Baking produces foods that delight and satisfy our hunger, our taste buds and even our emotions. Whether it’s a warm, crusty slice of bread smothered in butter or tender-crumbed vanilla cake with creamy layers of chocolate ganache–when it’s freshly baked with just the right ingredients, it can be unforgettable. Using the right flour for the recipe is just as important as any of the other ingredients you choose for the most delicious version of the final dish.
Understanding the science of how baking works and how the types of flour you use affects the final product can help you achieve optimal results. In this article, you’ll learn about the differences of flours made from the whole wheat grain (called a wheat kernel or wheat berry) and its wheat cousins. After the wheat grain is harvested, it is milled. Milling is the process that takes the whole grain and blends it down into the type of flour desired. This usually involves removing some or all of the germ and endosperm to get the right texture and protein content for the type of flour to be sold. These flours include all-purpose, self-rising, bread, cake, pastry, 00, strong, high-protein, whole wheat, white whole wheat, semolina, rye and barley flour.
Why are There Different Types of Flour for Baking?
Different types of wheat contain varying levels of protein, and when milled make ideal flours for different baking purposes. Soft wheat has less protein and makes the best pastries and cakes, while hard wheat has more protein and is perfect for producing yeasted bread.
The more protein in the flour, the stronger the gluten production. Gluten forms when the dough or batter is stirred or kneaded. Gluten helps create elasticity and stretch to form air bubbles, which are desired in yeasted bread. Less protein means less gluten formation and a more delicate and tender crumb, which is ideal for pastries. If you’re still wondering what baking flour is, the simple answer is that all of the flours we outline below are baking flours. Each has its own purpose and can help you achieve the desired results of recipes that require gluten.
Bleached vs. Unbleached Flour: What’s the Difference?
Flour labeled “bleached” has been treated with chemicals to age it quickly, making it a softer, finer grain. Aged naturally, unbleached flour is off-white and has a slightly coarser grain. Both tend to refer to all-purpose flour and can be used interchangeably.
13 Different Kinds of Flour to Use for Cakes, Bread, Pastry & More
For our purposes, this article will describe gluten flours and why they’re used for a variety of baking applications, including desserts, bread, pastries and more. You can explore details about grain- and gluten-free options in this article.
1. All-Purpose Flour
What is All-Purpose Flour?
This pantry essential is a versatile flour that works well for many types of baking and is shelf-stable. Recipes that only call for “flour” can be made with all-purpose. A blend of hard and soft wheat, this flour has a medium protein content of 10-13 percent. This “just right” amount of protein makes all purpose flour a good choice for many baking projects.
What is All-Purpose Flour Used For?
You might still be confused about when to use wheat flour vs. all-purpose flour, so let’s clarify that all-purpose flour is wheat flour. It’s simply had parts of the wheat grain milled out so it’s soft and has a medium percentage of protein, making it ideal for these baking applications:
Muffins, doughnuts, and biscuits
Pies and pastries
Breading for meat, fish, and vegetables
Thickening agent for gravy, sauce, and roux
2. Self-Rising Flour
What is Self-Rising Flour?
Self-rising flour is a convenient all-purpose flour with the leavening agent baking soda and salt added during milling. It has an 8–9 percent protein content and produces a nice, high rise for quick bread type baking. It cannot be used in yeasted bread or as a substitution for other flours.
What is Self-Rising Flour Used For?
If you’re using self-rising flour vs. all-purpose flour, remember that you do not need to add the recipe’s leavening. Self-rising flour is ideal for baked goods that require a high rise such as:
You can easily make your own self-rising flour by whisking together 1 cup of all-purpose flour with 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder and ½ teaspoon of salt. Remember, leavening agents will lose their potency over time, so don’t store your self-rising flour for longer than six months.
3. Bread Flour aka Bakers Flour
What is Bread Flour?
You might wonder what is in bread flour that makes it perfect for baking bread. Made of milled hard wheat, it’s the strongest flour with a 12–15 percent protein content. Often called bakers flour in older recipes, its high gluten produces the structured and chewy crumb that’s ideal for yeasted bread.
What is Bread Flour Used For?
Use bread flour vs. self-rising flour or all-purpose flour when you’re baking yeasted bread that should have a chewy crumb and well-formed crust with plenty of lift and air bubbles throughout, including:
4. Cake Flour
What is Cake Flour?
Cake flour is a low protein flour made from soft wheat that’s milled to a fine, silky texture and is bleached to reduce the protein to 6–8 percent. Because it’s higher in starch than all-purpose flour, this soft flour absorbs more liquid, fat and sugar and results in a tender, moist crumb that’s highly desired in most cakes. Its lighter color also contributes visually to cake baking, producing whiter cakes when baking a vanilla cake or sponge.
What is Cake Flour Used For?
Cake flour is bleached and more finely milled than unbleached all-purpose flour, which has too much protein for baking cakes with the best results. Cakes made with higher-protein flours will be chewy and tough. Use cake flour vs. all-purpose flour because it has a finer texture for recipes such as:
Brownies (for cakey brownies)
You can make your own cake flour to keep in your pantry by sifting together 1 cup of all-purpose flour (minus 2 tablespoons) with 2 tablespoons of cornstarch. Sift it together twice!
5. Pastry Flour
What is Pastry Flour?
