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):

  • All-Purpose Flour
  • Cake Flour or Cake & Pastry Flour
  • Bread Flour
  • Self-Rising Flour

 

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

  • A soft wheat flour also referred to (in Canada) as Cake & Pastry Flour (there is also “Pastry Flour”, which is different)
  • Not as readily available (such as in the UK, Australia)
  • Protein content usually between 6.5-8% in the U.S. and 8-10% in Canada
  • It is typically bleached to heighten baking performance and to lighten its natural ivory tone, which helps create a desirable white cake or biscuit
  • Ideal for high-ratio cake recipes (where there is more sugar and liquid than flour in a recipe)–the chlorinated cake flour helps absorb the additional liquid ingredients that would, without the chlorination, be too much for such a low protein flour to absorb, but that are necessary for a moist and tender cake using so much sugar
  • Gives baked goods a tender crumble and minimal stretch

All-Purpose Flour:

  • Also referred to as “flour” or “plain flour”
  • Most often a blend of both hard and soft wheat flours (in Canada about 80% hard, 20% soft)
  • Protein content usually between 9-12% in the U.S. and 13.3% in Canada
  • Most commonly used and readily available flour for baking
  • Available in bleached and unbleached form (and are interchangeable, however bleached will have slightly lower protein %)
  • Ideal for many cakes, cookies, muffins, biscuits and more (with such high protein content in Canadian all-purpose flour it’s even suitable for bread)

Bread Flour:

  • Also referred to as “strong” flour
  • Made from hard wheat
  • Used for baked goods that require strong gluten formation and good rise
  • Protein content typically 11-12.7% in the U.S. and 12.5-14+% in Canada
  • Available in white, whole wheat, organic, specific for bread machine baking and more
  • Available in bleached and unbleached form
  • Ideal for breads of all kinds, pizza and more

Self-Rising Flour

  • Also referred to as “self-raising flour”
  • Two types: self-rising flour and self-rising cake flour
  • Cake or all-purpose flour that has baking powder and salt added and premixed for baker’s convenience
  • Not as readily available (many countries don’t have access to this)
  • Self-rising cake flour typically made up of 1 cup cake flour + 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder + 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Self-rising flour typically made up of 1 cup all-purpose flour + 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder + 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Ideal for muffins, scones and more, but I tend to avoid using it whenever possible–it’s hard to find and I like to control the salt and baking powder in recipes

 

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.

source: robinhood.ca

 

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:

  • To make your own cake flour — for every needed cup of cake flour, measure 1 cup of bleached all-purpose flour and remove 2 tablespoons from that cup (some bakers prefer to replace those 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour with 2 tablespoons cornstarch, but I choose not to), so 1 cup bleached all-purpose flour minus 2 tablespoons = 1 cup of cake flour
  • To make your own self-rising cake flour (as mentioned above) –  mix together 1 cup cake flour + 1 1/2 teaspoon + baking powder + 1/2 teaspoon salt for every cup needed (source: here)
  • To make your own self-rising flour —  mix together 1 cup all-purpose flour + 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder + 1/2 teaspoon salt for every cup needed (source: here)

 

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:

  • The word “flour” is originally a variant of the word “flower,” with both words stemming from the French word “fleur” (source).
  • Flour dust extended in the air is explosive (there have been many flour mill explosions, including the infamous Washburn “A” Mill explosion of 1878).
  • Wheat grown by western Canadian farmers is prized throughout the world and bought by more than 70 countries. In fact, the Canadian Prairies are known as the breadbasket of the world (source).
  • Wheat grown on the Canadian Prairies is used to make doughnuts in Japan, pasta in Italy, bread in Mexico and noodles in China (source)
  • Canadian flours have higher protein content, across the board, than those in the U.S., but that doesn’t mean all of our baked goods are tougher than American baked goods, actually it seems it’s quite the opposite–since Canadian flour is known to be of superior quality, even our all-purpose flour still makes everything from tender cakes to the perfect pizza crust or loaves–now that is all-purpose!
  • Canada takes its grains pretty seriously: the Canadian Grain Commission is a federal government agency that regulates all aspects of grain quality (and much more), which I suppose explains the high standards we keep and premium flour we produce in Canada (so, we may not have Biscoff Spread or Cookie Crisp Cereal here in Canada, but, hey, we’ve got pretty awesome flour).

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)!


Related posts:

Comments

  1. 1

    So very helpful! I’ve often wondered about the difference but have been too lazy to do the research. THANKS!

