Choosing the best variety
Flour is one of the basic ingredients when baking. Honestly, until I started deeping more and more into this amazing world of pastry goodies, flour to me was just one kind…a simple, white flour..Never bothered about it too much. But looks like there are so many types of flour that I had to do a post about it to clarify things a little bit. So here is everything you need to know about flour!
The most common types of flour you will probably see are cake flour, bread flour and all-purpose/plain flour. The differences between these types of flour are, mostly, the amount of wheat germ and bran that are milled with the flour, the type of wheat used and the amount of protein in that particular wheat. Higher amount of protein means higher amount of gluten. Gluten is, basically, what brings the dough together (I’m not gonna go into science here as the terms can be a bit confusing:D) and it can be developed by kneading. This is very important when making bread, but not as important when making pastries, as it may make them chewy.
Depending on country, different types of flour have different names. For instance, here, in Romania, we have 4 types of flour: 000, 650, 550 and 480. These numbers represent the amount of protein and fibers (multiplied by 1000) each type of flour has. The more proteins, the healthier the flour is.
All-purpose flour is also known as plain flour and has 8 to 11% protein. It is a mix of hard and soft wheat and it’s the best choice when you’re not sure what type of flour to choose.
Bread flour, also called strong flour, usually has over 12% protein and it’s best suited for making bread and yeast products due to having a high amount of gluten, which allows a more efficient kneading process.
Cake flour, known as pastry flour or soft flour is made from soft wheat and has the lowest amount of protein: 7-8%. Being low in gluten, it’s best used for light pastry products, such as genoise, sponge cakes etc. It is usually bleached for a bright look, but this process also allows it to rise better and not to deflate after baking.
Apart from these types of flour, there is the whole wheat flour (whole meal flour), which has, indeed, a high amount of protein and bran, but it’s not well turned into gluten, therefore breads and cakes tend to be heavy and not rise as they do with regular flour. It is also high in fibers and has a nutrient content higher than other types of flour.
Self-raising flour is either all-purpose flour or cake flour mixed with salt and a levener (baking powder, baking soda or both). You can easily make this at home: for each cup of flour, add 1 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Note: the recipes that call for this type of flour don’t use othet sort of levening agents or additional salt.
Apart of all these wheat flour varities, there is also rice flour, semolina flour, cornflour, spelta flour, but, as a general rule, you can ground flour from a variety of nuts and seeds.
How to store flour
I highly recommend that you store flour in a cool, dry area to prevent it absorb moist or odors. Make sure you don’t store it near products with strong smell, such as onions or soap.
Also, keep in mind that flour can atract insects, so cover it. For more safety, you can put a bay leaf in the flour. (haven’t tried yet though :D). Bay leaves are known for being natural insects repellents.
Also, I highly recommend you to sift the flour every single time you bake, even though the recipes might not ask for it. Sifting will make it lighter, it will be easier to fold in your batter, therefore your cake will rise better.
How to measure flour
If you don’t have a kitchen scale to measure the flour you need in a recipe, here’s how you can do it: (I’ve been measuring flour this way for years before buying a kitchen scale and it worked out for me)
1 cup = 140grams
1 cup sifted = 115grams
Cake flour/Soft flour
1 cup = 130grams
1 cup sifted = 100grams
1 cup = 150grams
1 cup sifted = 120grams
1 cup = 160grams
1 cup sifted = 140grams
Proper measuring of your flour is sometimes really important for a great recipe and product. Keep in mind that sifted flour has a different weight from regular, packed flour. Just read carefully the recipe. If it calls for sifted flour it means you have to sift the flour first, then measure it. If it calls for flour, sifted, it means you measure, then sift your flour.