Here's the long promised post about flours.
So, just so you know, there are many, and I mean many, types of flours used in baking.
Flour is broadly known as wheat flour. The variations start with the protein content of the kernels used to make the flour. The harder the kernel, the higher the protein content. The softer the kernel, the lower the protein content. In flour, gluten is important.
Gluten is a composite of protein and that's why protein levels are important in flour. Gluten is whats gives the elasticity to the dough, causes it to rise, keep its shape and have that chewy texture.
Obviously there is a lot more going on in that dough that causes it to rise but that'll be for another post on leavening agents.
Let's explore the different types of flour based on the percentage of gluten protein levels in them.
First up is Cake Flour. As the name would suggest, this flour is mainly for cakes and is probably the flour many neighbourhood bakeries used for those fluffy, but hardly filling, cakes. Cake Flour has between 6-7% gluten protein. Cake flour is finely milled and usually bleached.
Second from the bottom we have Pastry Flour. Personally I have never used Pastry Flour and fine Plain Flour adequate for making pastry. Pastry Flour has 7.5-9.5% Gluten Protein. Some websites suggest that Pastry Flour is 1/2 Cake & 1/2 Plain Flour. Pastry Flour is also finely milled and usually bleached.
Up next is Plain Flour. This is the most common and versatile flour. Plain Flour contains between 9.5011.5% Gluten Protein. Plain Flour is also known as All-purpose Flour. This flour is finely milled but can be bought bleached or unbleached. Bleached flour is cheaper though most bakers prefer unbleached.
Bread Flour comes next with a Gluten Protein percentage of 11.5-13.5. Like I said before, as the Gluten Protein percentage increases, the elasticity of the dough increases. Thus Bread Flour produces dough that is heavier and more elastic. Bread Flour is generally unbleached. If you're looking to make real fluffy white bread, I'd suggest you mix part Bread & part Plain flour to avoid a heavier loaf.
Finally, at the top we have Wholemeal (aka Whole Wheat) Flour. The Gluten Protein in this comes at 13-14.5%. As with Bread Flour, Wholemeal Flour remains unbleached and can produce much heartier dough. Generally Wholemeal Flour is used in bread but can be used in biscuits too. Unless you're an absolute health nut, I'd suggest mixing Bread & Wholemeal flour together and increasing the leavening agent (yeast) so that you don't pull out a loaf solid enough to kill someone with!
Another common type of flour available in the market is Self-Raising(SR) Flour. Now don't be deceived; SR Flour is just Plain Flour with baking powder added in.
Evidently there are a lot more types of flour that I haven't covered such as almond flour, buckwheat, coconut, corn, potato, rice, semolina, soy, tapioca etc.
There's a lot more that I'd love to share about this but it'll have to be in another post. Flour may look simple and plain but do not be deceived, there's a lot in that white (and brown!) stuff!
Til next time,
P.s. Here are some great books about the science of cooking: