Our friends over at Learning How to Cook give you the low-down on all those different flours at the grocery store – and what they’re best used for!
The two main differences between flour types are the origin source (for most, wheat) and the protein content (which determines how much gluten can be developed). Flour can be made from many different sources (we focused on wheat in this post, which are not gluten free), from potatoes, rice and tapioca (all gluten-free) – to a variety of nut flours like almond, coconut, hazelnut and pistachios (also gluten free).
All-purpose flour is the old faithful of flours. It can be used in almost any application and boasts a mid-range protein content of 9.5 – 11.5%. It works great in cookies, muffins, pancakes, waffles and other quick breads like banana or pumpkin bread. In a pinch, all-purpose can be used in place of cake or bread flour in cakes and bread making if you don’t have either of the other two – though the results won’t be quite the same (cakes won’t be as tender, breads not as chewy).
Use All-Purpose flour in these Fluffy Dinner Rolls,
Bread flour has a higher protein content of 11.5 – 13.5% which enables it to develop more gluten during the bread making process allowing for a chewier bite. Protein also traps carbon dioxide released by yeast to create more rise and larger air pockets.
Cake flour has the lowest protein content of 6-7% which means less gluten can be developed during the mixing process – this results in the tender, crumbly texture that you see in cakes.
1:1 gluten-free flour is a combination of wheat-free flours such as white and brown rice flours, potato starch, sorghum flour and tapioca flour. These flours are designed to be replaced 1:1 – meaning 1 cup of all-purpose can be replaced with 1 cup of the gluten-free.
Self-rising flour is a combination of all-purpose flour, salt and leavening agents (such as baking powder). Traditional in the south, self-rising flour is often made with a lower-protein all-purpose flour that results in a more tender finished product. White Lily is a popular brand of such flour and is often used to make biscuits.
To make your own self-rising flour: for every 1 cup self-rising flour you need –
use 1 cup all-purpose flour + 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder + 1/4 teaspoon salt
Whole Wheat Flour
Whole wheat flour is made by mashing the whole grain of wheat, known as the wheatberry. This type of flour is higher in nutrients than all-purpose, and often makes for a heavier/denser finished product. Whole wheat flour is often mixed with all-purpose to lighten the texture and allow the product to rise better.