If you love to bake, you know that wheat flour is essential. But knowing which one to use, and when, is not always so straight-forward. Walk down any grocery aisle and you’ll find many types of flour — bread, all-purpose, cake & pastry (and more) — lining the shelves. The main difference between these flours is their protein content. When water is added to flour, the protein gets converted into gluten, which is what creates structure and texture in baked goods. Different types of recipes require different amounts of gluten, so here’s a primer to help you choose the right one for your next recipe.
All-purpose flour, or plain flour, is the most common flour used in baking. Its protein content lies between bread and cake & pastry flours, and is in fact usually a blend of the two. In the Chatelaine Kitchen, we use this flour almost exclusively in our recipes as we find it’s acceptable for most household baking needs. It can generally be substituted for recipes that call for either bread or cake flour, but your final texture of your product may vary slightly. (High-protein bread flour absorbs more liquid, so substituting all-purpose flour may result in a slightly stickier dough; while low-protein flour absorbs less liquid, so substituting with all-purpose flour may result in a slightly dry batter.)
Cake & pastry flour
The low-protein content of this flour (sometimes also called soft flour) is what gives baked goods their fluffy and meltingly tender texture. Most bakeries will use either cake or pastry flour, but groceries stores usually only sell the combination of the two. This flour is best used for baked goods that do not need a lot of gluten to hold the structure together, like cakes, cookies, pastries and anything else that should be tender or crumbly.
Sometimes called hard flour, bread flour has the highest protein content of all the flours—it’s what gives bread the elastic, chewy texture that we all love. Its generally only used in recipes that require more gluten to form a sturdier structures — like bread or pizza dough.
Did you know? You can store flour in the freezer! Keep flour in an airtight container and it will keep for up to one year.
Watch: Baking School: How to measure ingredients accurately