A Baker’s Guide to 9 Types of Flour (and How to Use Each!)

A Baker’s Guide to 9 Types of Flour (and How to Use Each!)

A Baker’s Guide to 9 Types of Flour (and How to Use Each!)Photo by Vlad Kutepov

Originally Posted On: https://blog.sfgate.com/lifestyle/2020/10/26/a-bakers-guide-to-9-types-of-flour-and-how-to-use-each/


Baking is, without a doubt, the most scientific of the cooking arts. There’s no ‘just a dash here,’ or ‘let the spirits guide you,’ when it comes to baking. Without using proper measurements and proper ingredients, the results could be catastrophic.

Believe it or not, science also comes into play when we talk about types of flour. How so? Read on, we’ll fill you in and introduce you to nine particular flours good for very different things.

The Science of Baking

Strolling down the baking aisle at your local grocery store can be, intimidating, to say the least. The questions mount.

Can I bake a cake with regular flour or do I really need cake flour? Can I use regular sugar instead of brown? Do I want vanilla beans or vanilla extract for my cooking and baking?

There are so many types of flour, sugar, add-ins, it’s enough to make a novice baker head back to the box mixes. We promise baking is easier than you think! If you keep a few different types of flour on deck you’ll be able to whip up a variety of goodies in no time.

The main difference between all the types of flour is in the protein content. More protein in the flour equals more gluten and more gluten equals more solid structure for the baked good. You’ve got high-protein wheat, coming in with 10-14% protein content, and low-protein wheat, coming in with 5-10% protein content.

And that’s really it. Using the high-protein, or “hard wheat” varieties, will give you sturdier goods with a higher level of gluten. Conversely, using the low-protein, or “soft wheat” varieties, will yield less dense goods with less gluten.

Types of Flour

This won’t be an exhaustive list but we’ll go over a few of the most common types of flour. Including some alternative flours for gluten-free baking and special dietary needs. We will also tell you what each is best suited for.

First up, the OG of flours.

1. All-Purpose Flour

All-purpose flour is the most widely used flour on the market. It’s a mix of hard and soft wheat. Making it a good middle-ground flour when it comes to gluten content.

This flour tends to have a longer shelf life than say, whole wheat flour. It generally will have ten to 12% protein and is best suited for sweet treats, like cookies, waffles, and pancakes. Or savory dishes, like pasta and pizza dough.

2. Whole-Wheat Flour

Whole-wheat flour is quite dense. It includes the fiber-rich bran of the wheat seed head. Plan on letting any mixed dough rest for 20-30 minutes before baking. This allows the liquid to permeate the bran and gives you a smoother finished product.

This is one of the best flours for baking. Use it for bread, cookies, scones, and any treats you like a bit firm. It has 13-14% protein so your goods will be denser than if you use all-purpose flour.

3. Pastry Flour

You can get pastry flour in whole wheat or regular and it’s often bleached. It uses more soft wheat and thusly has a meager 7.5-9.5% protein. It’s because of this pastry flour is not suited for baking any kind of bread.

However, it will give you excellent texture for pies, cakes, muffins, and biscuits. Basically, it’s good for all the light and fluffy baked goods that people love.

4. Cake Flour

Yes, you can use pastry flour for cakes. But if you really want the most perfect, light, fluffy, moist, spongey, cake ever, you’ll want to be using cake flour.

It’s bleached and is one of the finer milled flours out there. Science alert, the bleach actually helps the starches in the flour absorb more fats and liquids. Neat stuff!

Cake flour contains 6-8% protein, which makes it super light, which makes it best suited for all manner of cakes!

5. Bread Flour

See, baking is actually really easy. Many of the types of flour actually tell you what to bake with them.

Bread flour is very high-protein (12-15%), and good for all kinds of bread. Even bagels and some cookies if you like them more bread-like. Not friendly for gluten-free diets.

6. Self-Rising Flour

Self-rising flour is also good for bread and biscuits, with just 8-9% protein. It’s essentially all-purpose white flour with a leavening agent (baking powder+salt) already mixed in. If you are in a pinch for time this is a good choice.

Because it already has those leavening agents you wouldn’t want to use it in place of other flours. Unless you just have no other options, the dough may just be a bit salty.

You can also just make your own! Just add 1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder and 1/2 tsp of salt per 1 cup of flour.

7. Gluten-Free Flour

Gluten sensitivities are quite common these days, which has a silver lining. There are a ton of gluten-free flours out there that can be used to make just about every baked good under the sun. Usually, the packaging for the gluten-free flour will explain how to substitute it in recipes.

The protein content will vary depending on what the flour is made from. Common options include blends from potato, arrowroot, flax, almond, and other nuts, or buckwheat. These may alter the taste of what you’re baking so consider flavor profiles when opting for a flour alternative.

8. Sprouted Flour

Sprouted flours are a good way to up the flavor and nutrition of your baked goods. They are made from a variety of sprouted grains and have a rich flavor profile.

The protein will vary here too, depending on the type of flour. Corn, rye, and spelt are common to find in sprouted flours. Suited best for cakes, cookies, and even crackers.

9. Oat Flour

Oat flour is also a gluten-free flour. It’s got a sweet taste and is milled very fine for light and fluffy baked goods. You can make it at home easily by tossing oats into a high-powered blender.

It’s suited for sweet treats, like pancakes, dessert bread, cookies, and brownies.

So Many Flours, So Little Time

We’ve given you a quick introduction to some of the more popular types of flour out there. Now is a great time to think about what you like to bake and stock your pantry with the best flours for your tastes.

Make sure to check out our other blog posts for equally useful content for your everyday life. Happy baking!

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