Bakers know it. Pizza lovers know it. Now you’re about to know it. All flours are not created equal.
Please, no marches on Washington.
All Purpose Flour: This is the flour most everyone has in their pantry, or if you came to my house, in my fridge. (it’s humid here, so in the fridge it goes for a longer shelf-life) White flour is universally fortified and is made from a combo of hard and soft wheat. The bran and germ of the wheat gets separated from the endosperm (who snickered besides me?!) when processed. You can make cakes, cookies, bread et al. with all purpose flour, but you would be better served with a more specialized flour for your finer cakes and pastries.
Bread Flour: Bread flour has a high protein (gluten) content, which is what gives bread that to-die-for chewiness and texture. The protein is what also gives bread form, or structure. Bread flour has to age before it performs the way we want it or expect it to. If you have seen the word “bromate” it is usually associated with a flour that has been aged.
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Cake Flour: Mmmmm, cake flour = CAKE! Y’all know how I love cake. Cake flour is definitely worth using when a recipe calls for it. It’s milled super fine, with a low protein content, giving cakes that soft mouth feel and tender texture we hope for when we take our first bite. Cake flour can be bleached or not, but it’s mostly bleached. The reasoning behind the bleaching (yep, with chemicals) is to achieve the whitest white possible for those special cakes, like for weddings. If you can’t find it in stores, CLICK HERE. or make your own:
Recipe #1: One cup of cake flour can be made by measuring 1 cup all-purpose flour, removing 2 tablespoons of flour and replacing that with 2 tablespoons of cornstarch.
Recipe #2: Add 2 tablespoons of corn starch to 1 cup of regular flour. Sift mixture together twice and you’re ready to rock.
Try each to determine which one you like better. Of course that means you’ll have to MAKE MORE CAKE!
Self-rising: Basically an all purpose flour with salt and leaveners added. Think Bisquick and Pioneer mixes. You make quick breads with self-rising, but not so much yeast breads. Again, you can make your own, which I do when I need it and it works fine.
Recipe: Add 1 1/2 tsp of baking powder and 1/2 tsp salt to 1 cup of all purpose flour.
Whole Wheat: This flour uses the entire kernel of wheat when it’s milled. The bran, the germ and the (hold your giggles) endosperm all get thrown into the bag. This is why whole wheat bread is high in fiber and can spoil faster than white. Ever smell rancid whole wheat flour. ~ugh~ So nasty. Why does it do that? Blame it on the germ, which is high in fat. Anything baked with whole wheat flour is dense and heavy. There is a white whole wheat on the market (I use it for pizza sometimes) which is a bit lighter for those who scrunch up their noses at whole wheat. Another fun fact is that whole wheat is not fortified because it’s packed with nutrition.
image source: Amazon
Other Flour Thangs
* Brands: Different brands of flour will give you different results. Trust a baker on this. Use a quality flour. My go-to is King Arthur. It’s a bit more expensive, but if I’m gonna spend my time baking, I don’t want to be disappointed.
* Storage: You want to keep flour cool and dry. You can store in the freezer or in the fridge. Wheat should always be stored in the fridge because of its fat content. As I said earlier, mine is in the fridge, never in the pantry. Living in Texas = hot and humid.
Here’s the grossest part of this post: it’s not beyond the scope of believability that there may or may not be weevil/insect eggs in your flour (count on it). Word on the street is if you place all new flour in the freezer for the first 48 hours, you will have successfully killed all the eggs and will not get a bag full of bugs. ~hurk~
* Shelf Life: 12 months for white flour stored in the fridge, 6 months for wheat, which makes me laugh because I am constantly buying flour. It never lasts more than a month or so. If you store your flour in the cabinet in a tightly sealed container expect 8 months for white. You know the drill: if it smells weird, looks funky or is moving…TOSS IT! If you store it in the freezer, place it in a large ziplock to prevent transfer of odors. Since I store mine in the fridge, I dump it into a giant ziplock, for ease of scooping. Plus, there’s no messy flour floof trail from the original bag.
* Buying: Check for tearing or open bags. Check expiration. Buy from a store that sells lots of flour and has good turnover.
There are many more specialty flours on the market, but this covers most of our basic baking needs.
What do you guys use and trust?