Flour Confusion

Flour Confusion

Flour is becoming like the telephone – something that used to be so basic and is now so complicated. There are all kinds to be found in the grocery store. “All-purpose” flour comes in both bleached and unbleached varieties. You can find “bread” flour, “cake” flour, “self-rising” flour, “whole wheat” flour, “white whole wheat” flour, “instantized” flour, and a whole variety of other grain flours – rye, soy, corn, etc. So is it important to choose the right flour? For anyone who does any baking whatsoever, using the right flour does make a world of difference.

The key to choosing the right flour is something called gluten – an elastic protein that is formed when you make a dough by adding moisture to flour, and then beat, knead, or otherwise handle the dough. Gluten provides strength and structure for the final product. The amount of gluten is good or bad, depending on what you’re baking. The higher the amount, the “harder” the flour. For chewy breads that need to rise, you want a lot of gluten. For tender piecrusts or cakes, gluten should be moderated. Gluten is only found in measurable quantities in wheat flour, which is why you cannot bake bread wholly from rye, corn, soy or any non-wheat flours.

Flour Confusion 2

When you buy wheat flour the percentage of protein is shown on the label. However, due to rounding the figure is not precise. The softest, cake flour, has 8% protein. All-purpose flour contains anywhere from 9% to 12% protein. Bread flour can have up to 16%. The hardest flour is made from durum wheat, which is used for pasta.

Different manufacturers have different levels of protein in the same type of flour. King Arthur’s all-purpose flour is 11.7% protein while Gold Medal’s is 10.5%. If you use the softer flour in a recipe, you will need to add more moisture to get the same dough texture. The same recipe made with King Arthur’s AP flour will taste differently than when made with Gold Medal’s.

Harder flour also weighs more. One pound of all-purpose flour measures 3 cups of sifted flour, but one pound of cake flour measures 4 ½ – 5 cups. So you cannot evenly substitute one for the other. To substitute one cup of all-purpose flour for one cup of cake flour, put 2 tablespoons of cornstarch in a measuring cup and then top off with all-purpose flour.

Wheat flours are either bleached or unbleached. Flour needs to age before it can be used. Bleaching was developed as a way to speed up the aging process. It also produces a whiter product, which traditionally was considered elite. Unbleached flour is becoming more popular as many people can taste a chemical flavor in bleached flour. Cake flour is always bleached, as the whitest color is important for cake appearances.

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