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How To Choose the Right Type of Flour

How To Choose the Right Type of Flour

Last Updated on 17th December 2021 by

The events of 2020 sparked a renewed passion for baking at home. With nowhere to go and not much to do, many people who hadn’t baked before decided to put on their chef’s hat and acquire some new skills. However, choosing the right kind of flour can be overwhelming.

Here’s what you need to know about choosing the right type of flour for your next baking project.

Understanding Protein Content

One of the main considerations when choosing the right type of flour is looking at the protein content. The protein content of your flour will determine how the finished product feels and reacts in the oven. In essence, higher protein flours (like all-purpose and whole wheat) are better for crusty loaves of bread and a harder finish. Lower protein flours (like 00 flour) are better for softer, airy treats, like pizza dough and cookies.

If you’re just getting started with baking, using all-purpose flour will be sufficient for most recipes. Once you get comfortable with the process, you can start to hone your approach and try something a little more specific.

All-Purpose Flour

All-purpose flour has approximately 12% protein content. While it is a “harder” flour, it’s still soft enough for most baked goods. On the grander scale of flour types, all-purpose flour falls somewhere in the middle, making it versatile and beginner-friendly.

If you’re using all-purpose flour to make cakes, you may notice that they’re denser and less airy than you might like. If that’s the case, consider swapping out your all-purpose flour with a lighter type, like cake flour or 00 flour. With breads, all-purpose flour may not have the same rising power as self-rising or bread flour does. However, you can add baking powder to your all-purpose flour to assist with leavening.

00 Flour

If you’re new to the world of baking, you’ve likely never heard of 00 flour. This flour is finely milled, making it softer and less grainy than all-purpose flour. There are various types of 00 flour, including an alternative to standard all-purpose, as well as a wheat option. 00 flour ranges from around 8% to 12% protein, depending on the type you choose.

00 flour is considered the gold standard in Italian baking, particularly for pizza crust. This type of flour gives bakers the softness of all-purpose flour without that chewy, sticky texture in some crusts.

Gluten-Free Flour

Gluten-free flour is an umbrella term that could include anything from oat to coconut to corn flour. The wheat protein (gluten) isn’t a component in this flour option, making it ideal for those with sensitivities or allergies.

Removing the gluten adds complexities to baking, which will vary depending on what you are making and what kind of flour you choose. Gluten-free options tend to have difficulty rising and lack the same stretchy, doughy quality that some recipes require. It’s important to adjust your moisture ratio when using gluten-free flour as well.

Whole Wheat Flour

Whole wheat flour has a higher protein percentage, often up to 14% protein. This flour can be used for a variety of baked goods, but is best when blended with all-purpose flour to start. To optimize this dry flour option, you’ll need a lot more moisture.

If you want to start incorporating whole wheat flour into your baking, start by swapping out a portion of your all-purpose flour with whole wheat. Start with a ratio of 1:4 whole wheat to all-purpose flour and adjust over time. It’s easy to overdo it with whole wheat flour; patience is key.

Self-Rising Flour

Finally, self-rising flour typically has a leavening agent mixed into it. This flour is ideal for breads and cakes, but not for pastries like pie crusts. Self-rising flour tends to have a lower protein percentage, around 8%, and contains salt and baking powder. This flour is a great option for saving time in the kitchen.

Tips for Storing Your Flour

Once you’ve selected the right flour for your baking project, it’s important that you store it properly to extend its lifespan. Bugs and pests are naturally attracted to flour, and excessive moisture can impact the quality of your baked goods. Unfortunately, the traditional paper bag that flour comes in isn’t ideal for storage, especially if you buy in bulk.

Transfer your flour to an airtight container as soon as possible. For large quantities of flour, the 11-liter ice cream containers you find at ice cream shops work perfectly. If you’re concerned about bugs or contamination, you can put your flour in the freezer for 48 hours.

If you live in a warm, humid area, it’s best to keep flour in the fridge or freezer. Take out what you will need when you start assembling your ingredients, and let it warm to room temperature before using. Otherwise, keep flour stored in a cool, dry, dark area, like a pantry or under a cupboard.

Flour should have a neutral, fresh smell. If you notice any odors or discoloration, replace it immediately.

Should You Sift Your Flour?

If you’re new to the world of baking and have a penchant for watching recipe videos, you’ve probably seen lots of flour sifting action. This occurrence leads many new bakers to wonder if they should also be sifting their flour for their recipes.

Traditionally, bakers used sifting to remove any debris (husks, for example) left behind from processing or any bugs that may have infiltrated the paper bag. With modern commercial flour, this isn’t a concern.

The modern reasoning behind using a sifter is to aerate the flour. This practice isn’t necessary if you use your flour often and have it stored in an airtight container where it isn’t susceptible to moisture or compression. If you don’t have a sifter, you can simply fluff up your flour with a fork or a whisk — ideally before measuring.

While there are still many more flour options to choose from than the ones listed here, these are great options to have in your cupboard if you are a beginner baker. Consider your recipe and personal preferences to choose the right flour for you, then store it properly to get the best possible results with each recipe you make.

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I'm Pauline, a retired patisserie chef, mother of four and now a full time food blogger! When i'm not cooking i love long walks, reading thriller novels and spending time with my grandkids. Head to my about me page to learn more about the woman behind the food!  You can find my Facebook here