Flour arguably is the most important ingredient in a baker’s kitchen. It is the backbone of every baked good that comes out of the oven that fills our tummies and warms our hearts. It also has different types and uses, hence, a comprehensive flour guide is made just for you, Bailiwickers!
As mentioned, flour is not a one size fits all ingredient. It has different types for different uses. Before we identify the different types of flour, let us get to know how it came to be.
I’m not going to bore you with a long detailed history of flour. Don’t you worry. Ha-Ha!
Just a little. Maybe.
The English word “flour” came from a variant of the word flower which was derived from the Old French “fleur”. The earliest evidence of something that resembles today’s flour dates back to 6000 BC. Wheat seeds are crushed between millstones to make flour. Technological developments paved the way for the modernization of equipment, thus, also contributing to the evolution of flour. From the time of the Romans who ground the seeds on cone mills, the Industrial Era which introduced the first steam mill in London to the more recent roller mills of the 20th century.
As years passed, this valuable commodity has come a long way from its ancient roots to what we know of its version today. As mentioned earlier, we will be getting to know its different types and uses.
Different Kinds of Flour
Do you ever wonder what are all these types of flour for? What is the difference between all-purpose flour and bread flour? Can cake flour be substituted with all-purpose flour? Is using bread flour really important in bread making?
Let us take on some of the most commonly used flours in the kitchen.
All-purpose flour or APF is one of the most well-known types and is sometimes called plain flour. This is the go-to flour for almost anything. I bet that nine times out of ten, this is the flour that you will reach for when doing your grocery run.
It is either milled from hard red wheat or a mix of soft and hard wheat that usually has an 80:20 ratio. As the bran is removed and the nutrients are lost, all-purpose flour is generally packed with vitamins such as riboflavin, folic acid and thiamine and minerals like calcium and iron. It is then bleached at the end of the millstream using bleaching-maturing agents to form the bleached APF.
As the name speaks for itself, APF is applicable for a massive variety of baked goods. It is used for cake, bread, pizza, cookies, muffins, and biscuits. However, APF is not only limited to sweet baked goods. Its versatility extends to savoury dishes, sauces and gravies.
Bread flour is typically designed for baking yeasted bread. It is high in protein, which typically amounts between 12 and 14%. Since it has high-protein content, bread flour has more gluten in it, which means the dough has more elasticity and has a light texture when baked.
This type of flour is commonly used for white bread, sourdough bread, dinner rolls, bagels, cinnamon buns and the like. It is important to note that you should be careful in replacing bread flour in making bread. You might end up with a dense, close-textured, or uneven dough that has not risen correctly. It is imperative to do research before substituting bread flour in a recipe.
Cake Flour is made from chlorinated soft wheat flour that has low-protein content of about 6-9%. It is milled from the endosperm of the wheat kernel. As a result, it is lighter and contains a small amount of gluten that results in tender and lighter baked goods.
This can also be a substitute for all-purpose flour in making waffles, muffins, pancakes, pie crusts, cookies and even quick breads.
However, if you don’t bake that often, this type of flour has the tendency to go rancid if stored for a very long time. So, stocking up this is probably not a very good idea.
But if ever you run out of cake flour and it is too late to buy a pack, don’t fret!
You can convert APF into cake flour with this easy process:
For every one cup of APF, remove 2 tablespoons of APF and add in 2 tablespoons of cornstarch. Whisk well to combine.
Voila! Instant cake flour!
Another type of flour which is basically used for baking is soft flour. Sometimes, it is also called pastry flour, cookie flour, biscuit flour or plain flour. Soft flour is quite similar to cake flour but it is less starchy, finer and with a higher protein content at 8-9% depending on the brand. This is commonly called 3rd Class flour here in the Philippines.
Naturally, if your flour has more protein content, the baked goods will be more chewy and dense. Since the pastry flour has low protein content, it is ideal to use it for pastries, biscuits, cookies, pie crust, and other light baked goods. If you are going to create an airy and flaky structure of recipes, you might as well go for pastry flour.
The self-rising flour has an interesting origin. It was invented as a “cheat” for sailors to have better baked goods while on board back in the 1800s in England.
Basically, self-rising flour is all-purpose flour with an added leavening agent. This type of flour is composed of baking powder, all-purpose flour, and salt. This type of flour is commonly used for pancakes, quick breads and biscuits.
You can actually make a self-rising flour if you have the complete ingredients in your pantry. You can blend in 1 cup of all-purpose flour, ¼ teaspoon fine salt, and 1 ½ teaspoon baking powder. Though it is essential to keep in mind that different recipes mean different outcomes.
