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Baking 101: Choosing the right flour

For those of us who enjoy being up to our elbows in bread dough and for the others who enjoy the delicate making of cookies and cakes, this quick guide will help you better understand the world of baking, its ingredients and why we use a specific item in certain recipes.

Variety of flours

Stand in front of your local grocery store’s baking aisle, and you’ll be amazed at the variety of flours. Would you ever bake challah with cake flour or make an angel food cake with bread flour? Today we’re giving you the inside scoop on why using the correct flour for the correct job creates better (and fluffier) results!

Wheat flours

Milled from the cereal grain that is wheat, this is the most common and most popular variety of grain to mill into flour. Depending on the type of flour you want, the entire wheat kernel may be milled (for use as whole wheat flour) which includes all parts of the kernel: bran, germ and endosperm. When milling all-purpose flour, only the endosperm is milled. Below is a list of the most popular wheat flour varieties but keep in mind there are thousands of wheat varieties!

All-purpose flour

All-purpose flour is milled from a blend of both hard and soft wheat varieties and has a protein count of 9.5 percent to 11.5 percent, although not always the case. King Arthur Flour mills its all-purpose flour from just hard wheat, while White Lily flour is milled from soft wheat (no wonder everyone in the South loves baking biscuits with it)!

Get the recipe using all-purpose flour: Apple rhubarb pie >>

Whole wheat flour

Whole wheat flour can be milled from both hard and soft wheat and includes the entire wheat kernel, giving it a shorter shelf life. This is because the germ and the bran are high in natural oils and cause the flour to break down faster. White whole wheat flour uses the same process, only milled from a white wheat variety.

Get the recipe using whole wheat flour: Butternut squash pumpkin quick bread >>

Bread flour

Bread flour is milled from either hard red spring or hard red winter wheat with a protein count of 11.5 percent to 13.5 percent. Since it is milled from harder types of wheat, the end result is not as fine as cake flour, but it works wonders in yeast bread recipes, creating a fine crumb when necessary.

Get the recipe using bread flour: Copycat Panera country white bread >>

Self-rising flour

Self-rising flour is milled from soft wheat with the same protein percentage as all-purpose flour. What makes this flour different is the addition of a leavening agent. Some bakers prefer to control this themselves, never using this flour, while others seem to love the ease of it!

Get the recipe using self-rising flour: Pumpkin pancakes >>

Cake flour

Cake flour is milled from soft red winter wheat and has a protein count of around 7 percent. Typically bleached for white cake results, you can also find this flour unbleached.

Get the recipe using cake flour: Lemon beer loaf cake >>

Other flours

Not everyone can consume the gluten in wheat flours, thus the market for non-wheat and non-grain flours was born. Not just for gluten-allergies, these flours add flavor, texture and color to your baked goods.

Rice flour

Rice flour is made by milling rice kernels very finely, and it is commonly used in Asian cookery to thicken sauces and as coating for proteins. Also interesting to note, rice grits are a new product in the market similar to regular grits.

Corn flour

Corn flour is milled from dried corn kernels and can be found as coarse cornmeal, masa harina and the classic corn flour used for Latin American recipes such as tamales.

More Flours

Other flours include quinoa flour, sweet potato flour, coconut flour, chickpea flour, black bean flour and even flour milled from wine grapes!

Sources: How Baking Works: Exploring the Fundamentals of Baking Science
by Paula Figoni, On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen by Harold McGee

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