Who knew that flour could be so confusing? From cake flour to bread flour to plain old all-purpose flour, this seemingly ordinary ingredient sure does seem to have a lot of nuances. What do you use them for? What makes them all so different? Why even bother? We have a quick guide:
This ubiquitous pantry staple is one of the most versatile flours at a cook’s disposal. All-purpose flour or plain flour as it’s known in other regions is made by grinding and thoroughly processing wheat flour to remove the excess wheat germ, resulting in a mostly white and fine powder.
Cake flour is just like all-purpose wheat flour save for one key difference: it has a considerably low amount of gluten. As the name suggests, cake flour is perfect for making cakes because of its low gluten content. Gluten is the binding protein found in wheat, and higher levels of gluten in flour result in a strong, elastic crumb structure (not great for cake), while lower levels of gluten result in a more delicate crumb perfect for cake baking.
Also known as strong flour in other countries, bread flour is a high-gluten wheat flour that is made to stand the rigorous kneading and beating needed to make the intricate molecular structure found in good bread. The more gluten there is in flour, the stronger and more elastic the bread’s network of proteins will be after kneading, resulting in bread that is light and fluffy with a wonderfully intricate crumb structure within.
Whole Wheat Flour
Whole wheat flour is all-purpose flour minus the bleach and the processing. While all-purpose, cake, and bread flours get their white color from having the husks and germ of the wheat removed during processing, whole wheat or wholemeal flour keeps a certain percentage of the wheat’s original casing in the flour itself. This results in an interesting albeit slightly rougher texture and flavour usually favored in rustic style breads and biscuits. If the flour is organic and the germ hasn’t been processed too much, intrepid home bakers can also use this flour to create their own sourdough starters at home.
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