The Difference Between Popular Flours

Let me paint a scene for you…you run into Target for a bag of flour so you can satisfy that late-night craving for chocolate chip cookies or chocolate cake and you find yourself overwhelmed, no, BOMBARDED with 8 billion types of flours…what’s a amateur baker to do?!

Between rows of almond flour and buckwheat flour you search the shelves for just simple all-purpose flour…then feel like a shlumb for not even having the courage to just give whole wheat flour a try like the yoga-pants-wearing mom that just threw 3 bags of it in her cart…

Well, worry no more! Today I’m breaking down the 11 most popular types of flour…what makes them work, what they can be used for, and what makes them different from their other cousins on the shelf.

The main difference between most wheat flours is the amount of proteins they contain, which directly correlates to the ability of the flour to produce gluten. The higher the protein, the more gluten it can produce. So higher protein flours, like bread flour, are great for dense baked goods, like breads and pizza crusts…while low protein flours, like cake flour and pastry flour, are great for light-as-air muffins, cookies, cakes and pastries.

Several flours can be mixed together for different flavors and to add nutritional value to whatever you’re making. So next time you make a run to the grocery store to stock up on flour, take a chance and give whole wheat flour a try! After reading this, you’ll have the “flour power” to be creative in the kitchen!

popular flours

The Differences Between Popular Flours

Unbleached All-Purpose Flour

This is the workhorse of all the flours. You can use it for pretty much anything and everything, unless your recipe tells you otherwise.

Bleached All-Purpose Flour

In essence, bleached flour is the same as unbleached, but it’s chemically altered with bleaching agents (benzoyl peroxide or chlorine dioxide) to whiten flour and speed up production. Due to the processing, bleached flour often has less protein than unbleached, making it good for flaky pastries.

Bread Flour

Bread flour is high in protein, which allows for more gluten development when combined with water. Gluten allows dough to expand so, naturally, bread flour is great for making bread (go figure!). You can also use bread flour to make pizza dough, puff pastry, and even some cookies.

Whole Wheat Flour

Since whole wheat flour is made by milling the entire wheat kernel, whole wheat flour can be slightly darker, nuttier and higher in nutritional content than all-purpose flour. The bran in this flour makes it difficult to produce gluten, though…so whole wheat flour is often used in combination with another flour to make bread or other baked goods. It’s versatile and can be used for most recipes to add nutrition to whatever you’re making…just make sure to adjust the water amounts as necessary.

Cake Flour

Cake flour is milled from low protein wheat strains, yielding minimal gluten development. This makes cake flour amazing for baked goods like angel food cake, sponge cakes, biscuits, and muffins.

Self-Rising Flour

Self-rising flour is pastry flour that also contains baking powder and salt. This flour is great for flaky and tender biscuits, muffins, pancakes, and some cakes. Most recipes that require self-rising flour will call it out as such. If your recipe calls for self-rising flour, you can also make your own by combining 1 cup pastry flour with 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder and 1/4 teaspoon salt.

Pastry Flour

Pastry flour sits comfortably between all-purpose flour and cake flour in the protein spectrum. It strikes the ideal balance between flakiness and tenderness, making it perfect for pies, tarts and many cookies. You can also make your own pastry flour by mixing all-purpose flour with cake flour.

Spelt Flour

Though spelt is technically a form of wheat, it’s often an alternative to wheat flour because it’s easier to digest. It has a mild nuttiness, natural sweetness and can be used for most breads, pizza crusts, or cookies.

Buckwheat Flour

Buckwheat flour is naturally gluten-free and it absorbs a LOT of moisture, making this flour great for pancakes, noodles and dense cakes.

Rice Flour

Rice flour has a granular, coarse texture and is also naturally gluten-free. It can be combined with other flours for a more workable dough. It’s great to use for sponge cakes, noodles, and light fry doughs, like fritters or tempura batters.

Nut Flours

Simply made from pulverized nuts, nut flours are very powdery and naturally contain no gluten. Of all the nut flours, almond is probably the most popular. These can be combined with other flours if desired for added flavor. Their flavor and texture make nut flours great for cookies and tart crusts.
Every Monday is a “Reci-bee” post, where I share my favorite recipes, recipe collections, and cooking and baking hints and tips. 

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