Flour is one of those ingredients that seems simple but can be quite complex when you look closer. The seemingly simple flour ingredient can have a lot more to it than you might think. It’s not easy to find the right variety for your best pieces of bread, pastries, or cakes.
You have probably got flour in your pantry.
Let’s start with the basics:
Wholemeal vs. White Flour
Contrary to what you might have heard, flour classification does not refer to bleaching. It all comes down to the parts of the wheat plant that are used. The three components of the cereal’s grain are used to make flour. These are the endosperm which contains starch and some protein, and the germ, which has most of the fat and a little protein. And the bran, which is where the fiber lives.
Wholemeal flour is made by milling the whole fruits, while white flour is only made from the endosperm. Wholemeal is healthier but has a higher absorbency and needs to be diluted with liquid. This results in a sticky, difficult dough that can be hard to work with. Whole wheat flour can be a great option if you want to increase the bulk and fiber of your baked goods. However, it is better to start with wholemeal instead of switching out 25-30% white flour. This will allow you to adjust to the changes in texture and dough.
Let’s now talk about the all-purpose star: plain flour. This is also known as all-purpose flour or AP flour in the US. Plain flour is white flour that only contains the endosperm. It can be bleached or unbleached. Plain flour is white flour that does not contain the germ, which contributes to oils. It can be stored for several years and is more stable than whole wheat varieties. (To prevent your wholemeal flours from going rancid, you can freeze them
Plain flour is good for almost all applications. If you have only one bag of flour, it should suffice. Plain flour is what I use to make most of the loaves of bread, cookies, and cakes I make. I have never had any problems with it. While specialty flours may give rise to a taller cake or a chewier pretzel, plain flour is sufficient.
You can bet that you know what bread flour is used for. It’s bread. Particularly bread with a chewy texture. Bread flour is made from “hard” Wheat. This Wheat contains more protein and therefore will produce more gluten when it’s kneaded. Gluten forms when two proteins, gliadin and glutenin, crosslink to form a stretchy network that holds everything together. Your bread will be chewier if you have more protein.
Bread flour is great for bread, but it’s terrible for delicate baked goods such as flakey pastry or crumbly cakes. (Or don’t do it, I’m your mom, but know that your cake won’t be the same.
Pastry Flour and Cake Flour
As with bread flour, these bags of ground Wheat can be named to tell you the best uses. It’s how it is made that makes the difference. Both are made from soft (low-protein) wheat flour. However, pastry flour is typically bleached to destroy the proteins. This results in delicate flour. This flour is structurally weakest and allows your cakes to rise higher than the rest.
However, most people don’t make enough cakes to warrant keeping a bag of cake flour. This clever formula from The Kitchn can be used to make a decent substitute.
1 cup AP flour + 2 Tablespoons of AP flour + 2 Tablespoons Cornstarch = 1 Cup Cake flour
Pastry flour lacks protein, making it flimsy. This makes it ideal for soft pie crusts or crumble-pound cakes.
Self-raising flour has a leavener included in almost every baking recipe. This flour is most commonly used in pancake and biscuit recipes. It also contains less protein than regular flour, which results in a tender product. I don’t keep myself self-raising — I use plain flour and baking powder to make my biscuits. I have never had any complaints, so it seems a bit redundant.
The “00” in flour refers only to the quality of the flour. It does not matter which wheats were used or how much protein they contain. The protein content of 00 flour can vary greatly. In the US, it can hover around 11-12 percent (similar to plain flour), while it can be anywhere from 9-9 percent in Australia. Because of its delicate nature and small particle size, it is ideal for making pasta. This can often be difficult with bulkier flours as they can roll thinly.
However, I do not believe that 00 flour is necessary. Although plain flour can be used to make pasta, it is a little more difficult to roll out, so you decide if it’s worth the extra effort.
What is Bleaching?
Bleached flours can be chemically treated with an organic oxygenizing agent such as peroxide or chlor to lighten their color (which is yellowish when freshly ground), make them easier to work with and increase their “gluten-producing potential”. Due to the damage done to proteins, it also results in flour that has a soft texture.
You can also do this by letting the flour stand out, exposed to oxygen. This will cause the flour’s proteins to react with each other to create longer gluten chains. However, it takes more time and money, so “bleached” flour will be more costly. You could also buy unbleached flour and let it sit for a while before you use it.
This information will vary depending on the manufacturer. However, these guidelines will help you to find chewy loaves of bread and tender cakes as well as fluffy biscuits.