Along with butter and sugar, flour is one of the most important if not the most important element of creating desserts. Adding flour sounds easy on paper however it can get very confusing when a more precise recipe calls for AP flour, cake flour, self-raising flour, bread flour, high protein flour etc. To add to the confusion different flour types called differently in different countries.
I’ve lived and baked in 3 countries and had my fair share of confusion so I did some homework and have put together some basic guideline for the most common types of flour. I do not attempt to cover all the science behind the topic but this summary should help you to learn the fundamentals.
Did you know for example that for making brioche or eclair you need high protein content bread flour?
Depending on the protein content of the wheat grain, it is categorised into soft or hard wheat.
Soft wheat with lower gluten content is used to make e.g. cake flour, pastry flour, plain flour making it ideal for baking most of the cakes and pastries. Hard wheat on the other hand has high protein content therefore it can develop a strong and elastic dough, making it the best type of wheat to produce different types of bread flour. In short, bread flours are high in gluten (hard wheat), while pastry flours have a lower gluten content (soft wheat).
If you have never thought about protein content of your flour, don’t worry, you are not alone! I suggest to take your bag of flour from your kitchen cupboard and check the protein content on the pack then try to classify it according to the below. Please note that the name of the flour as well as the % might vary per country.
You do not have to have all these type flour at hand to bake wonderful pastries, perhaps some of them are not even available in your local supermarket and it's OK. I personally use pastry flour and bread flour 95% of the time however if you aim to perfect your bread skills I suggest to look into the high gluten area more.
What is gluten?
No, I do not mean here why gluten is bad? Instead, what gluten is from the bakers' perspective? Gluten is a group of proteins, called prolamins and glutelins, which occur in various grains e.g. wheat, oat, rye.
Despite its bad reputation, in the world of bread making, it is truly magical and scientific at the same time.
Think of gluten as the miraculous net that holds bread together; it helps dough rise by trapping gas bubbles during fermentation and gives bread its unique texture. Although bread begins with many of the same ingredients as cookies, pastries, cakes, and even shortbreads, it has a completely different consistency. Gluten makes bread airy and satisfyingly chewy.
Some gluten-free flour options
- Nut based e.g.,almond flour, hazelnut flour, chestnut flour, walnut flour, pistachio flour all made from ground nuts
- Coconut flour
- Chickpea flour
- Corn flour
- Rice flour
- Starches e.g. corn starch, potato starch
If you want to learn more about flour and how exactly gluten works, please visit these links which I have also used as part of my research;
Let me know below what other topics you would like to learn about.