What's in a name? A guide to flour.
Flour is one of the most essential items in a baker’s kitchen. When Josh began his baking journey several years ago, it started with him “playing” around with different types of flour, and I would often joke with friends and family about the many types and quantities we had on our pantry shelves. Little did I know this would expand to a cottage bakery with multiple 88-quart
containers and metal racks stacked with 50 lb bags of flour.
Another popular question we’re often asked is “what type of flour should I buy?” While our personal and professional preference is to purchase flour from regional millers or local wholesale suppliers, we get this is not realistic for the everyday home baker. So what should you get from the store?
Bleached vs. Unbleached Flour?
Flour is naturally off-white to varying shades of yellow or tan, and after it is milled, it needs time to age and oxidize before use.
Bleached flour was first developed over 100 years ago during the industrial revolution to provide mass produced, shelf-stable flour. It is treated with varying chemicals to speed up the natural aging process. The result tends to be a purer white, finer flour, with a more consistent grain. However, bleached flour is less nutritious due to the bleaching process, which in turn changes the flavor, and it can actually harm your sourdough starter (we’ll get more into this in upcoming posts).
Josh only uses unbleached flours. Some swear by bleached flour for their pastries and cakes due to the finer texture; however, if you have had any of Josh’s cookies, scones, cinnamon rolls, etc., you would agree they are wonderfully soft.
All Purpose vs. Bread Flour?
Trust me, I get it, there are so many types of flour out there, and it is honestly overwhelming. I can’t count the number of times Josh has to explain the difference to me over the years. The most important thing to remember is that the flours differ in protein content. The more protein, the more gluten, the more strength and structure. So here’s the quick and dirty of what you need to know:
1. All Purpose – its name says it all, this type really can be used for all types of recipes. Only have room for one type of flour, then this is the one to get. The results between the other types of flour are subtle, and for the average home baker, this is the route to go.
2. Bread Flour – has a high protein content, which again means more gluten, strength, and structure. Thus, it creates more volume, and the dough holds more shape. The extra gluten is also perfect for those nice chewy and crusty bread.
3. Whole Wheat – when flour is milled, typically certain parts (bran & germ) are separated from the grain. In whole wheat, specific amounts are added back in, but this does change the ability of the grain to create the structure and gluten needed in bread. In most recipes, you’ll see a specific combo of whole wheat and another type of flour. 100% whole wheat creates a very dense product.
4. Pastry Flour – milled from softer wheat, it has a lower protein and gluten level. This type of flour is great for baked goods and especially for croissants.
5. Cake Flour – has the least amount of protein of the types of flour, absorbs liquids quickly, develops minimal gluten and structure, so it is perfect for those light and airy cakes, pastries, and biscuits.
Note: We don’t get into this here but substituting these flours is NOT a 1:1 ratio. Google is your friend, and there are many great online resources with the proper substitution ratios.