  2. 2
    Christina @ ovenadventures says:

    Great post. You answered a couple questions that have been on my mind. Especially the difference between Canadian and American flours. Thanks!

  3. 4

    RLB has a post (or series of posts, I can’t remember) on how bleached all-purpose flour is better for cakes because it produces a better crumb and more height in the finished product.

    The Harper gov’t is moving to dissolve the Wheat Board – I wonder what effect that will have on our flour supply.

    Thanks for the informative post!

  4. 5

    Between your post and Russell’s latest entry, I think I have lots of information to process.

    A wonderful resource, Rosie!

  5. 6

    Incredible article! I am delighted by your in-depth explanation of the different protein content of flours and the difference of weighing versus volume measurements! And I love how you touched on how Canadian flour differs slightly (fellow Canadian here…). Thank you for sharing!

  6. 7

    Proud to be from the prairies!

    Thanks for the great info!

  7. 8

    Thank you so much for this Rosie! Cake flour doesn’t seem that readily available in the UK so it’s really helpful to know more about it and how to make it. I also don’t like to use self raising flour either, it just seems that bit more hit and miss than using plain flour.

  8. 9

    Really useful post thank you! As Kathryn said above it isn’t readily available in the UK yet. Hopefully with the continuing rise in the popularity of baking it will be more common soon. In the meantime I will try your suggestion. I am interested to see the difference it makes. Looking forward to seeing the cake you mentioned.

  9. 10

    Ooooh! This is so very helpful! There’s always something new to learn when it comes to baking. I had never really thought about the importance of aerating the flour, not did I realize how short the shelf life is.

  10. 11

    You have no idea how happy I am to see this post! One of the issues I have with so many recipes on the web is that Australian measurements are different to US – for example, our tablespoon is 20ml and the US tablespoon is 15ml. So putting 8 tblspn of Pomegranate molasses in the chicken one night meant a difference of 40ml between the US measure and the Australian measure, more than 25% extra in that particular recipe. And I’ve had similar issues in baking as well, just not as memorable as that particular one. For the record, it was edible but not great. The next time around when I halved the pomegranate molasses it was great!

    Not sure whether the Canadian measurements are similar to the US or ours?

    I’ve been making my own cake flour for about a year now and it’s made a huge difference in my baking. It’s so much better for cakes than all purpose, or as we know it, Plain Flour.

    Self Raising Flour is really common here. Most people will have both in their cupboard, so I find it really interesting that you say it’s hard to find. I don’t bother buying it – I buy my plain flour in 5kg bags and mix it up with baking powder whenever it’s needed. Easier, and leaves more space in my pantry for other fun stuff!

    Thanks very much for this Rosie, I’ll be printing out the relevant weights and putting in my recipe folder so I can convert US recipes in the future!

  11. 12

    Great post Rosie!
    Plain and Self Raising flour are readily available in Australian supermarkets and are widely used here. Cake/pastry flour is starting to appear on shelves but is very expensive in comparison. Thanks for your tip about making cake flour. I’d heard about adding corn flour but will now try your suggestion.
    Happy baking!
    Di x

  12. 13

    Thanks for the fantastic post, Rosie!

    I have a source for sustainably grown and ground hard wheat flour that I use in much of my baking (draft horse farmed and wind mill ground – so cool!) I’ve been able to cut it with soft wheat to balance my recipes for tender cakes, but it’s definitely taken some careful trials and retrials! Do you know of any cake recipes suited to higher protein flours? I tend to up the ratio when I’m doing tea cakes and more hearty, simple recipes like that, but I’d love your input!

  13. 14

    Great info! In college they never labeled the flour bins, so the only way to figure out what flour was what was to grab a hand full and squeeze it. If it stuck together a bit it was cake flour and if not it was all purpose. And I bet I have that backwards, but you know it was a neat trick.

  14. 15

    This is such an interesting post. As Kathryn says, we don’t really have cake flour here in the UK so really interesting to read about what it is and how to make it!

    This is the perfect pre-Valentine’s Day post – bring me flours over flowers any day! :-)

  15. 16

    This was definitely a really helpful post! Thanks. :)

  16. 17

    Thanks for this post! Very helpful!

  17. 18

    self rising flour is available in india. but not heard of cake flour – very interesting ! thank you for this useful post :-)

  18. 19

    I have this bookmarked, Rosie! So helpful!

  19. 20

    Very helpful thx!

  20. 21

    What an informative post! Thanks so much.

