When it comes to baking one of the first things that come to mind is flour. Almost all of the commonly known baked goods are mainly made using flour. Most of us are used to making recipes that simply use all purpose flour but in recent times there has been a wide range of flours to enter the market. There’s pastry flour, cake flour, and bread flour. You can also choose between bleached and unbleached, white and whole-wheat — and then there’s the wide world of alterna-grain (i.e., non-wheat) flours. But do you actually know what flour is?
WHAT IS FLOUR?
In simple terms, flour is a powder ground from grains. If you want to get granular, when we talk about grains, we’re usually talking about the edible seeds harvested from cereal plants (we’re talking about wheat based flours in this case). And these seeds have three parts: the bran, the germ, and the endosperm. The bran protects the seed until it is ready to grow. The germ is where growth begins, and the endosperm stores the stuff that a plant uses as food. We hijack the stored energy in the form of proteins commonly known as gluten.
WHAT IS GLUTEN?
Gluten is a group of seed storage proteins found in certain cereal grains. Although, strictly speaking, "gluten" pertains only to wheat proteins.
(The image below shows us how wheat flour is produced)
PROTEINS IN FLOUR
Every flour has a different protein content and this is one of the main differentiating factors between types of flour. The protein content of the flour is what determines the texture, structure, crumb and grain of a baked good. Higher protein content like bread flour requires more hydration and longer mixing times to achieve a strong crumb structure.
Now that we’ve covered the basics let's get into the different types of baking flours available in the market.
TYPES OF FLOURS:
- ALL PURPOSE FLOUR:
All-purpose flour also known as maida in India, is probably the most commonly found flour and is a staple ingredient in every baker’s pantry. Milled from a mixture of soft and hard wheat varieties, it has a moderate protein content of about 10 to 12 % As the most versatile flour, it is capable of creating flaky pie crusts, chewy cookies, and fluffy pancakes. All purpose flour can be substituted in a 1:1 ratio with most flours.
- SELF RAISING FLOUR:
The secret ingredients of self-rising flour are the baking powder and salt added during the milling process. You can make your own at home by mixing 1 cup all purpose flour with 1 ½ teaspoon baking powder and ¼ teaspoon salt. Be careful not to substitute self-rising flour for other flours while baking! The added ingredients can throw off the rest of the measurements in your recipe.
- CAKE FLOUR:
Cake flour is a mixture of all purpose flour with some corn flour. It has the lowest protein content of all flours at 5 to 8 %. Because of this, it has less gluten, which leads to softer baked goods—perfect for cakes (obviously!) Cake flour also absorbs more liquid and sugar than all-purpose flour, which guarantees a super moist cake. It can be made at home by mixing 120g of all purpose flour with 15g of corn flour, sieved and stored for use.
- PASTRY FLOUR:
With an 8 to 9 % protein content, pastry flour falls in between all-purpose flour and cake flour. It strikes the perfect balance between flakiness and tenderness, making it the go-to choice for pie crusts, tarts, and cookies. You can even make your own at home by mixing 1 1/3 cups of all-purpose flour with 2/3 cup cake flour.
- BREAD FLOUR:
Milled entirely from hard wheat, bread flour is the strongest of all flours with a high protein content at 12 to 14 %. This comes in handy when baking yeasted breads because of the strong gluten content required to make the bread rise properly. Bread flour makes for a better volume and a chewier crumb with your bakes.
- WHOLE WHEAT FLOUR:
Although whole wheat flour has a high protein level (approximately 13 to 14 percent), the presence of the germ and bran reduces the flour's capacity to create gluten. As a result, whole wheat flour produces extremely sticky dough and denser baked items. While all purpose flour can be stored in an airtight canister in your cupboard for up to six months. Whole wheat flour can also be used to make cookies, bread, pancakes, pizza dough, and pasta.
- 00 FLOUR:
Often referred to as Italian-style flour, 00 flour is made from the hardest type of wheat with a protein content of 11 to 12 percent. The “00” refers to the super fine texture of the flour making it easy to roll out to extreme thinness without breaking, which is perfect for pasta and crackers.
- GLUTEN FREE FLOUR:
- ALMOND FLOUR:
This gluten-free favorite is low in carbohydrates and is high in healthy fats and fiber. To replace wheat flour with almond flour, start by replacing the flours in a 1:1 ratio and then add more of a rising agent (like baking powder or baking soda) to accommodate the heavier weight of the almond flour.
Almond flour can be of two types- blanched and unblanched.
BLANCHED ALMOND FLOUR: When the skin of the almond is peeled by soaking them in hot water, it is known as blanched almonds. When these almonds are ground into a fine powder it is known as blanched almond flour. Bakers use blanched almond flour for macarons and almond sponges because it is lighter than unblanched almond flour
UNBLANCHED ALMOND FLOUR: Unblanched almond flour is the flour made by almonds that have their skin on. Therefore, this flour has a red-brown color and heavier weight. Unblanched almond flour also has the same usage in cooking. You can make all types of cakes, desserts and cookies with this flour too.
- COCONUT FLOUR:
Check out the following link to know about coconut flour and its uses:
- CASHEW NUT FLOUR
Cashew Nut flour or cashew nut meal is made from ground cashews Since flours such as cashew nut flour/ almond flour/ coconut flour have a short time span before they go rancid, it is important to store them in airtight containers in a cool, dry place.
Cashew nut flour can be used to make macaroons, sponges and cashew flour biscuits.
NOTE: All the flours and especially nut-based flours can be kept in the freezer apart from air-tight storage (which avoids moisture getting in contact with flour) to prolong their shelf-life by preventing rancidity. As milling of these nuts result in the exposure of oil present in them with air, rancidity takes place which makes them go bad in a short span. Thus, preventing this exposure brings a shift in the shelf-life. Refrigeration can also be done but comparatively freezer storage has a high effect on the shelf-life.
The freezer stored flour must be defrosted (bring it back to room temperature) before using for cooking/baking, as it will affect the cooking/baking time and texture of the end product.