What is Flour?
Flour that is used in baking comes mainly from wheat, although it can be milled from corn, rice, nuts, legumes, and some fruits and vegetables. The type of flour of flour used is vital at getting the product right. Different types of flour are suited to different items and all flours are different you cannot switch from one type to another without consequences that could ruin the recipe. To achieve success in cookery it is vital to know what the right flour is for the job!
Flour is obtained by grinding grain, most commonly of wheat but also from rye, buckwheat, barley, potato, corn etc.
The wheat kernel or 'berry 'consists of three parts: bran covering the germ; and endosperm.
During milling, the three parts are separated and recombined accordingly to achieve different types of flour.
There are six different classes of wheat: hard red winter, hard red spring, soft red winter, hard white, soft white and durum.
The end products are determined by the wheat's characteristics, especially protein and gluten content.
The harder the wheat, the higher the amount of protein in the flour.
Soft, low protein wheats are used in cakes, pastries, cookies, crackers and Oriental noodles.
Hard, high protein wheats are used in breads and quick breads.
Durum is used in pasta and egg noodles.
All-purpose flour, also referred to as flour, is the type used primarily in baking, unless you have allergies or special needs.
There are as many as 30 types of protein in wheat flour, but only two of those are important for our purposes: gliaden and glutenin. When they come in contact with moisture (water, milk, etc.) and are stirred, they produce gluten which gives elasticity, strength and shape to baking recipes. Different types of flour contain different amounts of protein.
Selection criteria for flour for a recipe is based primarily on the end result you are trying to achieve; you do not want to use a high protein bread flour to make a cake or it will change its texture to dense. Conversely, when baking bread and you use cake flour, is too soft and has little gluten-forming proteins. This will cause the bread to fall because it requires a stronger structure that can trap the gases created by yeast, allowing the bread to rise. When it comes to cookies, gluten adds chewiness.
Flour varies considerably amongst brands and the geographic location where the wheat is grown. Soft wheat flour, plain four and cake flour are much better for biscuits and pie crusts. Hard wheat flours, are better for breads.
NON-WHEAT FLOUR: So-called trendy grains or non-wheat varieties, such as quinoa and amaranth, aren't new at all--they have been around since ancient times. High in protein, a good source of fibre, low in calories and with just 1-2 grams of fat per serving, they offer a "nutty" change.
ALL-PURPOSE FLOUR: All-purpose flour is one of the most commonly used and readily accessible flours
Just make sure to pay attention to whether your all-purpose flour is bleached or not; bleached versions have slightly lower amounts of protein. The bran and germ have been removed, giving the flour an off-white colour, called unbleached, which can be chemically bleached to white, called bleached.
There are several basic types of all-purpose flour:
Enriched All-Purpose Flour has iron and B-vitamins added in amounts equal to or exceeding that of whole wheat flour.
Bleached Enriched All-Purpose Flour is treated with chlorine to mature the flour, condition the gluten and improve the baking quality. The chlorine evaporates and does not destroy the nutrients but does reduce the risk of spoilage or contamination.
Unbleached Enriched All-Purpose Flour is bleached by oxygen in the air during an aging process and is off-white in colour. Nutritionally, bleached and unbleached flour are the same.
Bolted flour (20 % flour) This is a whole wheat flour that has had about 80 percent of its bran sifted off. It may also be called 'sun bleached flour' or reduced bran flour.
BREAD FLOUR: Bread flour is a high-gluten flour usually milled from hard wheat (also referred to as "strong"), so it contains a high percentage of protein which forms gluten when moistened.
Bread flour is used in bread recipes because it creates a gluten network strong enough to trap the gases from the yeast, but not good in quick breads, biscuits, cookies and cakes, which need a lesser one. If you're baking sourdough bread, bread flour's high gluten content is a big help in getting the dough to rise well.
It's best to only substitute a small portion of bread flour with grains other than wheat, such as rye, are used, instead. Those grains don't contain any gluten of their own It can be substituted 1 for 1 with all-purpose, but proceed with caution because there may be a difference in the end result.
BULGUR: Bulgur, for all practical purposes, is considered a whole grain, but as much as 5 percent of the bran may be removed in the processing. Bulgur is made by soaking and cooking the whole wheat kernel, drying it, removing some of the bran and cracking the remaining kernel into small pieces. Because it is a par-cooked product, bulgur is a convenience food, and in some recipes requires only the addition of hot water or broth for preparation. Bulgur makes an excellent cereal, salad, side-dish or additive to breads, soups and casseroles.
CAKE FLOUR: This enriched and bleached flour is used in producing fine high-ratio, chiffon and angel food cakes, as well as assorted cookies. (Cakes with a lot of sugar and fat are referred to as "high-ratio" and are high-rising with a fine-grained texture.)
Milled from soft white flour, cake flour has a lower gluten content than whole wheat pastry flour. It is used where a delicate and tender texture is desired. Almost all cake flour is bleached. to lighten its pale beige colour. In delicate cakes, it imparts some acidity to a batter yielding a cake with a crumb that's whiter, finer and sweeter in flavour. Bleached cake flour also toughens the protein molecules, enabling the flour to carry more than its weight in sugar and fat.
CAKE FLOUR, SELF-RAISING: 1 CUP self-rising cake flour is equal to 1 CUP cake flour with 1-1/4 teaspoons baking powder and a pinch of salt. There is also self-rising all-purpose flour.
