Have you ever stopped to consider the different types of flour available? Upon first glance, the bags on the supermarket shelves all look the same. Look a little closer, however, and you’ll see that there are a surprising variety of flour types out there. Here’s a handy guide to help you understand a little more about the different types of flour on the market today.
Many cake recipes call for cake flour – makes sense, right? Cake flour is specially designed to create a super-soft cake with a light, airy crumb, which is often the goal when baking a cake. This lighter-than-air texture is achieved by reducing the amount of protein in the flour. You want some protein, of course – after all, it’s what gives your cake its structure – but too much could cause your cake’s texture to toughen. Use cake flour when you want a tender crumb.
All purpose flour is the safe standard, and it’s the kind of flour you’ll find in most pantries across the United States. Its name doesn’t lie – it’s perfectly acceptable for most baking purposes. Most breads, batters, or breadings will do just fine when prepared with all purpose flour. Just remember that with cakes, it could cause your cake to come out a little tougher than intended, especially if overmixed.
To convert all purpose flour to cake flour in a pinch, measure a cup of all purpose flour and remove two tablespoons. Add two tablespoons of corn starch and mix well before incorporating into your cake batter.
Bread flour contains even more gluten than all purpose flour. This makes sense when you consider the chewy, glutinous textures we look for in the perfect loaf of bread. Use bread flour when you’re looking to add extra texture and bite to baked goods like pizza crusts, but you should steer clear of bread flour when preparing more delicate desserts like cakes and pastries.
Clocking in with even less protein than cake flour, pastry flour takes us to the opposite end of the cake-baking spectrum. While less gluten may sound like a good thing, you definitely want to ensure you have enough to support the structure of your cake. Pastry flours are best for desserts and baked treats that target a light, flaky crust – think pies and croissants.
White flour is produced by grinding down one part of the grain, which results in a light, white flour. Whole wheat flour, on the other hand, is produced by grinding the whole grain – hence the name. Whole wheat flour is a little more nutritious than white flour, but it’s important to know the majority of cakes and desserts you’ll bake will call for white flour – with good reason. The slightly nutty flavor of whole wheat flour can impact the taste of your finished cake, but more importantly, whole wheat flour can alter the texture of your cake for the worse.