There are so many types of flour out there and often you wonder why different flour is used in recipes. Today we are going to learn about 9 types common flour used, when to use them and even making the flour by mixing your ingredients on hand.
First of all, why use flour in baking? Flour is used in baking to build the structure. And what makes the flour different is their protein content which directly affects strength of the structure created. When protein found in wheat flour is hydrated, they interact with each other to form gluten. The higher protein content in flour, the more gluten will be formed. This means the network structure is stronger and when it stretches, more leavening agents could be trapped. All these translates into more volume, elastic, firmer and chewier texture in your baked goods. Understand protein content in each flour help you decide what flour you should use to bake.
Before we into each flour type, let’s understand a little bit about broad categories of wheat flour i.e. whole wheat flour and white flour. Wheat flour is ground from wheat grain. Wheat grain has 3 parts, namely bran, germ and endosperm as shown in image below. Whole wheat flour is made from all 3 parts and it is more flavorful and nutritious. The color is also darker than White flour which is only made from endosperm. Texture wise, whole wheat flour is absorbing and coarse. White flour on the other hand is finer and softer. White flour is further broken into 2 types, namely unbleached flour and bleached flour. Unbleached flour goes through natural ageing process whereas bleached flour relies on chemicals to speed up its ageing. Both seems do not have significant differences. However some believe that unbleached flours should be used for yeast bread and bleached flours should be used for tender baked goods like cakes and pastries. These categories again further broken down into many types of flour.
Whole Wheat Flour
As mentioned in previous paragraph, whole wheat flour is absorbing therefore requires more liquid during baking. Whole Wheat Flour is suitable to bake more dense and less volume products. It contains around 13% to 14% of protein, often resulted in heavier baked goods like waffles, scones, pizza dough, etc.
All Purpose Flour
Also known as Plain Flour. It has 10% to 12% protein content. This percentage is considered moderate. This explains why All Purpose Flour is very commonly used in a lot of recipes like cookies, waffles, pancakes, pizza, biscuits and bread.
It has higher protein content than All Purpose Flour which is around 12% to 14%. The higher protein makes the baked goods rise better, chewy and browning from outside. It is perfect for baking good, firm bread like artisan bread, yeast bread and bagels. During its absence, you also can use Unbleached All Purpose Flour as alternative for similar result.
This flour has very low protein content which is around 6% to 8%. It is usually bleached and very fine. Ideal for baking soft, airy and fluffy products like sponge cakes, chiffon cake, angel food cake, etc. Whe run out of cake flour, try to add 2 tbsp of cornstarch to every cup of All Purpose Flour.
Contains 7.5% to 9.5% of protein which sits between cake flour and bread flour. It is usually bleached and finer in texture. As its name applies, pastry flour is ideal for pastry like tart crust, pie, cookie and muffins. You can make your own pastry flour by mixing 1 1/3 cup of All Purpose Flour with 2/3 cups of cake flour.
Self-raising flour is convenient to use as it is a premix of flour with salt and leavening agents e.g. baking powder. The flour base usually use something close to cake flour which has lower protein content around 8% to 9%. While convenient to use, do not forget that it has shelf life of 3 months only once open. Besides, you also need to adjust your recipe especially the salt and leavening agent since self-raising flour has already incorporated both. It is very commonly used in baking cookies. On the other hand, you can use 1 cup of all purpose flour with 1 ½ tsp of baking powder and ¼ tsp of fine salt to replace it.
It has the highest content among all flour types, ranging from 9% to 18%. Unless labelled as 00 which means it is made from ground pasta flour that has only 11% to 12% protein, it gives a very nice bite to your bread however not chewy. 00 tells that another version of semolina which is softer and finer. It is easier to make a thin layer and ideal to make pasta and thin pizza.
As its name says, oat flour comes from ground oats. Unlike whole wheat flour, oat flour is a type of whole grain flour which is superfine and fluffy in texture. Oat flour is gluten free. This explains why oat flour produce heavy and crumbly baked goods. You can moderate this by adding liquid and leavening agent in your recipe. If you are not making a gluten free product, mixing wheat flour and oat flour could make Excellent bread. At home you can hand make your own oat flour by grind the dried oats using your food processor. Each 1 ¼ oat will product 1 cup of flour.
Other Gluten Free Flour
Gluten free flour is the saviour for many who are allergy to gluten. Substitutes of wheat flour combines ingredients like rice, corn, potato, tapioca, arrowroot. bean etc in them. Needless to say, it is perfect for gluten-free cakes, cookies, pancakes, bread, muffins and many baked goods.
Now I am sure you know which flour to after for your desired baked goods. Remember every recipe has to strike its balance and you need to be flexible to adjust your recipe when you replace one flour with another.