Bring Me Flours

Bring Me Flours via Sweetapolita The funniest thing happened this week: I received over a dozen emails in the course of a few days (and many before that) asking me about cake flour--what it really is, if there are any substitutions, what flour I use, and more. So, even though I have a pretty delectable cake waiting to be eaten photographed, I thought now would be a good time to shed some light on flour in general, or at least some of the more common baking flours that you will come across on my blog. Since flour is likely the most commonly used ingredient in baking and flour mishaps (too much, using the wrong type, etc) are more common than one could even imagine, the topic is too important to neglect.  I won't be getting highly scientific, but I would love to share what I know in hopes to answer some of the more frequently asked flour questions I receive. Since there is a lot to this topic, this post will likely be the first of many parts, but, for now, let's get to it and talk flour:   What the heck is flour? Simply put, flour is a powder made from finely grounded and sifted meal of different grains, nuts and more, with the most common being wheat. Flour is an important ingredient in baking, as it provides the structure and volume we need for successful baked goods; absorbs the liquid ingredients we add to a recipe; and adds flavour, nutrients and some colour to our baked goods. There are several dozen types of flour out there, but the most widely used is wheat flour.   What are the most commonly used flours in baking? When reading different baking recipes, you will most often come across these types of flour (they are also the variations you will typically find here on my blog):   What are the main differences between these types of flour? Different flours contain varying quantities of protein and gluten (typically, the more protein the flour has, the more gluten it has), which aide in giving baked goods elasticity and volume. So, the higher the protein content, the harder the flour (and ideal for breads and such), and the lower the protein content, the softer the flour (best for certain cakes and cookies). When talking flour, we refer to the protein content in percentage, with cake flour having the lowest % of protein, bread flour having the highest % of protein (from the types mentioned above), and all-purpose sitting in between. This is because, typically we want more elasticity, or "chewiness" in things like bread and rolls and the least in our cakes and pastries, as we want those to be tender and more delicate. All-purpose flour (as the name suggests) is suitable for a broader range of baked goods such as some breads, cookies, bars, some cakes, etc. with protein levels that are in between cake and bread flour. Just to confuse us all, you'll notice that Canadian flour protein is higher than in American flour, yet our flour still bakes up light and fluffy baked goods. I hope to solve that mystery at some point, but for now, here's what I know about each type: Cake Flour All-Purpose Flour: Bread Flour: Self-Rising Flour   Ooh, flour protein content? How fun! How can I determine the protein content of the flour I buy? The easiest way to do this is to refer to the nutritional label on the bag of flour, or on the flour company's website. Take the protein in grams and divide it into the serving size on the label, and you have your flour's protein content in %. You'll see below that the protein on this Robin Hood All-Purpose Flour is listed as 4 grams per 30 gram serving. 4 / 30 = 13.3%, but it is said that companies are able to round up on their labels, so it's likely that the more accurate protein % is slightly less.


  But I don't want to stock up on 4 types of flour--are they interchangeable in a recipe? I definitely don't recommend switching up the flour type that is called for in a recipe, as you will likely be disappointed with the result (think tough cake or crumbly cookies). The only substitution I would feel comfortable making would be using all-purpose flour in place of bread flour, if necessary, but not vice-versa. See, all-purpose flour (particulary Canadian high protein all-purpose flour that has even more protein than some American bread flour) has enough protein to work just fine in some bread-type recipes, but the results may not be as ideal as if you used the called-for bread flour. However, if you used bread flour (which, again, has the most protein) in place of all-purpose flour for, say, a cookie recipe, then you may end up with a very unpleasing and chewy cookie. The good news, though, is that there are a few ways you can make some flour substitutions in a pinch:   What is the best way to measure flour needed for a recipe? Well, you probably know what I'm going to say, right? Measuring by weight is by far my first choice, and I think weighing flour is possibly the most important of all ingredients. It's not always possible, though, if you're following a recipe that is only written by volume (although you can always convert to weight), or if you don't have a digital scale. So when weighing your flour isn't an option, I recommend the "spoon-and-sweep" method of measuring (below). Because flour naturally compacts in the bag or canister, it is so important that you don't just scoop it up from its compact form and measure it that way--a recipe made with even a hint too much flour can be tough or even fail. Spoon-and-sweep method: Start by aerating the flour in your canister or bag by moving a knife around and loosening it up a bit. Then, using a spoon or scoop, place spoonfuls of flour into your measuring cup, until it's overfull, then level it using your finger or the back of a knife. *Never give in to the urge to pack it in or tap it down. For a photo-look at this method, my talented friend, Annalise, has covered this on her blog in the past (here).   Do I really need to sift my flour? When I weigh flour for a recipe (which is 99.9% of the time), I don't sift my all-purpose flour (unless the recipe says specifically to sift), but I do sift my cake flour. This is mostly because the soft texture of cake flour tends to clump up. I do, though, always aerate my flour, regardless of type, by whisking for a few moments (usually with other dry ingredients) before incorporating it into any wet ingredients (either with a fork or whisk). Since I am a big fan of Rose Levy Beranbaum's (baker supreme and author of The Cake Bible, Rose's Heavenly Cakes and more) reverse creaming method (starting with the dry ingredients in the mixer), I simply run the dry ingredients in the mixer for about 20-30 seconds before I add any of the other ingredients. As Rose explains, if a recipe calls for "1 cup cake flour, sifted" then you would measure your cup of cake flour, and then you would sift it. If a recipe calls for "1 cup of sifted cake flour," then you would set your cup (cup for dry measure) on your counter and sift the cake flour into your measuring cup until it mounds over, then level it off with knife.   How much does flour weigh? Every type of flour has a different structure and, therefore different weight. The truth is, you will likely find many different numbers out there if you google search flour weights, but here is what I go by, after measuring and weighing each type on my scale. Note that my cup weights (before sifting) are after using the above spoon-and-sweep method for filling my cup. *Note: When I dipped the measuring cup straight into the compacted flour, leveled it off and weighed it, I ended up with about 15% more flour than I when used the proper spoon-and-sweep method, so imagine how that can affect your baked goods, and not for the better (dry cake, anyone?). *Note: I use a US cup of 237 mL All-Purpose Flour   1 cup = 125 grams (4.5 ounces) 1 cup sifted = 115 grams (4 ounces) Cake Flour 1 cup = 115 grams (4 ounces) 1 cup sifted = 100 grams (3.5 ounces) Bread Flour 1 cup = 130 grams (4.5 ounces) 1 cup sifted = 121 grams (4.25 ounces)   What is the best way to store flour? All of the flours listed should keep well tightly closed in a cool, dry place (such as a pantry) for, ideally, no more than 6-8 months. If kept in the refrigerator, you can extend the shelf life to 12 months. You can even store flour in an airtight container in the freezer for 12+ months, however, due to the baking powder in self-rising flour, I would likely try to use that before 6-8 months, to ensure that the baking powder doesn't lose its leavening power (again, another reason to avoid self-rising flour--just sayin').   Fascinating Flour Tidbits: Well, that wraps up my riveting tale of flour, and I hope this info helps you in some way and answers some (or all) of your flour questions. I'll be back very soon with another post (pinkie swear)!

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