Last week, I talked about the differences in self-rising and all-purpose flour. This week I am going to talk about the other types of flour. I focus primarily on wheat baking flours, but will touch a little on other flours as well.
There are two main differences in wheat flours: the type of wheat used and the protein or gluten content.
Cake flour is milled from soft wheat and has the lowest percentage of protein (7% to 9%). When buying cake flour look at the protein content. My preferred brand has just 2 grams of protein for 1/4 cup, but many brands have more. The lower protein content gives you a lighter cake with a finer crumb. As the name indicates, cake flour is primarily used for baking cakes.
Pastry flour is also made from soft wheat and has a slightly higher in protein (9% to 10%) than cake flour. At least where I am, pastry flour is quite difficult to find in stores, so I generally don’t use it, but it supposed to great for pastries such as pie crusts as well as cookies, brownies, biscuits, muffins, etc.
All-purpose flour we talked about last week. It has a bit more protein than pastry flour (8% to 11%), and is the most commonly used flour. It is milled from either hard wheat or a combination of hard and soft wheat. It comes in bleached and unbleached with bleached usually having a slightly lower protein content making it better for lighter recipes such as cakes, cookies, biscuits, etc. The unbleached is better for denser baked goods such as breads. I also think the unbleached has a heartier flavor, probably due to the higher protein content, and prefer it for savory baked goods.
Self-Rising flour, as I discussed last week, is all-purpose flour that already contains leavening agents. The brand I purchase has a slightly lower protein content than the brand of all-purpose flour I use making it produce lighter baked products. Self-rising flour is mainly used in the southern United States and is primarily used to make biscuits.
Bread flour has a higher protein content (12% to 14%) and is primarily used for yeast breads and is milled from hard wheat. Protein in flour takes the form of gluten, which allows for the elasticity you find in bread dough.
Whole wheat or graham flour is made from the milled whole kernel of wheat as opposed to other wheat flours that have had part of the kernel removed.
Semolina and Durham wheat is a hard milled wheat with high protein content used to make pasta. Durham is just finely ground Semolina.
Flour can be made from any grain. Grains that contain gluten include all types of wheat, rye, barely, most oats (due to cross contamination). If you can not eat gluten, check with your physician before eating any type of flour. Non-glutenous grain flours include buckwheat, rice, corn, and quinoa. With more and more people finding that they can not eat gluten, markets have seen a surge in gluten free flours. Many of these are flours not made of grains, but contain potatoes, nuts, tapioca, or beans. Make sure you follow directions when baking with gluten free flours because they often need extra additives to such as xanthan gum or guar gum to keep your baked goods from being to crumbly. There are also pre-mixed gluten free flours on the market that already have these added to them.
North American Millers Association