Types of Flour
Following is a list of the most commonly available flours, meals, grains, and starches.
Bleached all-purpose flour
An enriched pure white all-purpose flour made from hard and soft wheats, milled from the center or starchy part of the wheat kernel. Bleaching is a chemical process manufacturers use to whiten the flour and to balance the liquid absorption.
Unbleached all-purpose flour
An enriched unbleached all-purpose flour made from hard and soft wheat flours and occasionally from only hard wheat flour. It contains all of the natural vitamins and minerals of the wheat and is slightly maize in color. While unbleached flour contains no chemical bleaching agents, the flour is bleached naturally by the oxygen in the air. Unbleached and bleached flours may be used interchangeably in recipes.
An enriched bleached flour made from high-quality soft wheat. Cake flour is specially milled for cakes and delicate pastries. If cake flour is not in four section of your local store, look for it in the cake mix section, where it is sometimes stocked instead. Unbleached cake flour is sold in some specialty food shops and health food stores. Be sure to buy plain cake flour not the type labeled as "self-rising," which contains leavening and salt unless your recipe specifically states to use otherwise.
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 when used in recipes specially developed by the manufacturer. The proportion of leavening and salt in self-rising flour is 1 1/2 teaspoon of leavening and 1/2 teaspoon salt per cup of flour. If you must substitute self-rising flour in a recipe, reduce the baking powder and salt proportionally. Avoid using self-rising flour if your recipe calls or baking soda.
A specialty granular all-purpose flour that pours like salt and dissolves easily in cold water. Instant flour is useful for making quick gravies. While it may be used as a substitute for all-purpose flour, it should not be used for recipes because it makes the consistency of the batter grainy instead of smooth.
A specially blended flour that is not quite as delicate as cake flour, but softer than all-purpose. This flour is used for making pie pastries, cookies, and sweet doughs, and in also in some European recipes. It is generally sold in bulk to commercial bakers; however, some specialty food shops do sell it for home use. You can make your own by using a ratio of 2 parts all-purpose flour to 1 part cake flour. As an example, to make 2 cups of pastry flour, use 1 1/3 cups of all-purpose flour combined with 2/3 cup cake flour.
Whole wheat or graham flour
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. Graham flour is a specially milled whole wheat flour. Both whole wheat flour and graham flour may be used in place of white flour. However, if substituting whole wheat flour for white, it is best to use no more than 50 percent whole wheat flour in the batter or the cake will be too heavy because whole wheat flour contains less starch than white flour.
Stone-ground whole wheat flour
Usually manufactured by smaller mills from high-quality wheats. The wheat is ground to a powder between two huge stones commonly propelled by water. The water keeps the flour cool during milling and as a result vitamin B and all the natural nutrients are retained. Whole wheat stone-ground flour is less refined and more flavorful than commercially whole wheat flour. It should be blended with no less than 50 percent white flour to give greater volume to the baked good.
Both stone-ground and whole wheat fours should be stored in the refrigerator or freezer as they contain wheat germ and can go rancid quickly. They will keep up to three months in the refrigerator and up to one year in the freezer.
Native to the western hemisphere, it is available in both yellow and white varieties. Yellow cornmeal is more nutritious than white, but the baking properties are the same. Cornmeal is sometimes used with wheat flour in cakes for flavor and texture.
One hundred percent refined starch made form the endosperm of the corn kernel. For baking purposes, cornstarch is used to make a form of cake flour. It is sometimes used in small quantities in place of white wheat flour to give cakes a smooth, velvety texture. For nonbaking purposes, cornstarch serves as a thickening agent for fillings and sauces.
A dried flourlike substance made from cooked potatoes. Potato starch is one good substitute for flour in Passover sponge cakes. It is also used in small amounts by itself or combined with wheat flour in tortes. Cakes made with potato starch generally have a very smooth and velvety texture. Potato starch is also used as a thickening agent in the preparation of sauces.