Flour is a pantry essential, be it for baking or for everyday food. Flours actually come in quite a few varieties and depending upon your taste, preference and requirement, you can pick one that fits. This article is an attempt to make your navigation through the baking aisle easier by a ton. Before we get into the types of flour, let’s understand that the division is based on protein content. The more the protein, the more the gluten and strength. These are the flours that pack more volume and are way chewier than flours with low protein and gluten. Flours with higher protein are called ‘hard flours’ and the ones with lower protein are called ‘soft flours’.
Now that we have established that, let’s start with the list.
1. All Purpose Flour
Any recipe that mentions ‘flour’ without specifying which one, is talking about all purpose flour. This flour is the queen of staples and has one of the highest protein content of all. It might be a bit of a stretch to call it ‘all purpose’, but it certainly is multi-purpose. It is a milled mixture of soft and hard wheat that is sold bleached and unbleached, which are often used interchangeably or as the recipe requires.
2. Whole Wheat Flour
Whole wheat flour comprises all three parts of the wheat kernel – the endosperm, the germ (embryo) and the bran (the outer coating). This flour is something of an exception to the protein-gluten rule, as the presence of bran and germ in it diminishes its gluten forming ability, while keeping it high in protein and fiber. While it is a healthier everyday alternative to all-purpose flour, it tends to result in the baked goods being denser.
3. Bread Flour
Let’s start by saying that bread flour has more protein than all-purpose flour, but while all-purpose flour is, well, all-purpose, bread flour is only for bread. If you are a fan of chewy goods, bread flour would have a place in your pantry. Just make sure to knead it long enough to develop the gluten.
4. Cake Flour
This flour has the lowest protein and is a favorite for making moist and tender bakes. Considering that cake flour is generally chlorinated, the gluten in it is pretty weak. Also, the chlorination increases its capacity to hold sugars and liquids. If you are a fan of those extra moist cakes and scones that just melt in your mouth, stock up on cake flour. There is a DIY trick for this, which is to mix 2 tbsp of cornstarch with a cup of all-purpose flour and voila, homemade cake flour is ready!
5. Pastry Flour
This flour is the secret behind the masterful combination of the flaky tart or pie crust that still manages to be tender. Its protein content is between cake flour and all-purpose flour. In fact, you can DIY it by mixing 1.3 cups of all-purpose and 0.6 cups of cake flour.
6. Self-Rising Flour
This flour has pre added salt and baking powder. This means that it needs to be used within six months of its manufacture. Simply because by then, the efficacy of the baking powder begins to go down, which leaves it as just regular flour with salt. It is considered a staple in the southern states, made from a wheat with low protein that is grown there. It is mostly used for pancakes, soft biscuits, muffins and cakes.
Even this flour can be DIYed. Mix 1 cup of pastry flour with 1.5 teaspoons of baking powder and 0.25 teaspoon of salt. And you know how to DIY pastry flour and its derivative, the cake flour from above. One thing you must have learnt from this is how truly multi purpose the all-purpose flour is. How about we look at some gluten free flours now?
7. Almond Flour
Almond flour and almond meal, which is a coarser variety of the flour can be prepared at home. Just blanch and peel your almonds and grind them up in a food processor. The protein content of this is 19-20 gm per 100 gm of floor. A baking tip – flours with more protein require more liquids. You can use this in any number of recipes and the extra flavor it provides is the metaphorical cherry on top, that can have an actual cherry on top to make it look as instagrammable as it is going to taste.
8. Oat Flour
This has become pretty popular considering its affordability and easy preparation. You can use your regular oats or if you are particular about it, rolled or steel cut oats. Another baker’s tip here – steel cut oats can have a slightly nutty taste. So, if your oat flour is coming from there, keep this in mind and proceed accordingly.
9. Tapioca Flour
This flour derived from the starch of the cassava plant is pretty low in protein. Some 2-3 gm for every 100gm of flour. It’s practically gluten free and is perfect for tarts and pies, recipes that demand a flaky and crispy crust.
You might have heard of this if you ever attempted to make an Italian pudding or pasta at home. This flour with 10-11% protein is more about the bite than the chew. It’s about strength and not elasticity. Semolina flour is derived from durum wheat, specifically from its endosperm. Quick fact: durum wheat is considered to be the toughest wheat on the block. In case you are looking for strength and elasticity both, consider the flour from red wheat.
11. Sprouted Flour
This is made from sprouted grains and is ideal for those looking to increase taste and nutrition in their meals. Keep in mind however, that first time cooks or bakers must approach this with a lot more care, as this is a flour that requires some skill to work with. Rye, corn, sorghum, amaranth spelt, and einkorn are a few examples. The protein content of it would vary with the chosen grain.
Most recipes that you find online or in cookbooks would most definitely call for all-purpose flour. But the use of other flours is a matter of greater ease towards that extra oomph in your recipe or just a matter of nutrition. So when using other flours, make sure you get the right quantities, and any additions or subtractions in the other ingredients of the recipe as required. Every person is capable of being a good cook, as long as they find the right recipe. Once you find that, you will be the next MasterChef of the house in the blink of an eye. Hopefully, you won’t mind the task of baking all the cakes for every occasion.