January 25, 2011

I've been doing a lot of research about cakes lately. I've read up on how to make them and studied how to decorate them. I've tried my hand at both, and I'll keep experimenting and sharing my successes and failures here in the coming months.

In the process of my research, I noticed that many recipes specify a particular type of flour, and that, naturally, raised the question:

Is there a difference between the different types of flour?

The short answer is yes, there's a difference.

For those who don't know a lot about flour, the main difference in flour types arises (pun intended) from the gluten content. Gluten is the protein that helps yeast stretch and rise. It's also dangerous to those with Celiac Disease, but that's a subject for another day. The gluten content varies in different types of flour depending on whether the flour is made from hard wheat or soft wheat.

If you want to achieve the best results in your recipe, it's smart to use the type of flour the recipe specifically calls for.

All-purpose flour is designed for a number of uses--hence the name "all-purpose." It's best used for cookies, quick breads and biscuits and can also be used for cakes. It's a mixture of high-gluten hard wheat and low-gluten soft wheat, and it comes in both bleached and unbleached varieties. From what I can tell, it really doesn't matter whether you use bleached or unbleached flour in a recipe, unless the recipe specifies one or the other.

Bread flour is an unbleached, high-gluten blend, mostly hard wheat, and best used in yeast breads because the protein in the gluten is necessary for the bread to rise properly.


Cake flour is made primarily of low-gluten soft wheat. It has a fine texture and a high starch content which make it ideal for cakes, cookies, biscuits and pastries that don't need to rise much.


Pastry flour is similar to cake flour, but it has a slightly higher gluten content. This higher gluten content aids with the elasticity that's needed to hold together layers necessary to make pie crusts, puff pastry and the like.

Self-rising flour is just all-purpose flour to which someone has added baking powder and salt. You can use it in yeast bread recipes instead of all-purpose flour if you omit the salt and in quick bread recipes by omitting salt and baking powder.

Is it okay to use all-purpose flour for everything?

Not exactly. Like I said earlier, you're going to get the best results if you use the appropriate flour for the recipe. However, if all you have is all-purpose flour, here's a substitution chart created by TLC to help. 

When the recipe calls for:Substitute:
1 cup sifted cake flour 1 cup minus 2 tablespoons sifted all-purpose flour
1 cup pastry flour 1 cup minus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 cup self-rising flour 1 cup minus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour plus 11/2 teaspoons baking powder and 1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon pastry flour

And now you know!

What cake-baking tips do you have in your arsenal to help those of us who are just starting out?
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