Monday, August 4, 2008

Why Flour Type Matters

My children's babysitter had a hard time baking in my house when the kids wanted to make cookies. She had no idea which flour to use. I had four types of white flour in unmarked containers: all purpose (AP), pastry, cake and bread flour. I've since labeled them to reduce confusion.

It's not necessary for the average home baker to keep four white flours. In addition to kitchen standard flour - AP - I highly recommend keeping cake flour.

So, what's the difference? Cake flour has less protein than AP flour, in fact the lowest protein content of all four flours in my pantry. The reduced gluten (protein) yields a lighter, more tender crumb. On the opposite end of the spectrum is bread flour - a higher protein/gluten flour that gives bread and bagels their chewiness. Pastry flour and AP are in between. Pastry flour has a similarly low protein content as cake flour but it's not chlorinated. Chlorinating cake flour serves to further break down the gluten. It sounds horrid, I know. I know of no company who produces a more natural cake flour.

I had the opportunity to do some cooking in my sister's kitchen recently and rediscovered how a simple substitution can radically alter a recipe. We were making pancakes and she only had half the amount of cake flour needed. My recipe calls for 2 cups of cake flour; we used one cup of cake flour and one cup of AP. The resulting pancakes were disastrous, a far cry from the light and fluffy breakfast we enjoy so much.

Cake flour is available in the baking aisle of any grocery store. Look for it in a 2# box. I alternately see two brands: Swans Down and Pillsbury Softasilk. As for substitutions, 1 cup plus 2 T cake flour can substitute for 1 cup of AP flour in a pinch. Following our dense pancake fiasco, I don't recommend substituting AP for cake flour. Find another recipe (not all pancake recipes require cake flour) or add cake flour to your shopping list.

For more info on flour varieties check out: The Joy of Baking

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