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Flour Facts, Tips & Types

Helpful tips and information about the most popular types of flour used in baking and cooking.

This article also includes useful information about substitutes for wheat flour and suggestions for troubleshooting when problems occur in their use.

Flour Types

All-Purpose Flour: The most common called for flour in recipes. A blend of hard and soft wheat, it may be bleached or unbleached. Bleached is best for pie crusts, cookies, quick breads, pancakes and waffles. Unbleached is generally best because of it's higher protein content for yeast breads, Danish pastry, puff pastry, strudel, Yorkshire pudding, éclairs, cream puffs and popovers

Cake Flour: This a "fine-textured, silky flour milled from soft wheats with a low protein content." Since it has a greater percentage of starch and less protein, it's best for keeping delicate cakes tender. You can use cake flour instead of all-purpose flour in recipes by increasing the cake flour by 2 tablespoons per cup, but that in some recipes the substitution may cause sinkage or collapse. Similarly, you can use all-purpose flour instead of cake flour by decreasing the all-purpose flour by 2 tablespoons, but it is not recommend to substitute when making delicate cakes such as angel food or sponge.

Self-Rising Flour: Sometimes referred to as phosphated flour, this is a low-protein flour with salt and leavening already added. It's most often recommended for biscuits and some quick breads but never for yeast breads. 1 cup of self-rising flour contains 1 teaspoon of baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. It can be used instead of all-purpose flour in a recipe by reducing the salt and baking powder according to these proportions.

Instantized Flour: Is granular in texture and, because it disperses instantly in cold liquids, is best for preparing smooth gravies and sauces.

Bread Flour: This is white flour made from hard, high-protein wheats. It has more gluten strength and protein content than all-purpose flour and absorbs more water. It is unbleached and sometimes conditioned with ascorbic acid.

Semolina Flour: Is made from the coarsely ground endosperm of durum. It is used to make couscous and pasta.

Pastry Flour: Milled from soft wheat, this falls somewhere between all-purpose and cake flour in terms of protein content and baking properties.

Durum Flour: Grown in the U.S. almost exclusively in North Dakota, durum is a hard spring wheat used to make noodles. It's finely ground semolina.

Natural Grain Flours: Rediscovering the natural flours of yesterday is one of today's delights.

Whole Wheat or Graham - is made from the entire wheat berry after it has been thoroughly cleaned.

Cracked Wheat - is cleaned wheat cracked or cut into angular fragments.

Rye Flour - milled from rye grain is usually mixed with wheat for bread baking.

Buckwheat Flour - is made from the triangular seeds of the buckwheat plant. Know by it's "speckles", it is a robust favorite for pancakes.

Soy Flour - is ground from whole raw soybeans and is slightly sweet-tasting. It is extremely rich in high quality protein and is an excellent source of iron, calcium and B-vitamins.

Cornmeal - is made from ground corn and gives a crunchy sweetness to breads and other foods.

Flour Tips

How to Store Flour: All-purpose Flour should be stored in an airtight canister in a cool, dry place and used within 15 months. To keep longer, store in the refrigerator or freezer in an air-tight container. Bring flour to room temperature before using in recipes.

How to Measure Flour: All-purpose flour is pre-sifted and requires no sifting. However, during packaging, shipping and storage the product does settle. If a recipe calls for flour that does not need to be sifted, it is a good idea to lightly fluff the flour with a metal spatula or spoon before measuring. To measure accurately, spoon flour into a standard dry-ingredient measuring cup and then level with a metal spatula or knife. The weight of one cup of flour straight from the bag can be as much as 1 ounce heavier than it should be. For certain recipes, it could make a big difference.

How to Substitute Flour: All-purpose flour can be used in recipes calling for self-rising flour. For each cup of all-purpose flour in the recipe, add 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon salt.

Number of Cups Per Pound: There are about 3 1/3 cups of flour per pound. There are about 34 cups of flour in a 10-pound bag of flour.

Flour Substitutes - In standard recipes, one of the following may be substituted for 1 cup of wheat flour:

  • 1 cup corn flour
  • 3/4 cup coarse cornmeal
  • 7/8 cup rice flour
  • 1 scant cup fine cornmeal
  • 5/8 cup potato flour

There are some problems in the use of substitutes for wheat flour. The following suggestions will improve the eating quality of the final product:

Rice flour and cornmeal tend to have a grainy texture. A smoother texture may be obtained by mixing the rice flour or cornmeal with the liquid called for in the recipe, bringing this mixture to a boil, and cooling it before adding the other ingredients.

Soy flour must always be used in combination with another flour, not as the only flour in a recipe. It has no gluten, and by itself has an unappealing taste.

When using a substitute for wheat flour in baking, longer and slower baking time is required. This is particularly true when the product is made without milk and eggs.

Because they have little or no gluten, flours other than wheat flour do not make satisfactory yeast breads.

Muffins or biscuits, when made with flours other than wheat flour, have better texture if baked in small sizes.

Dryness is a common characteristic of cakes made with flours other than wheat flours. Moisture may be preserved by frosting or storing cakes in closed containers.

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