  21. 22

    Thank you for this awesome post! It explains all of my flour questions (and some questions I didn’t even know I had lol!) Thank you thank you! :)

  22. 23

    This is one of the most extensive and informative posts on flour I’ve ever seen on a blog. For you to have taken the time to research and write it is much appreciated. Love the photo by the way and a very nice *shout out* to our Canadian Grain Commission and wheat farmers.

  23. 24

    Thanks for mentioning (and linking to me) in your post! I actually just did a post similar to this a few weeks ago too. Great minds must think alike, right? :) I love the way you did yours, so much great info!

  24. 25

    This was so interesting to read! Thanks so much for putting in the effort! I totally feel like a flour expert now.

  25. 26

    What a great and informative post about flour. Something so fundamental and I forget and take for granted what a difference in baking each one makes.

  26. 27

    This is definitely a valuable and informative post, Rosie! I don’t bake all that often but when I do I come across some of the answers covered here. Thanks!

  27. 28

    Yeah for Canada! We do have the best flour in the world and I am so proud to live in the bread basket here in Alberta. Great post Rosie – very knowledgeable and well written!

  28. 29

    I can’t say thank you enough for this post! I have people ask me all the time about different flour and what to use when. I now know where to send them!!!! Thank you!

  29. 30

    I love your baking tips posts :) More knowledge, please!

  30. 31

    Very comprehensive post on flour! Now you could do a post on gluten free flour which I’m sure you receive as much interest…

  31. 32

    Thanks so much for the post. I found it very helpful particulary coming from the UK like Kathyrn where we do not have much variety. At least now I can blame any cake errors on the British flour rather than the weather!

  32. 33

    I have to admit to finding that rather fascinating reading! Must be the nerd in me…;-) (it has even made me comment though I read your blog v regularly!) I do have a question though, what flour would I interchange any of those flours with in order to go gluten free? There are sooo many different gluten free flours that I just have no idea which would be best to bake with. Cakes and cookies and cupcakes. Can you help?

  33. 34

    THAT was very informative! Thank you for a great tutorial on flour! I am very interested in the science of cooking and baking. Because, unless you really understand the science behind it and what makes this or that ingredient work together, you really can never become a great cook cooking from scratch! -Karen

  34. 35
    kathryn B.P. says:

    I am lovin’ that little flour girl!!

  35. 36

    thanks for the extensive research. i always knew how to make self-rising flour but i didnt know how to convert all purpose to cake flour if i needed it in a pinch. thanks so much. Rosie, you inspired me to start my cake business blog. thanks again for all the help and inspiration.

  36. 37

    Flour debunked….thank you! Very informative and presented in a way that makes it easy visually to locate key information (I was an instructional designer in a previous life, so I love headings and bulleted points). This is my first visit to your site. It’s very pretty! I look forward to your future posts.

  37. 38
    Francesca says:

    wow Rosie, thank you for this post. You always put in so much effort and thought, it is very much appreciated – this must have taken you a long time. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and advice.

  38. 39
    Tina Vasquez says:

    Thank-you so much for the little flour excercise.It was very helpful and it was actually just looking for information on different types of flour.
    PS: I love your website. I find it very inspiring :)

  39. 40
    Stephanie says:

    Thank you for this great post! I am printing it out right now as my go-to reference guide. (Thank you for listing weights, too.)

  40. 41

    You are my hero.

  41. 42

    Thank you! What an incredible amount of information. Would you be willing to dedicate some more posts to ingredients? I’d love to start formulating my own recipes, but I’m still not an expert on the science behind baking. I’d love to know more about when to use baking soda versus baking powder for instance.

    Great post, as always!

  42. 43

    I love posts like this mainly because I thought I knew everything there was to know about flour. Turns out I did not! Especially the explosive part – Im glad you told us his after I spent an evening throwing flour everywhere in my kitchen for my last post.

  43. 44

    What a simple topic yet this is such a great post! Definitely learned a thing or two about flour!

  44. 45

    Wow, thanks so much for this info. Living in Africa, I’ve been exclusively using “patisserie” flour for all my needs since I bake so much more than anything else (the picture on the packaging shows cakes, etc.) – and the regular flour comes in huge, 5k bags. But I never really knew what the difference was. I will definitely have to reconsider what to use when I do use my bread machine now and as I’m getting more into pizza crusts, etc.

  45. 46

    Thanks for the great article!
    I’m sure I’ll be referring to it loads in the future.

