluffy texture this flour brings to the table. Outstanding.

Cake flour has a lower protein content so it will not develop as much gluten as regular all-purpose flour. Additionally, it has a higher starch content as this flour contains cornstarch. The result is a tender baked good.

  • Very fine and soft
  • Bleached which gives it a white color
  • About 7.5% protein
  • Perfect in cakes and muffins

I like to sometimes use half and half (all purpose and cake) in my muffin recipes to produce an almost cupcake like tender muffin.

TIP

First tip: I like to go in halves with cake flour and all-purpose when making pizza dough. This produces a tender and crispy pizza, much like a Neapolitan style crust. Delicious!

Second Tip: For cupcakes, I also do half all-purpose flour and half cake flour which gives a delicious, moist, and tender texture.

My favorite brand: Softasilk (love it)!

Substitution Trick:

I cup all purpose flour – 2 TBS of the flour + 2 TBS cornstarch

You are basically replacing some of the all purpose flour with cornstarch.

Bread

Bread flour is perfect for yeast breads because of the high protein content which gives it the structure needed. Also, it can withstand the kneading process due to its high production of gluten that enables you to stretch and handle the dough easily.

  • Has a yellowish color
  • About 12.5% protein
  • Gives structure
  • Perfect in yeast breads, cinnamon rolls, and pizza dough

Love this, as it makes the perfect breads. Sometimes when bread recipes call for all-purpose flour, I substitute bread flour instead.

Also, you can try using half all-purpose and half bread flour. Play around with these in your recipes and see what kind of results you get. One example, is I like to use this in my challah bread and it turns out great every time.

My favorite brand: King Arthur and Gold Medal

Self Rising

I call this my one-stop shopping flour. Like a cheat sheet for baking. Basically, its all-purpose flour with leavening agents that are added to speed up recipe process like baking powder and salt.

No self rising on hand? Don’t fret, it’s super simple to make on your own!

Ironically, I find that my recipes don’t call for a lot of this type of flour so I just make it myself when needed. Furthermore, its quick and easy and can be made up ahead of time. As well as, economical without having to buy another type of flour.

  • Same as all-purpose flour
  • About 10.5% protein
  • Best used in quick breads, biscuits, and muffins

Substitution Trick:

1 cup all-purpose flour + 1 1/2 tsp baking powder + 1/2 tsp salt

I like to make up 2 cups of this and keep it sealed in a container so it is ready to use when needed.

Pastry

The first time I discovered pastry flour was working in commercial catering. Overwhelmingly, there was huge bins of all types of flours and we used this type quite often in the pastry shop.

Really like this flour for making pie crust because it produces a perfect flakiness and tenderness that is required.

  • Usually an off white color
  • Not as fine as cake flour
  • About 9.7% protein
  • Perfect for pie dough and pastries

Typically, I do not purchase this flour but make my own as it is super easy to whip up.

Substitution Trick:

2 cups all-purpose flour + 1 cup and 2 T cake flour

These get mixed well and you are ready to roll!

Hope this boosts your flour IQ and empower your next baking project and future creations. For me, I know it has greatly helped refine my baking and there is always something to learn in the kitchen, isn’t there?

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