Whole wheat flour basically includes the endosperm, bran, and the germ of the wheat grain. Hence it gives you a much darker color, and it has more nutrients. Stone mill is being used to process whole wheat flour, so the bran and germ are protected. However, due to the presence of germ, the shelf life of this type of flour is lower.
Since whole wheat flour is obtained by grinding the entire wheat kernel, it has a grainy texture since all the nutrients are intact. Whole wheat flour can be a substitute for a variety of baked goods such as muffins, scones, batter bread, pancakes, and biscuits.
It would be best if you also were careful when choosing your whole wheat flour, as it can get quite confusing at times. Some companies tend to label flour as “wheat flour,” even if it’s just white flour. Technically, all types of flour came from wheat. Thus, it is beneficial if you would take time and check the label and nutrition facts.
Was that too much information already? Ooops! Sorry!
To simplify things further, refer to the infographic below:
Aside from the most commonly used flours mentioned above, there are still different kinds flours that are not as frequently used as the others. These are specialty flours that have specific usage. Nevertheless, let us get to know some of them.
Oat flour primarily came from rolled oats, and it is whole grain flour. It is equipped with nutrients such as fiber, vitamin B1, chromium, manganese, magnesium, copper, molybdenum, phosphorous, and magnesium.
Essentially, as suggested, you can replace your regular flour with the same amount of oat flour. An important note, however, you measure by weight, not by volume. Oat flour is much lighter than whole wheat flour as well as all-purpose flour. An example would be that if you use 1 cup of oat flour to replace 1 cup of regular flour, it will not be enough to raise your baked goods.
In addition, oatmeal and oat flour are quite identical when it comes to nutrients and flavor. The difference between the two is that oat flour is pure powder, while the meal is coarser and has more texture. You will be able to tell the difference between the two clearly.
Semolina is derived from hard durum wheat. It is a high-gluten flour that is yellow in color, coarse in texture, and high in gluten protein. Semolina is readily available across the globe and is pretty much popular in Italy. This type of flour is best used in making different types of pasta from scratch.
This kind of flour contains enough gluten content that could create a less sticky dough, yet, it is more elastic than other flours. It can help the pasta hold its shape when cooking, whether it is a short pasta or a long spaghetti.
If you want to combine semolina flour into your homemade pasta or other baked goods, you could use it just like any flour. You can add it with wet or your other dry ingredients. Semolina flour is not restricted to just an ingredient for pasta. It can also work with soups, gravies, and stews for thickener.
Almond flour, sometimes called almond meal, is made from almonds that are finely ground. It can come with or without the skin. Skin-on almond flour has a darker color primarily used for baked goods that require a darker color, such as gingerbread or rustic bread.
The almond flour without the skin is made from blanched almonds and has lighter color. It is beneficial in creating light-colored muffins or cakes.
Using almond flour in your baked goods essentially adds a delicate almond flavor.
You can make your own almond flour by pulsing whole blanched almonds or raw almonds in your food processor. The produced almond flour can stay in the freezer for up to 6 months when properly stored.
Amaranth flour came from the amaranth plant. This flour is high in protein and can give you a distinctive nutty flavor. It is best used in pasta or other baked goods.
Bean flour has many forms. The white bean flour, black bean flour, garava flour ( a mix of fava beans and garbanzo beans), fava bean flour, garbanzo bean flour, soy flour, and green pea flour.
Bean flours are made from dried beans that are ground into a fine powder. It is best suited to making pasta, a binder for a veggie burger or meatloaf, coating food before sautéing, or even adding it into quick bread or muffin recipes.
Given that buckwheat has wheat in its name, it is not wheat and does not contain gluten. Buckwheat flour has a unique earthy flavor. This type of flour is best used for pasta, crepes, and pancakes to give a unique taste.
The famous kind of corn flour is the Masa Harina. It is made by incorporating dried corn kernels that have been cooked and then ground with lard or shortening, then water. The dough is then dried to create the flour. It is usually used in making arepas and tortillas.
Furthermore, blue cornmeal and cornmeal are simply just ground corn. If you plan to make recipes that require cornmeal, you might want to read through the brands and look for whole grain.
Cornmeal that has the germ and the bran of the corn still attached means more fiber and nutrients. Cornmeal is best to use in making muffins, fritters, polenta, and of course, cornbread.
Cap It Off
So, now that we have identified some of the most commonly used flours in the world through this “flour” guide, we have a better understanding of its uses and purpose. We can now make better choices for our baked goods and meals.
But as in all of our endeavours, we still must continue to research and experiment to keep us up to date with all the new developments in baking and cooking.
Never stop learning.
That is the goal of The Bailiwick Academy To give you, our dear Bailiwickers, an avenue for continuous learning!
Happy Baking and Cooking!