If you’re like me then you’ve only ever used all-purpose flour in your baking endeavors. Have you ever wondered what those other wheat flours do? Or what’s the difference? Read on. So the main wheat flours that you’ll find on the grocery shelves are; all-purpose flour, cake flour, bread flour, and pastry flour. Already tiring of this article? Plain and simple, the difference is the amount on protein each contains. High protein = more strength.
If you’re still interested, let’s review each type. Then we can briefly cover them in the kitchen. First on the list is all-purpose flour. This champion sits in the middle of the flours in terms of protein content which gives it its name “all-purpose.”
Next, is cake flour. Unless the naming committee was trying to pull a fast one on us, this one should be good for cakes, right? You’re both right and wrong. We’ll talk about that later. For now it’s enough to know this flour has the least amount of protein. (Remember from above that protein equals strength. This flour yields light and delicate baked goods.)
If cake flour is the weakest in protein then pastry flour is it’s slightly stronger twin. It contains only a touch more protein than cake flour. Bread flour, on the other hand, is the bully on the other end of the group. It has the most protein making it the strongest.
Want numbers? Here’s the approximate protein content for each type of flour:
Bread Flour: 14 – 16%
All-Purpose Flour: 10 – 12%
Pastry Flour: 9%
Cake Flour: 7-8%
Where do each excel?
Let’s start with cake flour. Like I said above, it’s both good and bad for cakes. It’s excellent in making light, tender, airy cake layers. Wait. Isn’t that always good? No, and I’ll tell you why. I make cakes that need to be carved and stacked and covered with fondant. They need to hold their shape as I design them into a dinosaur, suitcase, or teddy bear. I would not want to use cake flour as they’d fall apart on me before hitting the party table. Please note that cakes can still be moist with different flours. All the flour controls is the lightness. The tenderness.
Pastry flour is good for pastries, cakes, some cookies. In all fairness, this flour can be used interchangeably with cake flour.
Just as you’ve been doing for years – all-purpose flour is great for pretty much everything. Since it’s a player in the midrange of protein it can take on cakes, breads, muffins, waffles, etc. The only time you probably wouldn’t want to use it is when you want that light, soft cake or the dense chewy bread.
Bread flour, of course, is great for breads – dense and chewy. Like pretzels, for example.
Okay, that’s all I have for you on wheat flours. Hopefully, you’ve gleaned some bits of culinary knowledge that you can transfer into the kitchen as you continue to bake up a storm. Like always, comment below with any questions, ideas, or critiques you have.