Am I Using the Right Type of Baking Flour?


I get lots of questions in reference to the types of baking flour to employ when making certain baked goods.  Questions like,  is “cake flour” really a necessity or does bread flour really make a difference in a loaf and my all time favorite…can I substitute whole-wheat flour in this?

So I thought I’d write something, explaining the differences among the types of baking flours so I can point the knowledge seekers here for some answers.  Oh it’s not that I don’t like answering your emails, I just think this will be easier, more efficient and hopefully more informative if the answers are all in one place.  And you can refer back anytime you choose.  Brilliant!

Let’s start with flour in general, most start out as kernels of wheat, but the finished products vary greatly.  The flour you choose will positively or negatively affect the flavor, texture, appearance and structure of your baked goods so select wisely.

What makes each type of wheat flour different has to do with its protein content.  A higher protein content does lead to a tougher baked good, as it will have a higher concentration of gluten.  Choice of flour will allow you to make a tender and moist cake, a crispy cookie, crusty bread or something more hearty.

Most commonly we turn to all-purpose flour for most of our baking needs.  Its sufficient protein content allowing us to make our layered-cakes without heavy or tough results.  We also get the same positive outcomes using all-purpose flour in cookies and pie-crusts.  All-purpose flour truly lives up to its name as being, “all-purpose”.

When it comes to cake flour, it contains a lesser amount of protein than all-purpose, giving us those very soft and tender cakes we shoot for.  If needed, you can substitute 3/4 cup sifted all-purpose flour and 2 Tablespoons cornstarch for 1 cup cake flour.  However, never substitute self-rising flour for cake flour, the baking powder it contains will throw off your measurements.

Now, as far as bread flour is concerned, it has the highest protein content.  This is what metamorphisizes the bread into beautiful crusty and chewy loaves.  Definitely use it when baking bread, King Arthur being my favorite brand.

All three flours I mentioned are refined; the wheat germ and bran have been removed.  To keep them fresh store them in dark and cool places in airtight containers for up to one year.  However, in reference to whole-wheat flour, the nutty, rich flavor this flour imparts comes from the intact (unrefined) wheat kernel, giving us fiber, magnesium, selenium and potassium as nutrients.  But whole-wheat flour can deteriorate and become rancid quickly due to the oil contained in the bran and wheat germ.  Keep it refrigerated in an airtight container for a few weeks or freeze it for up to one year.

Lots of people love to substitute whole-wheat flour in their baked goods as a healthier option.  However, the results are not always optimum and can lead to some pretty “tough” tasting cakes.  The best way to figure out what portion might be the best for your favorite baked good would be to start with one part whole wheat to two parts all-purpose.  It might take some experimenting to get it right and in some cases will not yield the result you were hoping for.  Some desserts are meant to be enjoyed as just that, “dessert”.

Hopefully this helps.

One Year Ago: Not Acceptable ~ Dishwasher Disaster

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33 Comments

  1. nina 1

    This was most informative to read, thanks for taking time to put this all together.

    Reply
  2. Julia 2

    Very informative post. Believe it or not, there’s also a difference in brand. I once deviated from King Arthur when making pancakes and was amazed at the difference! I will never do that again.

    Reply
  3. deeba 3

    Wonderful resource Cathy. Love it!

    Reply
  4. Great post. I too have tried to health things up by adding a little ww flour to my baking products- no like!! Too earthy for me. Give me my white flour any day.

    Reply
  5. Joanna 5

    Great info! Thought you might want to add that if using whole wheat flour in breads or even muffins, a small amount of Vital Wheat Gluten will allow it to retain the “softness” without resorting to using both WW and AP flours.

    Reply
  6. Debbi 6

    Wow! I didn’t know that about whole wheat flour. Thanks!

    Reply
  7. I have just begun to work with whole wheat flour. I made Ezekiel bread. It was delicious! I will be experimenting more with it.

    Reply
  8. Tammy 8

    Great information, thanks for sharing!

    Reply
  9. Thanks for the info, Cathy. It can get confusing and I’ve had some real flops when I’ve substituted one flour for another.

    Reply
  10. Very interesting! I never knew wheat flour could go bad so quickly…I’ll have to put mine in the fridge from now on.

    Reply
  11. dawn 11

    You know I’ve always been one of those cake flour naysayers, now I’ll change my tune.

    Reply
  12. Great tips!!

    Reply
  13. Great tips!

    Reply
  14. Lena in VT 14

    So this is why my whole wheat flour always ends up tasting funky…its going rancid. I loved this post!

