List of the Types and Uses of Flour
Having been an avid baker all of my life, eventually becoming a food writer, recipe developer, and author of a cookbook (Everything Cookies and Brownies, Adams Media 2009) I can tell you that flour is really one of the most misunderstood ingredients in the home kitchen.Although there are numerous varieties most people stick with white, all purpose flour for everything from bread to cookies. Tsk, tsk.
There are many flour types and each has a number of different uses. Although wheat flour (whole wheat, all purpose, cake flour, bread flour, etc.) is the typical flour used in most baking there are several other choices.
Different flours have different characteristics and can not necessarily be used interchangeably. When you know the strengths and weaknesses of each type you can use that knowledge to your advantage in your baking.
A Note about Organic
Organic flours are grown and processed according to organic standards set forth by the USDA. If the package does not have the 100% Organic stamp on it you can be pretty sure it is not organic by government standards. Many types of flours are available in organic varieties.
Types of Wheat Flour
Wheat is a grass. The seeds, called wheat berries, are ground to create flour.
There are several wheat flour types, and uses for them range from delicate cakes to sturdy artisan breads. Wheat flour can be stored at room temperature for six to eight months; wheat berries can be stored indefinitely as long as they are intact and not ground. Adding a bay leaf or two to the canister will keep out bugs.
Bread Flour – White flour which is made from hard, winter wheat is called bread flour. The higher protein gives it a high gluten content. This is the best choice for yeast breads.
Cake Flour – Cake flour is white flour. It is made from a soft wheat, which means it will have less gluten that the hard winter wheat flour. It has a high starch content and low protein which helps make the finished baked goods delicate and light. Cake flour is bleached, which means it goes through a chemical process which actually chlorinates the flour. This process helps to improve the texture of the finished product. It cannot be used for yeast breads.
If you don't have cake flour you can use white flour and replace two tablespoons of flour with two tablespoons of cornstarch per cup.
Graham Flour – Graham flour is a course flour used in graham crackers and some muffins and breads. It is sweet and nutty to the taste. This flour is made by grinding the components of the wheatberry separately and then combining them again.
Self Rising Flour – is an all purpose flour that has salt and leavening all ready added to it. Many people use self rising flour for biscuits and quick breads. You can't use it for yeast bread. Never add salt or leavenings to recipes where self-rising flour is called for.
If you have a recipe that calls for self-rising flour you can substitute the following per cup:
- 1 cup of all purpose flour
- 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon of salt
Mix well. You can make this up in large batches and store in a cool, dry place.
Semolina Flour – Semolina flour is made from Durham wheat. This is a very high protein wheat that allows the dough to be very elastic. Semolina flour is used to make pasta almost exclusively.
White flour – White flour is wheat flour that has the bran and the germ removed. It may bebleached or unbleached. Bleached flour goes through a chemical process to make it lighter. Organic flour cannot be bleached. This flour has t be enriched with vitamins and nutrients because the natural nutrients are removed with the bran and germ.
White flour is called all purpose flour because it can be used with satisfactory results in almost any baked product. Since unbleached has a little more protein that bleached flour it is less desirable for cakes and delicate baked goods.
Whole Wheat Flour – Whole wheat flour contains the whole grain of wheat; the bran, the germ, and the starch. It is high in fiber and vitamins without the need to be enriched. Wheat flour is good for breads and some baked goods. It does give a coarser, denser finished product.
Whole Wheat Pastry Flour – Whole wheat pastry flour is milled from the soft spring wheat and has a lower protein count that normal whole wheat flour. It is used for whole wheat pie crusts and can be used as a whole grain cake flour.
Vital Wheat Gluten – Wheat gluten is the part of the flour that carries the protein and gives the dough elasticity. This can be added to lower protein flours to give the finished bread a better texture, no matter which flour is used.
Using a variety of different flours in your baked goods not only adds flavor; it adds nutrition. You can create your own flour blends for specific purposes and increase the nutrition in the items you bake.
Non-Wheat, Gluten Free Flour Types and Uses
Some flours are made from crops other than wheat. They can be used by people on a gluten free diet as well as by bakers wanting to add a variety of textures and flavors to the table. Many of these products need to be mixed with at least a little wheat flour (if you are not on a gluten free diet) so that they have a better texture. Because there is no gluten in these they will not rise properly on their own and will have a heavier texture than products made with wheat flours.
Buckwheat – Buckwheat is a low gluten grain that has a nutty flavor. It can be used in many baked goods and is most often used in buckwheat pancakes. This whole grain flour is high in fiber, amino acids, and protein. It is not wheat at all, but a plant.
Coconut – Coconut flour is high in fiber, gluten free and low carb. It is made from ground coconut and adds a sweet coconut flavor to baked goods. You can substitute coconut flour for up to 25% of the wheat flour called for in your recipe.
Corn Flour – Corn flour is also called cornmeal. It is low in gluten and is used for quick breads and pancakes. It can be used with yeast as a leavener as long as wheat flour is added in a large percentage. Corn flour adds a sweet flavor to any bread or baked good.
Potato – Potato flour is made from potatoes which have been cooked and dried. It gives a distinct potato taste to the baked goods it is used in. It has no gluten and can be used to replace up to 25% of wheat flour in recipes.
Oat – Oat flour is made from oats. It can be used in breads, cookies, and dense cakes. You can replace up to 25% of the wheat flour with oat flour but be sure to add about an extra 1/8 teaspoon of your leavener.
Rice – Rice flour is a fine flour made from milling rice. It is gluten free and can be used in many baked products. Because of the lack of gluten your end results will have a different texture if you use it in the place of wheat flour.
Rye – Rye Flour has a low amount of gluten and without the addition of wheat flour the texture will be dense. Dark rye is the ground grain without the bran and germ removed while light rye has both the germ and the bran removed.
Soy – Soy flour is a high protein flour that results when soy beans are ground up. It should be stored in the refrigerator.
Spelt – Spelt flour is a popular non-wheat flour. It is similar in taste to whole wheat flour and contains a small amount of gluten. You can substitute it for whole wheat flour in many items. It has a higher protein content than wheat and a more intense flavor. Since the proteins are easier to digest many people who are allergic to wheat flour can eat spelt.
Tapioca – Tapioca flour is made from the cassava root. It is can be used in baked goods for people on gluten free diets.
Teff – This flour is full of nutrition. It is higher in protein than wheat and has calcium and iron. Teff does not contain gluten. It can be used in tandem with wheat flour for yeast breads but is too soft to be used on its own. It is excellent in muffins and quick breads.