The Five Flours I Keep Handy in my Kitchen

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Friends. When I say I’ve been waiting for this day.

Today we’re getting into flour.

Well, not literally getting into flour. That would truly be messy and awful, since flour is more invasive than sand. But we’re going to talk about flour.

First, I’m going to do just the teeniest tiniest discussion about the science of flour, and then I’m going to tell you about the five (yes, FIVE!) types of flour that I keep in my kitchen at all times. For ease of reference, I’ll even hyperlink to specific sections in this article, in case there’s specific information that you seek!

person using brown wooden rolling pin
Photo by Malidate Van on Pexels.com

In this Post:

Let’s get busy.

*quick note: I’m going to mention specific brands of flour that I use in my kitchen. I’m not paid to mention them: I just think their products are the bees’ knees.*

What Does Flour Do?

Think of the cake you’re baking as a house.

Hear me out. This will end up making a lot of sense.

Like I said, the cake that you’re baking is a house. The flour isn’t the bricks and mortar, it’s the invisible, interior wooden framing that keeps everything upright. Flour is the thing inside your cake that gives it shape and structure, much like the wooden framing creates the internal structure for your home.

Photo by Kristiana Pinne on Unsplash

Without framing, your home would collapse inward because there’s nothing inside to give it structure. Flour does the same thing. Except, you know, in cake. And cupcakes. And bread. And pizza.

You get the point.

What is Gluten?

When flour meets its best friend, liquid, the combination of the two begins to make a gluey, sticky mess. That mess is the beginning of gluten development. It’s the foundation of your cake or bread.

Gluten development simply means that combination of flour and liquid have begun to form a honeycomb-like structure in your batter or dough. The purpose of that structure is to create tiny cellular “walls” to trap the carbon dioxide that’s been created by your leavening. The gas forces the honeycomb to open, which is what causes baked goods to rise.

Once the delicious pastry or bread in the oven reaches a certain internal temperature, the gas…goes away. It just evaporates. But the inflated holes created by the gas remain.

For information about carbon dioxide and why it’s LITERALLY NO BIG DEAL in your baking, click here to learn about leavening.

TL;DR version: leavening creates gas that fills the gluten honeycomb and makes your baked goods rise. This gas is not nefarious. It is your friend.

Protein (Not the Lean Meat Kind)

The strength of the gluten network (or honeycomb, because I like that foodie visual), is determined by the protein content in your flour. That, in a nutshell, is why there are different types of flour for different types of baked goods.

Flour with a higher protein content is created from “hard wheat” (in the U.S., this is typically grown in the Midwest) and creates a stronger gluten network, which allows for a higher rise in your baked goods. However, a stronger gluten network means a more chewy finished product. That’s why high protein flour is typically used for things like bread and pizza dough.

Higher protein flour encourages gorgeous, huge holes that you see in your favorite artisan bread because the strong gluten network holds onto the leavening (yeast or starter) longer, so the leavening can do more work and create more rise in the dough. The stronger gluten network that’s created by the high protein flour also creates a beautiful chew for your breads and pizza doughs. Typically, high protein flour has a protein content of anywhere between 12 and 15 percent.

Photo by laura adai on Unsplash

Low protein flours do the exact opposite. Low protein flour is created from “soft wheat” (in the U.S., this is typically grown in the South). This type of flour creates a more delicate, crumbly texture for whatever it is that you are baking. For this reason, low protein flours are the choice for cakes, pie crusts, and pastry; these have a protein content of anywhere between 5 and 9 percent.

Middle-of-the-road protein content flours can play both above and below their weight class. Which is to say, they can make good bread and also good cakes, and are good for “all” purposes (see what I did there?). The versatility of all purpose flour is the reason why it is so popular; because flour is a perishable ingredient, it’s not always practical to stock your kitchen with multiple types of flour, unless you bake very frequently and are want to make every product the absolute best it could ever be.

It truly is. But it’s still not cost-effective.

All purpose flours typically have a protein content between 9 to 12 percent.

Onto the fun part! Next, we’ll look at the five types of flour that are always present in my kitchen.

Flour #1: Cake Flour

Cake flour is just delightful. Coming in at the lowest protein content (usually 5 to 8 %), it makes the most spectacularly delicate cakes and cupcakes. Some people even use it for cookies, although I haven’t tried that yet.

{runs to Begin with Butter “Bits and Bobs” notebook to write down experiment idea}

Anyway…

Things made with cake flour have the most delightful, light crumb. That gluten network is not strong, which leads to the most tender crumb of the bunch and the cake won’t rise as high. For a yellow cake or lemon pound cake that’s just a little more special, or that divine coconut meringue cake of your dreams, cake flour is your best friend.