  46. 47

    Interesting. I didn’t know you could “make your own” cake flour. Cool, thank you for that!
    Although for the record, actually cake flour is very readily available here in Australia – it just costs a lot more (partially because it’s only sold in 1kg boxes).
    Oh, and bread flour is also great for chocolate chip cookies (assuming you like them chewy!)

    • 48

      Thanks for the info! It must be a regional thing in Australia? I receive many emails from Australian bakers explaining they have no access to cake flour. Interesting tidbit about the chocolate chip cookies–thanks!

  47. 49

    This article is a godsend! I’m in Germany, and believe you me the flours here are very different! Now maybe I can do a bit of self-mixing and try to get it right. On a very different topic, would anyone care to advise me on the correct oven settings for cake baking? Is it best to use bottom and/or top heat? Fan-assisted? I’m never really quite sure… Thanks in advance!

    • 50

      I just read today that top and bottom heat is best for cakes, with a fan it might not cook in the middle so it will fall.

  48. 51

    What a great post – so informative. And that pic of your sweetheart holding the flour? Beautiful!

  49. 52

    Great post! If you ever find yourself in Minneapolis, you can tour the Washburn A Mill at Mill City Museum on the river just a few minutes from my house. The elevator to the top is my favorite part, and the ruins are great for portrait photography. ;)

  50. 53

    Wow! You totally had me fooled! Amazing cake!

  51. 54

    Oops I was referring to the Asparagus cake blog – amazing

  52. 55

    What a fantastic, educational post! Helpful for everyone!! Thanks, Rosie! (Also, that first photo is the cutest thing just about ever!!! Love your flour shaker…I have the same one!!) :)

  53. 56

    I just found your blog. You’re so amazing that it is stressful just looking at what all you can do! I can’t even bake a smooth cake.

  54. 57

    What a wonderful description. I’m pinning this so I can refer to it often. Thanks!

  55. 58

    Thanks so much for this post! Very informative. I never knew how to properly measure a cup of flour, and I’ve apparently been doing it the wrong way my entire life!!! I’ll definitely have to try your way and see if it makes a difference.

  56. 59

    I love this post, found everything so helpful. Im from London and we don’t have cake flour over here, so was always very confused when American recipes called for it. I tried replacing the tbsps of flour with corn flour which is a tip I got from another site but it made a difference to the taste which I didn’t like. I think I’ll try your suggestion now! Love all your recipes, you are my favourite baker and such an inspiration. Also love every photo you take. Thank you again :) xx

  57. 60

    If I might ask a question…. I am just starting to bake from scratch and found your blog just as I was wondering if I could substitute all purpose flour for cake flour…I prefer to weigh the flour, so the question is, what is the proper weight if using all purpose in place of cake flour? Thanks for the great info!

  58. 61

    Great post Rosie! I’ve just one question though – can cake flour be substituted with superfine flour? The box I have here says it’s low protein but doesn’t mention the percentage. Have never seen any cake flour here in Malaysia before and I was just about to substitute it with the all-purpose flour trick when you suddenly made my brain work a little with all the protein percentage info :) Hope to get your feedback soon…LOVE your blog!

  59. 62

    Thanks so much for this comprehensive post! I was looking at a recipe that called for a blend of cake and all purpose flour, and vaguely remembered my mother telling me something about Canadian flour being different from American. I went on a quest to find the information, and this blog entry told me everything I needed to know. Thanks!

  60. 63

    what can i substitute cake flour with as I am unable to find this here in the UAE. I have normal flour,self raising flour & all purpose flour.

    Appreciate your help

    Thanks
    Suzette

  61. 64

    Thank you so much for this great article! I’ve never seen self-rising flour here in Finland, so the recipe to make my own was perfect now that I’m about to begin baking for real. And thank goodness for measuring weight rather than volume, because I always manage to make the flour denser whilst scooping, ending up with too much of it. Keeping it fluffy and light doesn’t seem to be one of my skills, so the digital scale is my best friend. Love your blog, have stopped by irregularly for a few years, but amd commenting for the first time.

  62. 65
    Penny Rubeniuk says:

    I am not the best of bakers but I have had more than dismal results with making bread in Mexico. The dough does not rise properly and the bread is hard and very dense. Is it the flour? I have tried to research the ingredients of regular Mexican flour and have read about a possible lower gluten content and a lower protein content. Could this be the problem and what is the solution if so?

    Thank you

  63. 66

    Hi!
    So if a recipe calls for 4 oz cake flour and all purpose flour is used instead that we use the same weight in all purpose flour?
    Thanks

Speak Your Mind

*