    Reply
  15. I’ve got a delimma…hopefully I can figure something out before dinner tonight…

    I bought a pound of quality jumbo lump crab meat a few days ago, and only used around 6 – 8 oz of it..so I’ve got about half a pound left. I plan on buying a few steaks tonight and would like to make some type of mushroom & crab topping/sauce to put over the steaks. Ideas for the sauce, or atleast an idea for a good base for the sauce would be helpful:)

    Reply
  16. holly 16

    Hello:) Im new on the blogging scene and new to your blog! Come by and check us out:) As I scrolled thru your blog there were so many yummy looking dishes and desserts. I am definatly going to try the blueberry cornmeal scones!! Also I’ll be adding your blog to my blog list:) Have a great day!

    Reply
  17. Thanks for posting this…it answered a lot of the questions I had about flour and also made me realize that the whole wheat flour I’ve been storing in a canister, on the counter should probably be ditched! It’s been there for almost three months now. I had no idea it should be stored in the fridge or freezer. Again, thanks!

    Reply
  18. Noble Pig 18

    Hmmm…I’m not sure why a crab-mushroom sauce over steak just does not sound good to me. However, crab stuffed mushrooms sound okay, so I’m not sure why I feel the disconnect. Maybe some type of white wine-dry sherry sauce?

    Reply
  19. I’ve had a crab-mushroom sauce over steak before, and it really wasn’t that bad. Funny you mentioned crab stuffed mushrooms though, that was my next option on the list, and seems to be the fan favorite of those who I am cooking for…guess it’ll be the stuffed mushrooms then! Thanks for the help

    Reply
  20. You made me hungry!! Baking this weekend, Thanks.

    Reply
  21. Bob 21

    Great tips, thanks.

    Reply
  22. Katrina 22

    Awesome floury tips!

    Reply
  23. Thanks for the great flour information.

    Reply
  24. Ella 24

    Great post! Thank you very much, it’s very informative and most of all useful!

    Reply
  25. I wish cake flour were not so expensive. Many cakes call for it and more than once I’ve had to run to the store, even though I have a ton of other flours on hand.
    You didn’t mention buckwheat, which is really interesting because it’s so soft. I just used it in pasta..hard to work with, but a great result.

    Reply
  26. Amanda 26

    Great post Cathy! It can be confusing sometimes, so this is very helpful :)

    Reply
  27. Liz C. 27

    I’ve been confused about which flour to use since the Dark Ages, when I had to take Home Economics in school. I made a *D* in cooking and in sewing. Why? Because it was never explained to me in the way you explain things. You would make such an awesome Home Ec teacher. You know. If they still taught Home Ec…

    😉

    Reply
  28. I always try to keep both cake and AP flour in my kitchen. Currently I also have bread flour leftover from bread baking at Thanksgiving. I rarely ever have the time to bake bread and I’m wondering how it would work for biscuits.

    Reply
  29. Holly 29

    I’m printing this out and pasting it to the inside of my cook book. So helpful, and I’m a little annoyed this isn’t already included

    Reply
  30. Jenny 30

    Thank you so much for this, your recipies are wonderful, but sometimes I don’t know what to use when you write “cake flour” or similar things. Up until a few years ago, in Sweden (where I’m from), we just had “flour”. That was it. And we don’t (or now I should say didn’t, as we are “americanizing”) have bakemixes either, we make (or made) things from scratch. Always. I remember an episode of Desperate Housewife (the first, actually) where they tried to explain Bree’s character by saying she made muffins from scratch. That didn’t really make it to the swedes minds correctly. We just thought, so? :) So this is really helpful to me, thank you! Now, I am living in Paris, France, and they are not very good with their flour-assortments, as they have so many boulangeries they can just buy the baked goods cheap in, just around the corner. I acually have one in the same buliding, so the staircases always smells of vanilla, pain du chocolat, croissants and baguettes. Heaven! :)

    Reply
  31. Great info here. I’m still experimenting to figure out the best combination of flours and grains for my whole grain bagels, but it’s fun.

    Reply
  32. Linda 32

    Great informational post Cathy! Thanks. A few years ago I purchased the book “Whole Grain Baking” by the folks at King Arthur Flour. It helped me understand a lot of what I didn’t “get” before. Great book, fabulous recipes and worthwhile tips.

    Reply
  33. Margo 33

    I just got your website from my friend in Coos Bay, OR. I am in Lake Lure, NC and wanted tell you, I love your site. I will be visiting you everyday. Love all that you do…and will be using your recipes in my Supper Club dinners as well as your table scape ideas..

    Reply

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