Photo Credit: Begin with Butter

I currently use King Arthur Baking’s Cake Flour (coming in a little higher at 10% protein content), and I’ve been super happy with it!

Cake flour is an expensive ingredient, and it might not be worth the purchase if you’re only going to use it once and forget about it. But it’s a luxurious treat every once in a while, even if you’re just making a mug cake (please don’t judge me; sometimes I just NEED cake).

Flour #2: Pastry Flour

Some people like perfume and jewelry.

Give me a croissant that shatters and makes a mess. Seriously.

Pastry flour is typically a very low protein flour (between 8 and 9 percent). Because of the lower protein amount, the gluten bonds that form are not as strong. This means that the pastry will be much more tender and much much less chewy. It also means that you won’t get as high of a rise from it either, since the weaker gluten network won’t be able to contain the gas from the leavening as well.

I use pastry flour for pie crusts mostly, but this stuff is THE BOSS for croissants and most French pastry.

Photo by Kavita Joshi Rai on Unsplash

I equally love King Arthur Baking’s Pastry Flour (8% protein content) and Bob’s Red Mill White Fine Flour (8-9% protein content). Bob’s is easier to find on store shelves in my area, so I tend to use it more. They both do an exceptional job when I’m making pie crust.

Flour #3: All Purpose Flour

All purpose flour might not have the star power of the other flours, but it is the most solid performer of the bunch. If I am out of a specialty flour and I need a substitute, I can use it for just about anything.

Even here, in this blog post, it’s literally…in the middle of the flours.

It really is amazing when you think about it. A good all-purpose flour could make a very good bread or a very good cake. It’s the best sixth man in the business.

All purpose flour creates a stronger gluten network (the honeycomb) than cake flour and pastry flour, so baked goods made with all purpose flour will be a touch more chewy than baked goods made with cake flour and pastry flour. Again, though, it won’t be enough for most people to notice the difference!

And I’ll take a homemade cake with all purpose flour over any stale thing on a store shelf with cake flour. #RealTalk.

I am an unrepentant King Arthur Baking All Purpose Flour fanatic. Because I also own a cottage bakery, I have also used King Arthur Baking’s Sir Galahad Flour.

Family. While I agree that “Sir Galahad” is a fancy name, I have it on good authority (the good people at the King Arthur Baking’s very official Baker’s Hotline) that these flours are the same, except for the fact that the Sir Galahad flour is enriched and that it comes off of a commercial line that’s designed to make 50-pound bags of flour instead of 5-pound bags of flour.

Both the All-Purpose and the Sir Galahad flours have an 11.7% protein content. Despite being on the very high end of the all-purpose scale, they both make surprisingly delicate pie crusts and sponge cakes. With a protein content that high, you can imagine that they make very good bread as well. For fans of The Gloria Bakery, all purpose flour is actually my favorite for my famous milk and honey rolls.

Photo Credit: Begin with Butter

There it is. The first and only trade secret from The Gloria Bakery that I will ever share.

Yay for all purpose!

Flour #4: Bread Flour

I talk about cake and cookies a lot, but I have an equal crush on bread. There’s something both very primal and loving about making bread for people that you love.

Bread flour is a staple in my kitchen because I make a LOT of bread and pizza dough. The King Arthur Baking Unbleached Bread Flour that I use is just…*chef’s kiss*.

I love love love a good chewy pizza crust on Friday night and a sturdy artisan boule on Saturday with giant holes in the middle to dip in soups, stews, and sautéed mushrooms in butter. Bread flour, with its wonderfully high protein content, will help you achieve both of those things. And bonus: bread made with bread flour holds its texture extremely well in those soups, stews, and sautéed mushrooms. So sop away!

Photo by Vicky Ng on Unsplash

One caveat: when using bread flour, be sure to be careful about how much you add during the kneading process. There’s a very thin line between delightfully chewy and inedibly tough. Bread is a time investment and I’d hate to see you get frustrated!

No worries, Saints! We will be talking bread techniques soon.

Flour #5: White Whole Wheat Flour

Though I don’t tend to use it all that often, white whole wheat flour is an amazing addition to my flour lineup. It’s a nice middleman between bread flour and whole wheat flour, which I cannot cajole threaten beg encourage my children to eat.

White whole wheat flour is a whole wheat flour, but it’s made from a different, milder type of wheat than traditional whole wheat flour. The difference is a milder taste; it’s more earthy than all purpose flour, but definitely less hearty than a whole wheat flour.

I use King Arthur Baking’s White Whole Wheat flour, and it’s been an amazing addition to my repertoire. It comes in at 12.2% protein, so I wouldn’t bake anything but bread or pizza crust with this one.

What kind of flour do you keep in your kitchen and what are you making? I’d love to know!

I hope you found this tutorial useful. If you love what you see, feel free to subscribe so that you don’t miss a “beet”!

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