Flour Basics

Flour is the primary ingredient for most cakes, cookies, pastries, and breads. Although it is one of the most basic baking ingredients, it also can be the most confusing, because of the wide variety available on grocery store shelves. Some flours are perfect for bread baking but disastrous for pie crusts or tender pastries. The amount of protein the flour contains is what makes a flour good for one recipes and not for another. The more protein in the flour the more gluten will be produced when kneaded. The more gluten the baked good has, the less tender it will become.

Gluten is a protein that forms a weblike structures present in wheat and other flours. When the flour is moistened and the bread is kneaded, or dough and batters are mixed together, gluten forms and adds an elastic and cohesive nature to the food. The elasticity allows the dough to expand and rise and stretch. Gluten makes all of this possible.

There are three classes of flour:

  • Hard Flour which includes hard winter wheats and hard spring wheats. These contain more gluten-producing proteins than soft wheat. They are used for making bakery flours, bread flours, and all purpose flours.
  • Soft Flour which are low in gluten-producing proteins. This flour is usually milled into cake, pastry or cake and pastry flours.
  • Durum Flour are generally high in gluten-producing proteins. They are used for making semolina and flours which are made into Indian flat bread, macaroni and other pastas.

Several different types of flour are available for baking; all-purpose, cake, bread, self-rising, and whole wheat flour are just a few. Below are listed basic types of flour and their best uses:

  • All-purpose flour is a blend of hard and soft wheat flours. Hard wheat contains more and tougher gluten which results in a rather elastic product. This produces the texture you want for cakes and cookies

    Bleached and unbleached all-purpose flours can be used interchangeably, but unbleached flour has a higher nutritional value. Southern flours, such as While Lily, are made with a softer wheat, which means that they have cake flour-like qualities. Southern flour is great for tender biscuits and pie crusts.
  • Cake flour is made with soft wheat, producing less gluten when mixed, so your cake will be more delicate, with a slightly crumbly texture. When purchasing cake flour, don't buy self-rising cake flour unless the recipe specifically calls for it. If you do buy it by mistake, omit the baking powder or baking soda and salt from the recipe.
  • Bread flour has a higher gluten-forming protein content, making the dough nice and elastic. This makes it ideal for bread-making.
  • Self-rising flour is an enriched bleached soft wheat flour that contains leavening and salt. It is commonly used for biscuits, quick breads, and cakes. Self-rising flour is best used in recipes specially developed for this type of flour.
  • Whole wheat flour is a nutritious and flavorful hard wheat flour made from the entire wheat kernel, the shell, the starch, and the germ. Whole wheat flour is milled into textures ranging from fine to quite coarse that may be used in place of white flour.

    If substituting whole wheat flour for white, it is best to use no more than 50 percent whole wheat flour because whole wheat flour contains less starch than white flour.

Don't store any of your flours in the paper sacks you buy them in. Instead, transfer them into airtight container and store in a cool, dry place to make sure the flour won't absorb any odors or off-flavors. Label the containers to ensure that you can tell the difference between the different varieties since they tend to look the same out of their bags.

Flour can last up to six months if stored properly in the pantry and indefinitely if stored in the freezer. If you bought the flour from a natural food store, place it in the freezer for a few days to make sure nothing will hatch.

If you use flour slowly, you can store your flour in the freezer. Double-bag the flour in sealable freezer bags and be sure to label it.

Related Links:

Bread Making Flours & Grains

Types of Flour

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