I’ve been baking as far back as I can remember, and over the decades I’ve picked up a thing or two. It started with chocolate chip cookies and has lead me here, a bread baking, cake decorating, banana muffin enthusiast. Today we are going to talk about flours commonly used in the home kitchen in regards to bread.
This name covers all flours that have been artificially lightened during processing. The four common agents used are potassium bromate, a maturing agent that increases gluten development but it isn’t the bleaching agent in the flour. Benzoyl peroxide is a bleaching agent that doesn’t affect gluten. Ascorbic acid is a maturing agent that also strengthens gluten but again, isn’t a bleaching agent. Chlorine gas is used to weaken gluten and oxidize starches, allowing it to absorb water well leading to thicker batters and firmer doughs. Flours treated with chlorine gas are the worst for bread but the best for cookies and cakes. As a general rule, using bleached flour for bread isn’t the best choice, but if you don’t have anything aside from ascorbic acid and benzoyl peroxide treated flour, it can work for breads. Cake flour is almost always chlorinated and very low in gluten.
Enriched flour is simply flour that is enriched with extra nutrients. During the processing of flours it often looses nutrients, so by adding them back your flour has more nutrients in it.
This flour is low gluten to allow for flaky crusts instead of crunchy and bread-y. The gluten protein percentage is generally around 7.5%-9.5%, slightly higher than cake flour.
All Purpose Flour
All purpose flour is medium in gluten, sitting around 9.5%-11.5%. It works well for most breads, pizzas, cookies and cakes. Though it does have a higher gluten percentage, if you need a more structured cake, this is the flour for you. All purpose flours do not generally have any additives or rising agents.
This is the highest gluten flour that’s easy to find. Sitting from 11.5%-13.5% gluten it makes for great chewy bread with a lot of carbon dioxide, really rising the dough.
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This is a much more difficult to find flour as it sits at 13.5%-16% gluten. This flour is used when you need very structured bread. It doesn’t yield as much chew, but your bread will be very strong. Mixing hard with lighter gluten flours to yield better bread is a common use for it. For example, having a massive bag of all purpose flour to make all sorts of treats and then a bag of hard flour, you can make better bread without having to buy bread flour as well as all purpose. A 1:3 hard to all purpose mix is the best for French and Italian breads when mixing.
If you can find this stuff, let me know! Though the bags claim to be 100% gluten, this is not technically possible, but when doing the math, use 100% as your safe number. If you want to mix flours without needing much mass, this is the one. I don’t know of a single purpose of using this flour straight, as it is always mixed into lower gluten flours to make better bread.
Self raising flour is a fancy name for all purpose flour with baking powder in it, pre mixed. For the average home baker, I wouldn’t bother with purchasing it. If you want to make self rising flour, mix 1 cup of all purpose with 1 tsp of baking powder and a pinch of salt.
Whole / Wheat Flour
Whole wheat flour is a fairly dense flour with a gluten percentage of around 9%. It is generally unbleached and good for sturdy bread and loaves of potato and fruit dense breads.
There are flours made of plenty of different grains, and I hope to get into them soon. If you have any advice for new bakers or experiences with different flours, please let me know!