We all know it – flour is kind of a big deal.
In nearly every type of baked good, there is some sort of flour involved somewhere in the process. Whether it’s the main ingredient (like in bread), or if it’s just a part of the whole (say, pie), flour is essential.
When I first got into this whole baking/cooking/spendingallmymoneyoningredients deal, I really only knew of one type of flour – the bleached & enriched All Purpose that comes in five lb bags at the grocery store. When a recipe called for flour, that’s what it got.
But then I got into bread. And holy moly. Who knew flour was such a big deal?? And not just they type of flour used, but even the brands matter! And I can tell you, you won’t find a more dedicated following than those who use King Arthur Flour. Their flours are (in my opinion) of the highest quality out there. You can read about them here.
I know there are a TON of flour types out there, so I’m just covering the big ones. Here we go!
With any type of flour you buy, the absolute best is to buy the Unbleached and Un-enriched stuff. The goal is to get the least amount of processing possible. Your baked goods will taste better, shape better, and be better for you. That being said, I buy the 25 lb bags of bleached and enriched flour from Costco for my everyday breads. I’m not happy about it, but with how much I bake, ingredients get expensive. I do buy KAF Bread and Whole Wheat flours because I find that the quality of those is really crucial, as I will discuss shortly.
All-Purpose Flour (AKA AP flour, or white flour)
All-Purpose flour is just what it sounds – a flour that will work for most circumstances. It is milled from wheat berries and sifted to remove the bran. AP flour has a protein content of about 10-12%. The protein content of a flour determines it’s “strength.” For example, a loaf made with a low protein content flour will not hold its shape as well, nor rise as high, as a loaf made with a high protein content flour. Most AP flours reside around the 10% range. KAF, on the other hand, makes their All-Purpose with a high 11.7%! This is part of the reason you pay a few cents more at the store to buy the King Arthur stuff.
Whole Wheat Flour
Whole Wheat flour is your typical AP flour, but with the wheat bran included. While it does have the same protein content as AP flours, it doesn’t act in quite the same way. The bran is fairly sharp and poky, and so cuts the gluten strands some as they form. The bran also absorbs more water than regular all-purpose. Thus, whole wheat baked goods tend to come out a little more dense. This is okay, as long as you compensate for the whole wheat by adding a little more liquid to the recipe.
Whole Wheat flour is what most people associate with “healthy.” While it does have many more nutrients than your typical AP flour, beware that most recipes (and products you find at the supermarket), contain a smaller percentage of Whole Wheat flour than your would expect. To really reap the benefits of whole wheat flour, experiment with 100% whole wheat recipes and products.
This stuff has a higher protein content than AP flour – around 12-14% protein. Again, KAF is at the high end of this range. Bread flour is perfect for… you guessed it, bread! It really helps maintain the integrity of the loaf throughout the process, allowing for longer fermenting times and, consequently, better flavor!
Just a quick note: if you keep a sourdough culture, make sure to always feed it with bread flour! The lower protein content of the AP flours breaks apart much quicker than the bread flour, and results in an immature ripening and loose, or weak, culture.
Milled from durum wheat, this variety of flour comes in three grinds – coarse, fine, or extra fine. The most common one is Semolina flour, or coarse durum. This high-protein flour has a beautiful yellow hue and is commonly use in Italian cooking – think homemade pastas, pizzas, and breads.
Most commonly associated with the rye bread of specialty sandwich shops, rye can be a pleasure and a pain to work with. It has an increased amount of fiber than most flours, but a lower gluten protein content than even AP flours (thus, the pleasure and the pain). It’s flavors are often associated with caraway seeds and dill, but most don’t know the flavor of a rye bread by itself.
Cake & Pastry Flours
These flours have a very low protein content (6-7% & 7-9%, respectively) and are used to make dense but soft baked goods – like cakes or muffins. Because they are ground very fine, cake and pastry flours come in handy especially when you want to add whole wheat flour to your recipe, but don’t want to change the texture of the product (like traditional whole wheat can).
Gluten Free Flours
I can’t ignore the fact that a whole subset of flours for those who avoid gluten exist. From bean flours to rice flours, these are intended to help those with a gluten intolerance enjoy baked goods. However, I don’t have much to say about these since I am not gluten-free and haven’t experimented much with them (though I plan on it!). If you have any input to give about these flours, please leave it in a comment below and I will add it to this page. Thanks for the help!