The term flour was once spelled ‘flower’. The milled flour we buy and use today was once ground using a mortar and pestle. Milling of different grains dates back to prehistoric times and through the ages automation of the milling process was perfected.
Most people think of flour in terms of “wheat” flour. When in fact flour can be ground from a variety of nuts and seeds. Some types of flours available are: barley, buckwheat, chickpea, corn, oats, potato, rice, rye, soy, wheat, and vegetables.
When used in baking flour contributes body and structure, texture and flavor to baked goods. When used in baking it binds the ingredients together and supports the batter. It can also be used to thicken sauces, creams and pie fillings. Recipes calling for dusting cake pans or counters with flour help prevent batters and bread dough from sticking to surfaces. Flour can also be used to coat fruits and nuts before adding to batters, thus preventing them from sinking to the bottom of the pan when baked.
The type of flour used will ultimately affect the finished product. Flour contains protein and when it comes in contact with water and heat it produces gluten, which gives elasticity and strength to baked goods. Different types of flour contain different amounts of protein. Therefore using a different type of flour than what is called for in a recipe (without compensating for this change) will alter the outcome of the baked good. A cake flour is used to make a white cake where a delicate tender crumb is desired. Bread flour is used to make a chewy bread and all-purpose flour makes a delicious batch of chocolate chip cookies.
All-purposeflour has a 10-12% protein content and is made from a blend of hard and soft wheat flours. It can be bleached or unbleached which are interchangeable. However, Southern brands of bleached all-purpose flour have a lower protein content (8%) as they are made from a soft winter wheat. All-purpose flour can vary in its protein content not only by brand but also regionally. The same brand can have different protein contents depending on what area of the country in the United States you are buying it. Good for making cakes, cookies, breads, and pastries.
Cakeflour has a 6-8% protein content and is made from soft wheat flour. It is chlorinated to further break down the strength of the gluten and is smooth and velvety in texture. Good for making cakes (especially white cakes and biscuits) and cookies where a tender and delicate texture is desired. To substitute cake flour for all-purpose flour use 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons cake flour for every cup of all-purpose flour. Make your own – one cup sifted cake flour can be substituted with 3/4 cup (84 grams) sifted bleached all-purpose flour plus 2 tablespoons (15 grams) cornstarch.
Pastryflour is similar to cake flour, although it has not been chlorinated, with an 8-10% protein content and is made from soft wheat flour. It is soft and ivory in color. Can find it in health food stores or through mail order catalogs. To make two cups of pastry flour, combine 1 1/3 cups (185 grams) all-purpose flour with 2/3 cup (90 grams) cake flour. Good for making pastry, pies and cookies.
Self-Rising flour has 8-9% protein and contains flour plus baking powder and salt. I do not use this type of flour because I prefer to add my own baking powder and salt. Also, if the flour is stored too long the baking powder will lose some of its strength and your baked goods will not rise properly. If you want to make your own add 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder and 1/4 teaspoon salt per cup (130 grams) of all-purpose flour.
Bread flour has a 12-14% protein content and is made from hard wheat flour. The high gluten content causes the bread to rise and gives it shape and structure. Comes in white, whole wheat, organic, bleached and unbleached. Good for making breads and some pastries.
Store your flour in a cool dry well-ventilated place for up to six months. To prevent insects you can store flour in the refrigerator or freezer making sure the flour is defrosted before using.
Flour is sometimes labeled pre-sifted. This means that the flour was sifted before packaging but it compacts during shipping and handling and therefore is no longer sifted by the time you get it home. So if your recipe calls for sifted flour make sure you sift it again. (If your recipe calls for 1 cup sifted flour this means you sift the flour before measuring. However, if the recipe calls for 1 cup flour, sifted this means you sift the flour after measuring.) Sifting flour removes lumps and aerates it so that when liquid is added the dry ingredients will be fully moistened.
Proper measuring of your flour is important, as too much flour will result in a tough and/or heavy baked good. When measuring flour spoon your flour into a measuring cup and then level off the cup with a knife. Do not pack it down. As stated above, flour gets compacted in the bag during shipping, so scooping your flour right out of the bag using your measuring cup will result in too much flour.
Flour, when packaged, has about a 14% moisture content. When stored, however, its moisture content will vary. In general, the longer flour is stored the more moisture it loses. This is why on a dry day using old flour your pastry will require more water than on a wet day using new flour.