Flour 101 – Understanding the Difference Between Cake Flour, All-Purpose, Self-Rising and More
Nearly every type of baking recipe will contain flour. Flour gives baked goods their volume and texture. While virtually any type of grain can be made into flour (as well as nuts and legumes and potatoes), the most common flour used in the U.S. is wheat flour. But even if we limit ourselves to talking about wheat flour, there are still a number of different types to consider. Different wheat flours are used in different types of recipes, and in many cases substituting one for another will lead to a recipe failure. Let’s talk about some of the most common types of flour. One of the biggest distinguishing characteristics among these various types is gluten content. Gluten is a naturally occurring plant protein that gives bread its chewiness.
Cake Flour. Cake flour has the least amount of gluten of any common wheat flour, typically in the 6% to 8.5% range. Because of the low gluten content, items made with cake flour are more tender and less chewy than bread and other baked goods. Angel food cake, for example, is almost always made with cake flour.
Pastry Flour. Pastry flour has a slightly higher percentage than cake flour, and is well suited for pie crusts and other pastry items.
All-Purpose Flour. All-purpose flour generally has a protein content in the 10-12% range. All- purpose flour is the most versatile flour, and is likely to be the staple flour in most kitchens. All- purpose flour can be used to make most types of cakes and breads, as well as cookies, pie crusts and other confections.
Bread Flour. Bread flour is a specialty flour that has a much higher gluten content. Bread flour generally contains between 12-14% protein and is ideally suited for making bread – particularly breads with a thicker crust and a bigger crumb.
Self-Rising Flour. Self-rising flour is simply all purpose flour to which a leavening agent has been added. This type of flour is generally used for biscuits and similar baked goods. You can make your own self-rising flour at home by combining 1 cup of all-purpose flour with 1 teaspoon baking powder and a pinch of salt.
Enriched Flour. Enriched flour is simply flour to which certain B vitamins have been added. The flour refining process generally strips these nutrients from the flour, so the enriching process adds nutrients back into the finished product.
Whole Wheat Flour. Whole wheat flour is flour in which more of the wheat grain is incorporated in the process. This flour naturally has a much higher nutritional content in an all-purpose flour (even if they all-purpose flour is enriched), but because of its composition it is not well-suited to many recipes.
Don’t be overwhelmed by the number of different types of flour. Most of your recipes will call for all-purpose flour, and when it’s time to cook something that calls for another type, you’ll better understand what you’re using.