Flour is one of the quintessential building blocks for baking and can be found in any baker’s arsenal. Leavening agents are also a vital ingredient to ensure that your baked goods are airy and perfectly fluffy. We’ve discussed leavening agents, particularly baking powder, in an earlier blog you can find here. So, what happens when flour and leavening agents are combined to make a super-ingredient? We get the magic of self-raising flour!
The history of self-raising flour
While self-raising flour is freely available in grocery stores around the world now, it was invented by a baker in Bristol only in 1845. Henry Jones developed this all-important baking ingredient by carefully observing the chemical reactions of various leavening agents. Using sodium bicarbonate, tartaric acid and plain flour, he revolutionised the baking process, which until then relied solely on yeast as a raising agent. The problem with yeast was that it spoiled easily, especially on long sea voyages, leaving soldiers and travellers with dry, mouldy bread as their only rations. This inspired Jones to come up with an alternative.
He eventually worked hard to make self-raising flour a mainstay ingredient for the British Navy to ensure the troops and the wounded had access to better quality bread and food. Eventually, with the help of Florence Nightingale (and letters to every single MP in England), he was successful: and the British military finally began to use self-raising flour. Jones also patented the invention, which became a global sensation.
So, what is self-raising flour?
Self-raising flour is flour that has leavening agents spread evenly throughout it. It is made out of wheat mixed with a leavening agent. Since self-raising flour comes pre-mixed with baking powder, it often does not require any further leavening agents to be added during the baking process.
The name of the flour derives from the fact that the pre-mixed leavening agents help the batter or dough for the baked goods raise by itself. Raising is a key step in the baking process, which is the secret behind soft and fluffy treats. It is a process where the leavening agents combine with the acids in other ingredients to create gas. This gas dissipates in hot temperatures, leaving behind baked goods that are airy and light. With self-raising flour, there is usually no need to add extra leavening agents to facilitate this process.
Why use self-raising flour?
You may be wondering what the hype about this ingredient is about. Self-raising flour is a super-ingredient because it is key to a consistent and beautiful raise every single time. It is used in a lot of cake and cupcake recipes that require a significant amount of rise and a soft texture, like pound cakes, traditional English biscuits and scones. So, the next time you bite into these fluffy and spongy treats, you know the secret behind their airy deliciousness! Since the leavening agents are already evenly mixed in the flour, it eliminates any problems of improper mixing and ensures a consistent raise.
Self-rising flour vs. Self-raising flour
While the difference between these two terms may seem minor, even pedantic, this is not the case. Self-rising flour is used in the US and consists of all-purpose flour, salt and some leavening agent (usually baking powder). However, self-raising flour is used in the UK. It consists of more leavening than self-rising flour and does not have any salt. It is thus important to note that these two ingredients are not the same.
Self-raising flour vs. All-purpose flour: what’s the difference?
All-purpose flour is a mild-flavoured white flour that is made solely from the wheat head’s endosperm (i.e., the innermost kernel). It is often known as plain flour as it does not have any other ingredients mixed into it. This is the crucial difference between all-purpose flour and self-raising flour, as all-purpose flour has no other ingredients, like leavening agents, mixed into it. A leavening agent must be added to all-purpose flour to make the dough rise.
Self-raising flour is thus more appropriate for recipes that require an even, consistent raise. All-purpose flour is not popularly used in baking. It is more commonly used as a thickener in cooking. Be sure to note whether a recipe requires self-raising flour or all-purpose flour. Since baking is balanced on the delicate chemistry between ingredients, substituting one with the other could have disastrous results. If a recipe calls for self-raising flour but you only have all-purpose flour, it could be substituted in a 1:1 ratio. However, it should be noted that the reverse may not be possible.
It is also important to note that self-raising flour should be used within six months of purchase. The potency of the raising action gets affected if the ingredient is not used within this period.
Where can you purchase self-raising flour?
Now that you know all about self-raising flour and its use in baking, I’m sure you’re excited to buy some and get baking. The good news is we’ve just launched self-raising flour on our website! To make the perfect, deliciously light and fluffy treats you’ve been dreaming of, you can shop Select Aisle’s self-raising flour.