What's The Difference: All-Purpose Flour, Bread Flour, And Cake Flour

Cake flour really is best for cakes.

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The quarantine produced many bakers. From the super simple no-bake desserts and recipes to the complex and time-consuming bread recipes, bakers of all levels and kinds were using lots of flour. 

However, different kinds of flour are useful for certain baking recipes. To help make these different kinds of flour better to understand, here are the differences you should know:  

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1 Bread flour for bread, cake flour for cake, and all-purpose flour is for general use.  

It may sound obvious but there's a reason why these kinds of flour are labeled for its use.

Bread flour should be the flour you use for making bread since this flour will create bread that chewier than bread made with all-purpose flour. When you use all-purpose flour instead of bread flour for bread dough, you will notice that it takes longer to create the gluten strands you can easily achieve with bread flour. 

Cake flour is fantastic for cakes, cupcakes, and other baking recipes that require a texture that is light and fine. This is because cake flour is lighter in texture overall and will not develop as much gluten when mixed compared to the other flours. 

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All-purpose flour is for all the recipes that are not bread or cakes. For those recipes that do not have a specific requirement regarding gluten development, this is the best kind of flour to use. This is actually a cross between bread flour and cake flour: it's just right in texture.  

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Photo by Dairy Darilag

2 Cake flour is whiter than all-purpose flour. Bread flour looks yellow or tan. 

If you're going by looks, you can tell usually tell which is by the color of the flour. Compare these kinds of flour side by side, and you'll notice the differences among the three kinds of flour.

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  • • Cake flour will be the whitest.
  • • Bread flour will have a tan or yellowish hue to its color.
  • • All-purpose flour will be an off-white color but not as white as cake flour. 

3 Bread flour feels the roughest in texture while cake flour is very fine in texture.

You can also try to determine which is which by the feel and texture of the flour.

  • • Cake flour will be very fine in texture which is why it develops a fine crumb when baked into cakes and cupcakes. This texture is especially great for light and airy chiffon and sponge cakes that rely on air to make these fluffy.
  • • Bread flour will feel very coarse or rough to the touch. Rubbing it against your fingertips, you'll feel it's not as smooth as cake flour. The grains are ground bigger and results in a flour that also feels moister than cake flour. 
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  • • All-purpose flour is the medium texture among the three. It won't be as fine as cake flour but not as rough as bread flour. 
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4 Bread flour is hard. Cake flour is soft. All-purpose flour is not too hard and not too soft. 

Flour has several degrees of hardness. That's why bread flour is also known as hard flour. Cake flour is known as soft flour. All-purpose flour is known as plain flour.

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  • • Hard flour is also known as strong flour since this kind of flour produces more gluten than other flour when kneaded or worked.
  • • Soft flour is also known as pastry flour since this flour doesn't develop gluten easily and will remain soft even if worked a little more than usual. 

All-purpose flour is actually a mix of hard and soft flour. It's made to be a great general use flour that can be used for either kind of recipe, especially when you do not have one or of the other. This was made to make it more marketable for those who don't want the toughness or chewiness of the hard flour but didn't want it to be too soft and tender either. 

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