Flour Power

Cake flour, pastry flour, all-purpose flour and self-rising or bread flour are the four types of flour that you’ll most often see when reading through recipes.

In the making of these flours there are two types of wheat; hard and soft. I wondered for a long time what difference, if any, there was between hard and soft wheat. Come to find out, hard wheat has higher protein content. Why would a higher protein count be important? Because the protein in the wheat contains gluten, it helps the baked goods to rise and gives the bread that great texture we have come to expect. But some cakes and pastries are improved with lower protein flour. For instance, pastry flour has a high-starch, low protein content. If you don’t have pastry flour, you can easily make pastry flour by mixing half cake flour and half all- purpose flour in a recipe. You of course can make your own cake flour as well.

My quest for the right kind of flour all started a couple of months ago when we purchased a 25 pound bag of white bleached flour. This flour was an off brand and was much cheaper. When we started to bake with it we noticed some lumping, so we sifted it, but that didn’t completely solve our problem. It did take care of the lumps. But the flour had a bad taste, it didn’t exactly taste rancid, it just didn’t taste right. The only way I can explain it, was that you could taste the flour over the other ingredients. We were really disappointed with our purchase and vowed not to buy that brand again or anything other brand that we did not do our homework on. The experience got me to thinking about all the different types and brands of flour and why one might be superior over another. Sounds to me like it’s a lot about protein content!

The favorite thing that I learned from my research is that if I have excellent all-purpose flour I can use it as a base for making my own cake, pie or self-rising flour.

Cake Flour

I have used cake flour before when a recipe calls for it, but it always required some planning ahead because I don’t make a habit of buying or keeping it on hand. For the most part, some recipes do just fine with all-purpose flour but occasionally one will specify cake flour and you will not be happy with results unless you have used cake flour. Cake flour is lower in protein and has been bleached. Although, you can’t use all-purpose flour in exchange for cake flour, you can make your own by putting 2 tablespoons of corn starch in a cup and filling the cup with all-purpose flour.

Self-Rising Flour

Self-rising flour is often used for pancakes, quick breads, muffins and biscuits. It means that you don’t have to use any leavening. You can make your own self-rising flour by adding 1½ teaspoons baking powder to every one cup of flour.

Pastry Flour

I always use all-purpose flour for making pastries but many people believe that pastry flour produces a more tender pie crust. The pastry flour is medium-protein flour which is supposed to be right the right amount of protein to keep the crust from shrinking or becoming too tough. You can make your own pastry flour by combining one part cornstarch to two parts all-purpose flour.

Bleached vs Unbleached

I suppose one of the reasons we have bleached and unbleached flour is because opinions vary on which is the best. Some bakers say that it makes no difference in the end product. Some people believe that bleached wheat is purer, better flavored and results in better volume. Some think that bleaching takes out some of the nutrients. It is true that the chlorine that is used to bleach the flour does change the protein content.

So, I learned that not all flour is created equal and that protein content has a lot to do with the outcome of the product. I also learned that if I buy high quality all-purpose flour and I can make my own cake, pastry, and self-rising flour with not much effort. It takes a few minutes but it is worth it to me.

    Jeanne Wolfley
    Monthly Newsletter Contributor since 2008
    Email the author! jeanne@dvo.com

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