Seven flour facts so you can bake better bread. In other words, these are seven facts about flour that I think will help you to select the right flour for your baking application and, ultimately, so you can bake better bread! Isn’t that what we all want?
I’ve been planning to share some of my favorite bread machine recipes with you, but I thought that maybe I was putting the cart before the horse. I have found as I’ve been experimenting with various recipes, that I understand more about flour, yeast, salt, protein, gluten and how these different ingredients impact one another and the role they play in making a great loaf of bread. I also thought it might be important or, at the very least, helpful to share these simple flour facts with you.
So, back to basics or first things first. Where bread machines or bread baking is concerned, the most basic ingredient is flour. It just might be handy to discuss a few flour facts. I believe when you are equipped with knowledge, it will make a big difference in your bread baking and put you in the driver’s seat instead of wondering if your bread will turn out this time.
I’ve been experimenting with my bread machine for several months now. I’ve baked cakes, breads, English Muffin bread, sweet breads and even kneaded pizza dough. The more I’ve used my machine, the more I’ve learned about baking bread in general and the more these flour facts make sense to me. I didn’t start out using my bread machine to learn about how salt impacts yeast. I was really just looking for “good” bread recipes that I could use to make bread for my family that wasn’t full of preservatives or artificial ingredients.
That leads us to flour and today’s post about flour facts. Here are seven facts about flour that might be helpful to you in your bread baking journey. Some of these may be obvious to you, some may not. I hope by the end of this post, that it helps you to be able to bake better bread.
Seven Flour Facts
[For the purpose of this discussion, I’m talking about refined flours.]
- There are different types of refined flour: all-purpose flour, bread flour, cake flour, pastry flour, self-rising flour and wheat flour. Plus, a whole slew of gluten-free or low gluten flours (I’ll cover those later).
- What makes all these flours alike, is that all the flours listed above are made from wheat.
- What makes them different is protein content. The difference can be attributed to how the wheat was milled and what type of wheat they’re milled from.
- Protein content is directly responsible for how much gluten can be formed using that specific flour.
- Gluten helps not only create a web-like structure, but determines the texture of your final baked good.
- Low protein content flours will generate less gluten. To create a light and airy structure, you want a flour with very little protein. The perfect structure for cake.
- High protein content flours will generate more gluten. To create a dense chewy structure, you want a flour with a lot of protein. The perfect structure for bread.
Flour Facts: Flour Types
All-Purpose Flour is a blend of hard and soft wheat and comes in bleached and unbleached forms and is also known as plain flour. All-Purpose Flour has 8 to 11% protein (or gluten).
Bleached All-Purpose Flour has been chemically treated and has less protein than unbleached. Bleached is best for cookies, pie crusts, quick breads and even pancakes.
Unbleached All-Purpose Flour has been bleached naturally as it ages and is best used for yeast breads, pastries, puff pastries, cream puffs and turnovers.
Bread flour is white flour made from hard wheat, which is a high-protein wheat. Bread flour is higher in protein and has more gluten than all-purpose flour. It’s also unbleached and sometimes contains ascorbic acid, which increases volume and creates better texture. Bread flour has 12% to 14% protein (or gluten). This high protein content makes it perfect for baking with goods that include yeast.
Cake flour is white flour made from soft wheat with a high starch content. (The opposite of bread flour.) The result is a fine-textured flour that has the lowest protein content of any of the wheat flours. Cake flour goes through a bleaching process that renders the flour slightly acidic. The acidity in the flour helps to set a cake faster and improves the texture of the batter by distributing fat (butter, oil) more evenly. Cake flour is 8% to 10% protein (or gluten).
Pastry flour, like cake flour, is made from soft wheat and has a protein (or gluten) count of 9-10%. Pastry flour makes a tender but crumbly pastry. You can use pastry flour for making biscuits, pie crusts or even some brownies and quick breads (quick breads are really a cake). You definitely don’t want to use pastry flour with yeast or baking bread. You’ll be terribly disappointed with the results.
Self-rising flour is a low protein (or gluten) flour that is also known as raising flour. This flour has salt and baking powder added for leavening during the milling process. You can use self-rising flour to bake biscuits, muffins or pastries even, but never, ever use it for yeast breads.
WHOLE WHEAT FLOUR
Whole-Wheat Flour is a low protein (or gluten) flour that is made from the whole kernel of wheat. Whole-wheat flour is higher in dietary fiber and nutrient content than white flours. Because of whole wheat flours low gluten content, you’ll usually mix it with all-purpose or bread flour or vital wheat gluten when making yeast breads.
Although the exact protein content for each type of flour varies by brand, the percentages I’ve indicated are averages for each type of flour.
Flour Facts: Flour Storage
So, now that you know the different types of refined flours, do you know how to properly store your flour? If you’re like me, you probably use your flour up pretty quickly so you don’t have to worry about your flour going rancid or keeping it fresh. In general, you’ll want to keep your flour stored in a cool and dry place. These refined flours have a shelf life of about 2 years, if stored properly. Some flour producers recommend a storage life of only 6 months. Refined flour has a pretty substantial shelf life; however, if your flour smells sour, it’s time to toss it!
Whole grain flours, on the other hand, have a much shorter shelf life. They should be stored in an airtight container in the freezer. If you don’t have freezer space, you’ll want to at least store your whole grain flours in the refrigerator. These flours have a short shelf life of just a few months. If they start to smell like pencil erasers or burnt rubber, it’s time to toss it! There’s no need to thaw frozen flour. You can use it in your recipes right out of the freezer. Of course, if your recipe calls for room temperature ingredients, then you’ll want to set your flour out and let it warm up to room temperature before using.
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I’m sorry about the length of this post, but I felt like it was important for you to learn about the different types of flours, the role gluten protein plays in the flours and which flours to use so you get the best baking results. In other words, so you can make better bread. Whether you’re using a bread machine to make your bread or not, understanding the different types of flours and which ones to use in your baking methods is important so you can make better bread. There is nothing more frustrating than to spend time baking bread and not get the results you were anticipating.
I do hope this helps you in your bread baking endeavors!
Til next time…