Let’s talk about flour and what it is doing in your baked treats. Flour is a stabilizer in your recipe, its main job is adding structure to your baked good. But that is not all it does. We are going to take a deep dive into what flour does, why there are so many types of flour and which flour is best for you to use.

flour in a bowl

What is flour made of?

  • Starches (72-75%) – These swell & absorb water
  • Protein (6-15%) – Called gluten, when added to water it creates a tight network and builds structure
  • Water (7-14%)
  • Sugar (2%)

These percentages were found in an awesome book titled Baking Science by Dikla Levy Frances, if you are looking for a great read, check this book out!

What does gluten do in your food?

When gluten is added with water, the molecules change their shape & create a tight network, giving your food structure. When your gluten has matured, it will create strong and elastic bonds which is desired for bread baking like my Liege Waffles recipe. But not so much for cookies and cake, you rather weak gluten bonds for these more delicate treats like my Sugar Cookie recipe.

Strong Gluten vs. Weak Gluten

The older flour is, the stronger the gluten will be. The protein will get stronger when it is exposed to oxygen. That means freshly milled flour will have very weak gluten, so weak in fact, that it wouldn’t be very good to bake with. That is why aging flour is an important step in flour production.

Hard Wheat vs. Soft Wheat

Did you know that there are two types of wheat stock that is used to make flour? Hard wheat and soft wheat. So what is the big difference? Hard wheat has a higher percentage of protein, making it more ideal for bread making when you need a dough that is strong and elastic. Soft wheat has a weaker protein, making it more ideal for cookies and cakes.

Bleached vs. Unbleached

What does it mean when you buy bleached flour? This term can confuse many people. Are factories just trying to make my flour look more white? If so, no thank you! I rather not eat bleach. Well… this isn’t actually why flour is bleached. Let’s look at what is really happening.

Bleached and unbleached is actually referring to the method the factory used to age the flour. Remember in the section just above when I said freshly milled flour isn’t useable? It must be aged before you bake with it. When the factory wants to age the flour quickly, it will add supplements to age the flour quicker, this is bleaching the flour. Bleaching is done by adding chlorine dioxide or chlorine gas. When the flour is unbleached, it is aged the slow and old fashioned way.

flour in a bowl

Which type of flour is best?

All-purpose Flour

Builds structure as it absorbs liquids and expands. All-purpose flour falls in the middle of bread flour (high in gluten) and cake flour (low in gluten). It’s exactly what it is named, all-purpose, the most universal flour that can be used in most baked goods.

Bread Flour

Is higher in protein and creates thicker treats. This is best used for bread and shouldn’t be used as a substitution for all-purpose or cake flour.

Cake Flour

Has a lower amount of protein and is very fine. It gives your treat a specific flavor and makes them very white or light in color. It’s made of soft wheat so it should not be used in place of all-purpose or bread flour. Only use when your recipe specifically calls for it.

Pastry Flour

Is like cake flour, but unbleached. It’s fine and also low in protein.

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