Flour is a pretty common ingredient in most cakes and bakes, but just what is flour, and what does it do?What is All Purpose Flour? Can I substitute Gluten Free Flour for the flour that my recipe calls for?Strap yourselves in, its flour time!
What is Flour?
Flour is a powder made from finely milled grains. Wheat is by far the most commonly used, but there are more types of flour than you could imagine!Depending on the grain used, and how its processed, the resulting flour contains varying amounts of starches, called polysaccharides (ooh Science!), which react differently, hence the reason that some recipes call for All Purpose (Plain Flour), and some for Self Raising.
Types of Flour
Plain or All Purpose Flour
Plain Flour does not contain any leveners (raising agents), and is used primarily for baking that does not require rising, like biscuits, some breads and pizza bases, and short crust pastry.Its also a popular choice to dust foods to be crumbed for frying, as it doesn’t expand, it holds well to the crumb-ee.Also the primary ingredient in old school Papier Mache glue. Keep that in mind when cleaning up!
Cake Flour is a primarily American Flour, with a fine mill, and very low protein. It is bleached, which makes the particles hydrophobic (repels water), which helps fat to bind better, creating a soft crumb, which is great for cakes.However, its the bleaching that has seen it banned in Australia and Europe, out of health concerns (eek!). The good news is, you can make a pretty close version (and without the bleach!), by removing 2 tablespoons of plain flour per cup, and adding 2 tablespoons of Cornflour (Cornstarch).
Bread Flour is high in Gluten protein, higher than in Plain Flour (around 12.5%-14%, compared to 10-12%). Its this protein that gives bread its rise, as it traps Carbon Dioxide, resulting in a stronger rise, and a more chewy bread. Generally speaking, bread flour has no additional leveners added, as its ground from hard wheat, which is naturally higher in gluten.
A WORD ABOUT GLUTEN
Everyone has heard about Gluten Intolerance, but just what is it?
Gluten Intolerance is a medical condition where the sufferer is unable to tolerate the protein (gluten) found in some grains, which results in damage to the small intestine, leading to a whole host of health issues, including malnourishment. People with Coeliac Disease, Dermatitis Heptiformis, Non- Coeliac Sensitivity, and general Wheat Allergies, may all have a problem with Gluten.
If you think you may have a problem with your diet, speak to your Doctor, and/or a Nutritionist, and get REAL advice and treatment.
Self Raising Flour
Self Raising Flour is a Wheat Flour with added leveners. These leveners usually take the form of chemical additives like Sodium, and Calcium, that create small gas bubbles, which evenly distribute among the particles, giving an even and consistent result.Self Raising Flour is used in bakes that require loft, such as pastries, breads, scones, cakes, and some biscuits.You can make your own Self Raising Flour, by adding 1 Teaspoon of Baking Powder, and 1/2 Teaspoon of Salt, to every cup of Plain Flour.
Cornstarch (known as Cornflour in the UK and Australia), is the finely ground endosperm of the Corn Kernel. It is used primarily as a thickener for sauces and soups, and is also used in ultra light sponges and bakes (like Pavlova) that require a very delicate crumb.Its also brilliant for kneading into Basic Buttercream to create a maleable modelling medium. You can see how to use it in molds and by hand in my Facebook LIVE videos.
Rice Flour is made from ground kernels of Rice. It is Gluten free, and used in making Shortbread, as well as noodles and pancakes, among other recipes.Rice Flour is a good substitute for Wheat Flours, if you cannot tolerate Gluten.
Semolina is the course, purified Wheat middlings of Durum Wheat. It is used in pasta, breakfast cereals, puddings, and couscous. Also quite good as a ‘breading’ for fried foods.
Spelt is a Wholegrain sub species of Wheat, also known as Farro or Dinkel. It is a ‘healthy’ grain, with high levels of fibre, protein, vitamins and minerals, and a low Gluten content. It has a mildly nutty flavour akin to barley, and is used in breads and muffins.
Can I substitute one flour for another? Generally, no. You can use something in place of different flours, such as adding Cornstarch to Plain Flour to make Cake Flour, but flours don’t really substitute for each other straight up. Proteins levels, as well as texture, all play a part in the recipe, and may be affected by swapping out wildly different blends.
When it comes to swapping a Gluten flour for a non Gluten flour, be careful to ensure that you are using something that still reacts the same way, or be aware that you may need to add additional ingredients to get the same or similar results. Different flours also have different weights, so you may need to weigh your flour, rather than measure it in cup form if you are substituting different mill grades.
Bake it and see!
While getting a consistent result often depends on following a recipe to the letter, there’s fun to be had in trying new things.Why not try out different flours to see for yourself what result you will get! (Maybe not with a customers cake though!) Some of the best recipes have come from experimentation, So give it a go!
Viva La Buttercream x