Rosh Hashanah is less than two weeks away, and if you want it to be a sweet new year, it’s absolutely vital to make sure you bring your honey cake A-game.
Whenever it comes down to baking cakes (or anything, really), I always get the same question again and again from my friends: “how do you know what type of flour to use?” And honestly, I can’t blame them for asking. Have you taken a casual stroll down the baking aisle of your local grocery store recently? There are SO many types of flour, even if you’re just focusing on the wheat variety of flours, and that can be extremely overwhelming. However, once you know the difference between the most common types of flour, your baking skills will rise to the occasion (teehee puns). Let’s begin Flour 101.
All-purpose flour: AP flour is, as it sounds, good for using in almost any recipe that calls for flour. Many professional bakers always provide the same one piece of advice: if you only keep one type of flour in your pantry, it should be AP flour. All-purpose flour has a protein content of 8-11% by weight (BTW, the protein is gluten). AP flour can be broken down into two further categories: bleached and unbleached. Bleached flour has been treated with bleaching chemicals during the manufacturing process which damages some of the starch and protein content, resulting in a lower % of protein. Unbleached flour has not been chemically bleached during manufacturing and has a higher % of protein content. Thus, bleached AP flour is better for foods like pastries, cakes, and cookies (which require less protein) while unbleached AP flour is better for items such as bread and pizza dough.
Bread flour: Bread flour has the highest protein content of all the flours, weighing in at about 12-16% protein. This is especially important when making (you guessed it) bread, especially yeast breads, because it provides the texture, structure, and chewiness that is required. Bread flour is also highly recommended for making pizza dough, bagels, and any chewy baked good (such as a pretzel).
Cake flour: Along with a very specific protein content of 8-9%, the consistency of cake flour is extra-fine to result in a finer crumb and cake texture. Although the protein content is lower than that of AP flour, it is still high enough to prevent the cake from caving in on itself. This type of flour is almost always bleached, which actually helps the cake set quicker, rise higher, and distribute fats (from ingredients like eggs, butter, and oil) more evenly.
Pastry flour: Similar to cake flour, pastry flour has a very specific protein content of 9-10% and is also almost always bleached. This type of flour also provides a finer crumb but the slightly higher protein content allows more structure than that from cake flour, making it great for using in biscuits, pie crusts, cookies, and most other pastries.
Pasta flour (“00” flour): 00 flour is primarily used in pastas (and any very thin crusts, such as crackers). This flour is ground to ultimate fineness, which makes it easier to handle and roll out very thin.
Whole wheat flour: Whole wheat flour is made from grinding together all three parts of the seed (the germ, the bran, and the endosperm) while white wheat flour is only made from the endosperm. Whole wheat flour is more absorbant than regular wheat flour and thus requires more liquid; this also results in a stickier dough that is much harder to work with. A key suggestion for those wanting to make whole wheat doughs is to first practice with replacing 25% or 50% of the flour in a recipe with whole wheat flour to improve on working with this type of dough.
Knowing what type of flour to use can make all the difference between making a good cake and an excellent cake. Hopefully now the flour aisle won’t be so daunting to you. Stay tuned for the next segment: “Flour 102: Gluten-Free and Beyond!” ;-)