All About Flour: Why It Matters and Why It Is Important!

March 20, 2020

Hello bakers and foodies,


During this difficult time in Seattle, make the most of it! Go for a walk in the sunshine, read a new book, clean out your closet, or cook a new dish you have been eyeing. If you decide to bake something new and are looking at your flour bag, you may notice a whole lotta information and a protein content percentage on the bag, similar to chocolate bars. 


The protein content in flour is important because what flour you use in baking will determine the outcome of your baked good. Like how you want to use the right chocolate in your chocolate chip cookies, you want to use the right flour in you biscuits.





Why is flour important in baking?

Flour, no matter what type, is the structure of the baked good.  Most home bakers will use only all purpose flour in their kitchen...and that is OK! Professional bakeries will carry a large variety of flours based on what baked good they are baking. 


What is flour made of?

Flour is a powder made by grinding raw grains, roots, beans, nuts, or seeds. Wheat is the most common base for flour. Simply put, flour, specifically wheat-based flour (EX: all purpose flour), is made up of carbs, protein, and little fats. Protein is the most important because they are gluten forming proteins, the quantity of proteins determine the outcome and structure of your baked good. 


How many types of wheat flour are there?

In the professional baking world, there are 6 classes of wheat flour:

1. Hard red winter: Moderate high protein content; Mainly used in bread flours

2. Hard red spring: Highest protein content; Used for super strong bread flour

3. Hard white: High protein grown in small quantities; Not as strong flavor as hard red winter or spring

4. Soft white: Low protein flour; Mainly used for pastries, cakes, and crackers

5. Soft red winter: Low protein flour; Also used for cakes and pastries 

6. Durum: The hardest of the wheat flours; Also called pasta wheat or macaroni wheat

From the 6 classes of wheat flour, there are 7 types of flour:

1. Straight flour; 13% - 15% protein

2. Patent flour; 11%-13% protein

3. Clear flour; 17% protein

4. High gluten flour; 14% protein

5. Cake flour; 8% protein

6. Pastry flour; 9% protein

7. All purpose flour; 11% protein





What does the protein percentage mean in the flour?

The higher percentage means it came from a harder wheat flour and the baked good will come out chewy and crusty. Breads are most likely to use a higher protein content flour. The lower percentage means it came from a soft wheat flour and the baked good will come out tender and soft. Cakes, pastries, and cookies are mostly likely to use a lower protein content flour. 

You may see a small percentage, which stands for the ash content, or the mineral content of the flour. Most soft white flours (cake, pastry flours) will have an ash content of .3%, while whole wheat flour will have a 1.5% ash content. 


What about other flours found at grocery stores?

Popular domestic flours are all purpose flour, self rising flours, whole wheat flour, and nut flours.

All purpose flour is a mix of half cake and half pastry flour, it is perfect for the everyday baker.

Self rising flour is white flour with baking powder, and, sometimes, salt added to it. The challenge is it is hard to determine how much baking powder is in the flour and baking powder will lose its leavening power over time. Only use it if the recipe calls for it.

Whole wheat flour is made from the entire wheat kernel, which is naturally high in fat. Since it is high in fat, it goes bad quickly, thus most wheat flours are cut with white flour to enhance its shelf life.

Nut flours, like almond flour, are becoming increasing popular with the rise of low carb and keto diets. Nut flours are simply nuts ground finely to a powder. There is no gluten, thus the structure will differ. The down fall is these nut flours are more expensive than wheat flours and will go rancid faster due to the high fat content. Store 'em in your freezer after opening the bag. 


What should the daily baker use?

All purpose flour is a great every day flour. If you bake homemade bread, a high protein bread flour will be another great flour to have on hand. 

Only if you are an avid and regular cake baker will I suggest cake or pastry flour. All purpose will work just fine. 


Happy baking,


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