Falling between all-purpose and cake flour, pastry flour is also made from soft wheat, but with a 7–9 percent protein content. It produces both the tender crumb and flaky texture that is desired in most pastries. It should not be used for baking bread because it has too little gluten. Yeasted bread made with pastry flour will be too dense and soft.
What is Pastry Flour Used For?
If you’re wondering whether you should use cake flour vs. pastry flour when you try a new croissant recipe, keep in mind that cake flour has too little protein to create the ideal flakiness. Pastry flour has a slightly higher protein content, is typically used for recipes that require baking soda or baking powder and works best for baked goods that should have a flaky texture, including:
Sweet and savory pie
You can make your own pastry flour by combining two parts all-purpose flour with one part cake flour, sifting it together to combine it well.
6. Type 00 Flour
What is 00 Flour?
This Italian type 00 flour is typically made from Durum wheat milled to the finest grind. It has a medium protein content ranging from 11–12 percent. It has strong gluten that is less elastic than other wheat, producing less chewy baked goods. 00 flour can be substituted with all-purpose flour.
What is 00 Flour Used For?
If you’re interested in trying different flours, type 00 is a great choice. You can experiment with a variety of recipes for:
7. Strong Flour aka High Gluten Flour
What is Strong Flour?
Strong flour is another name for high-gluten flour used in bread baking that is typically added to other flours to increase the overall gluten level. It’s milled more coarsely and has a 13–14 percent protein content that requires a lot of kneading to form a strong and supple dough structure.
What is Strong or High Gluten Flour Used For?
You can incorporate strong flour into recipes that can use a bit more structural support, such as:
8. High Protein Flour
What is High Protein Flour?
When considering using high gluten flour vs. high protein flour or high protein flour vs. strong flour, these terms all refer to wheat flour with high protein percentages. The level of gluten in dough is dictated by the amount of protein because gluten is a type of protein. High protein flour at 14 percent produces more gluten, resulting in a stronger dough.
What is High Protein Flour Used For?
Use high protein flour when you want to ensure your dough is elastic and that your finished baked goods will hold their shape. High protein flour is best for:
9. Whole Wheat Flour
What is Whole Wheat Flour?
Of all the types of wheat flour, whole wheat is the one that’s milled using the entire wheat kernel (the germ, endosperm, and bran) and has 13–14 percent protein. Because it contains the entire wheatberry, it is higher in fiber, vitamins and minerals. It’s often combined with lighter flours to alleviate its heaviness. Use whole wheat flour vs. all-purpose flour to add more strength and nutrition to your baked goods. Because whole wheat flour is made from the entire wheat kernel, it can spoil more quickly than more processed flours and should be stored in the freezer.
What is Whole Wheat Flour Used For?
Whole wheat flour is one of the types of flour in baking that performs better in recipes that have plenty of liquid or fat to help lighten the dense wheat. Allowing the dough to rest and absorb the liquid in the recipe fully before baking can help with the finished texture. Use whole wheat flour to boost the nutrition when baking:
Pie and tart crust
10. White Whole Wheat Flour
What is White Whole Wheat Flour?
Made with hard white wheat, this paler version of whole wheat also captures the nutrients of the entire wheat kernel and contains 13–14 percent protein. While it is not bleached, it produces lighter, slightly sweeter finished baked goods, but is still a more dense wheat flour vs. all-purpose flour.
What is White Whole Wheat Flour Used For?
Treat white whole wheat as regular whole wheat, which can be used the same in recipes. To add nutrition but maintain the taste and texture, use half the amount of white whole wheat to replace all-purpose flour in a recipe. This flour can be used for baked goods such as:
Pie and tart crust
11. Semolina Flour
What is Semolina Flour?
Semolina flour is made by coarsely milling the endosperm of Durum wheat and is best known as a pasta flour. It’s high in gluten with 13 percent or more protein, has a lightly sweet and nutty flavor and produces a chewy dough with a buttery color.
What is Semolina Flour Used For?
Semolina flour is ideal for making pasta, but also works well for variety of other recipes that benefit from its high gluten content and unique flavor:
12. Rye Flour
What is Rye Flour?
Rye flour is made by milling whole rye grain kernels. Light rye uses only the starchy endosperm and produces light, airy dough. Dark rye uses the whole kernel and produces the heaviest, darkest dough as used in pumpernickel bread. It has 8–17 percent protein and, like wheat, contains gluten.
What is Rye Flour Used For?
Marble Rye bread
13. Barley Flour
What is Barley Flour?
Barley flour is made by milling whole grain or pearled barley. Similar to wheat, but with less gluten, it contains 11 percent protein and has a mild nutty flavor that works well with other flours.
What is Barley Flour Used For?
Barley flour is best used to enhance other flours in recipes with up to ½ substitution for other flours for baked goods such as:
Thickener for soup, stew, sauce and gravy
Other Types of Flour
All of the flours we covered in this article are made by milling some variety of wheat–or if not wheat, as is the case with rye and barley flour, each contains gluten. Flour can also be made by milling other grains such as rice, buckwheat, millet, quinoa and amaranth. It can also be made from dried legumes such as chickpeas and from nuts and seeds such as almonds and flax.
By experimenting with recipes to become familiar with how the many different flours available can affect the final results of your baked goods, you can become a more versatile baker.
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