The baking world mainly deals with four kinds of flours: bread flour, pastry flour, cake flour, and all-purpose flour. Although all-purpose flour is seldom used in a bakery, it is the most conventional product available to customers.
The trick to any successful recipe is knowing what kind of flour to use. I’m here to shed some light on the different flours to help you bake the best breads, cakes and cookies possible!
All-Purpose Flour – The most commonly used flour among home bakers. It is a good blend between hard and soft wheat, feeling very soft to the touch with a yellowish hue to it. Most grocery stores carry bleached and unbleached all-purpose flour.
Chemically bleached flour is whiter in color and has a slight acidity to it. The gluten level is fairly low, therefore it can be used to make cookies, pie dough, quick baking foods like cupcakes, muffins, pancakes and waffles. Unbleached flour has a higher gluten content and can be used for making breads, puff pastry, cakes that are required to hold up their shape, and so on.
Bread Flour – Ask any baker whose specialty is bread making and he/she will swear by bread flour over any other. During my two years in culinary school, I’ve had the pleasure of baking some of the most amazing breads. The reason for our breads being so delicious is the gluten content. Bread flour is made with hard wheat which gives it the highest gluten content and helps bread come together. My personal favorite is pain au lait aka “milk bread”. This is one of the simplest of all breads and if done right will be the most soft, fluffy and delicious bread you ever bake! Recipe will be up soon!
Cake Flour – This one is very near and dear to my heart. The majority of my projects (cakes, sculpted cakes, and other desserts) are made with cake flour. It is made with soft wheat flour and is super fine in texture. It has a high starch content which helps in absorbing sugar and butter and distributing it evenly. This flour is especially good when the recipe calls for a higher sugar to flour ratio. Even the simplest cakes made with this flour taste delicious and moist. Although it might not be available at all stores, you can most certainly find it in specialty stores or order it online in a larger quantity.
Pastry Flour – Pastry flour is also made with soft wheat, but the texture falls somewhere between cake flour and all purpose flour. The starch and gluten levels are low, so the most favorable uses for pastry flour are pie crusts, biscuits, or anything that does not require a high gluten content. Pastry flour, like cake flour, is not readily available in stores but can be found online.
I recommend buying organic, non-GMO, unbleached flour to ensure the highest quality (pesticide-free) and best tasting desserts. My favorite brands are King Arthur Flour (available in Walmart, Target, Whole Foods, or online), Bob’s Red Mill Flour (online, select retailers), and Whole Foods brand flour. If you’re a serious baker, Costco also sells organic all-purpose flour in a 20 lb. bag!
Hope this information was helpful. Happy baking everyone!
Baking and Pastry Chef