Something that has puzzled us all at some point walking through the aisles of our local grocer is “flour, why are there so many types of you?” Just like milk, it seems the alternative flour market is increasing rapidly. Not to mention the long list of staples that have been occupying pantry-space in kitchens worldwide for millennia. Not only is it confusing trying to understand the application of each one, but it’s also tough to understand what is exactly different about each of them.
What Are The Types of Flour?
There are three basic categories of flour that bakers across Europe have been using throughout history: soft, breadable, and strong. Differences between each of these come down to their protein percentage, with the lower the percentage the softer it is. Accordingly, if we get scientific we can see that ‘soft’ has around 8-9% protein, ‘breadable’ has around 10-11%, and ‘strong’ has higher than 12%.
Does Protein Levels Matter For Non-Europeans?
For the cultures of France and Spain with a long history of baking, these statistics do come in handy. But for those of us just trying to find the best flour for our recipe, there is a simpler way to think about it. ‘Soft’ flour is the type of flour you use for cakes, with a light and fluffy nature to it. Whilst ‘breadable’ flour is a suitable label for all-purpose flour that isn’t always suitable for cakes or loaves of bread. Surprisingly for some, the ‘strongest’ category is the go-to for making bread.
Difference Between Flour and Pastry Flour
As said previously, the lower the protein content, the more fluffy and light the end result will be. If you were to use bread flour for a delicious fluffy cake you would get a chewy thicker cake that would not work well. Thus, pastry flour with its very low 9% protein content makes sure your baked goods stay nice and light.
Flours such as cake flour and pastry flour are also better for making these recipes because of their sugar content, with much higher sugar content these flours ensure minimal chance of collapse with thinner doughs.
Difference Between Bread Flour And All-purpose Flour
For starters, bread flour has more gluten in it so for all of us who avoid gluten as much as possible, be wary. That being said, depending on your location, either bread flour or all-purpose (AP) flour may be a better option for you. The same can be said for what application you are using the flour for, as with any of the many flours, there is a specific use for each.
Hardness of Outer Crust
If you are looking for a crust that is more subtle, and not so hard then go for bread flour. This is especially true if you live in a hot climate as due to the excess gluten, heat will affect this.
AP Flour Can be a Filler
If you are making a pizza for instance but are having issues with the base not staying together, add in AP flour. AP flour is a great addition to recipes that need either thickness or more size on the outside.
AP Flour Can Help Save You Money
Adding in a bit of AP flour will make sure you have enough flour for the recipe while ensuring the texture is almost perfect for the recipe. Using a 50% blend of AP flour and another flour in your pizza bases is a great way to save money and ensure bases are solid but not like a brick.
Corn Starch for Protein Control
You could also use corn starch to lower the protein which makes bread so chewy, this would be suitable for using bread flour for a baguette in which you want to have less chewiness for example.
The wheat structure of bread flour is the perfect companion for yeast due to high protein levels for yeast to feast on. With the most delicious breads possessing delicate and advanced yeast structures, it’s obvious that the most extravagant bread flours produce the most deliciously yeasty bread.
Is Cake Flour The Same as Pastry Flour?
We spoke earlier about the many ways that regular flour differs in structure to that of pastry flour. But when you are looking at making some delicious sweets, you need to decide between cake flour or pastry flour. Depending on what type of texture and flavour you are trying to achieve, either of these may be the best option for you.
If you want chewiness, you are going to need a higher amount of gluten and thus will need pastry flour. But if you are looking at making very dense yet somewhat airy muffins with fruit, a 50-50 blend of both may be best.
Do You Want A More Bready Crust?
If you are looking for a thicker crust on the outside, using pastry flour with some AP flour will give some of the bread-like crust effects. For a standard muffin, however, which is not chewy but is quite dense, most of us will be looking at using cake flour.
Amount of Rise
Soft wheat is a key difference present in cake flour, this rises less and makes it a great obvious choice for soft cakes, biscuits and pastries with low rise such as puff pastry tarts.
Conscious Of Your Wallet But Baking Sweets?
Another important idea to keep in mind before going out to buy some high-quality cake flour is whether you have AP flour in your pantry. All bakers should have a method for sifting their flour in their kitchen, with this in mind, through sifting AP flour ten times we can lower the protein content somewhat and get closer to cake flour protein levels. Of course, it’s impossible for us to completely change the flour through sifting to becoming the exact same structure as cake flour. However, if you are frugal this is a great way to substitute the often expensive cake flours on the market.