CLEAR FLOUR: It is the portion of flour remaining after the patent flour has been taken off. Clear flour is further categorized as "first clear" and "second clear". The secret to making real Jewish-style rye is using First Clear Flour, a high-ash (read: big flavour), high-protein wheat flour responsible for the chewy bite for which rye breads are known for.
DOUGH ENHANCERS: When added to a bread recipe, they will give that look of a perfect loaf:
DURUM FLOUR: is a by-product of milling semolina flour that has a the highest protein content with less starch of any flour. (It's nutritional profile similar to whole wheat.) As a result, it makes a tough dough that can stretch and expand - perfect for pasta. It is generally used in commercially made short goods pasta such as elbow macaroni and shells.
FARINA: Flour or meal made from grain or starchy roots. Also sold as Cream of Wheat, farina is made from the endosperm of the grain, which is milled to a fine granular consistency and then sifted. Although the bran and most of the germ are removed, this cereal is sometimes enriched with B vitamins and iron. Farina is most often served as a breakfast cereal, but can also be cooked like polenta. Its name comes from the Latin word for meal or flour, which in turn traces to far, the Latin name for spelt, a type of wheat. Farina was the first genuine flour.
FORTIFIED FLOUR: refers to an all-purpose flour, usually wheat, to which nutrients like thiamine, riboflavin and niacin, removed during refining, have been added back.
GRAHAM FLOUR: Hard whole wheat flour with a course and flaky outer bran layer, and finely ground germ. Most famous use is in crackers. Adds texture to all baked goods.
GLUTEN FLOUR: Gluten flour is white flour mixed with concentrated wheat protein. Gluten flour has a much higher percentage of gluten - between 40 to 80% protein. Performs well in bagels, thin crust pizza, hard rolls, hearth breads and "heavy" breads such as those with extra bran, raisins, nuts and sugar
To give recipes a boost, add: 2 tablespoons per cup of flour in whole grain bread; 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon per cup of flour in white breads. You may have to experiment over a few batches of bread to get the amount just right but that's part of the fun and creativity of baking. Increase kneading time to activate extra gluten.
Gluten flour is never used by itself for making bread, because it is too high in protein to be able to work with easily. However, if the recipe to be made in a bread machine, uses a flour that's low in gluten, the instructions may call for the addition of some gluten flour. As all-purpose flours can vary from 9-13% protein, those on the light side may benefit from a bit of strengthening.
INSTANT FLOUR: is a quick-mixing flour which mixes very quickly into liquids and produces lump-free batters and gravies.
PASTRY FLOUR: Is available in supermarkets and specialty stores and comes as either plain or whole wheat. It is a low-gluten flour used in delicate cakes and pastries. Absorbs less liquid in recipes. It is from soft red winter or soft white winter wheat for use in biscuits, pancakes, pie crust, cookies, muffins and brownies, pound and sheet cakes. This flour is available either bleached or unbleached as well as whole wheat and regular. Generally, you can mix 1 cup of cake flour and 2 cups of all-purpose flour and get a good close protein mix to use for pastry flour, but it doesn't work as well.
SELF-RAISING FLOUR, ALL-PURPOSE: Not to be confused with self-raising cake flour which is different. Self-raising flour is intended to be a convenience for bakers because the baking powder and salt have already been added to it. However, it has the disadvantage of deteriorating quickly when exposed to humid conditions. 1 CUP self-rising flour is equal to 1 CUP all-purpose flour with 1-1/4 teaspoons baking powder and a pinch of salt.
SEMOLINA: Semolina is the coarsely ground endosperm of durum wheat. Never bleached and high in protein, it is used to make the highest quality "white" pasta. Adds extra flavour and texture in some bread recipes. It is also used to make couscous - a North African and Latin American dish which is quickly becoming a staple in North America. FYI: Durum flour is a by-product in the production of semolina and is used for American noodles, some pastas and some specialty breads.
VITAL WHEAT GLUTEN: Vital Wheat Gluten is used in certain types of bread making. It gives the yeast in the recipe a boost because it contains a high amount of gluten forming proteins. I use it in my heavier breads that rise slowly, such as rye, whole grains, or ones loaded with sugar, dried fruit and nuts. Your loaves should rise higher and have better volume.
WHEAT GERM or BRAN, UNPROCESSED BRAN: Though not a flour, wheat germ, either untoasted or toasted, can be used in place of up to 1/3 of the flour in a recipe or just added for flavour and fibre. It's perfect in pancakes and other baked goods as well as meat or vegetable loaves. I use Miller's Bran (unprocessed bran flakes), a natural source of dietary fibre, found in grocery and natural foods stores. It is less coarse than wheat germ and gives a better (lighter) texture to baked goods.
Wheat germ is an excellent source of Vitamin E from the vitamin and mineral-rich outer layer of the wheat berry. Purchase it from a grocery or health food store; but beware, it goes rancid quickly, so try and get the freshest possible and refrigerate or freeze it. I prefer to use the freezer; no need to thaw before using.
WHOLE GRAIN (MEAL): Whole grains are foods that contain the entire plant kernel that is humanly edible, whereas refined grains are products that are stripped of the more coarse, fibrous part of the kernel as well as germ or seed. : wholemeal (100%) flour can be made from wheat and rye, with both organic grain and conventional grain. Research studies support that a heart-healthy diet rich in whole grains and other plant foods can be an ally in reducing your risk of stroke, heart disease and cancer.
Stone-ground wholemeal is made form flour made by a traditional milling process, where, as the name suggests, the wheat is ground between two stones.
WHOLE WHEAT FLOUR: High-gluten, hard whole wheat flour contains the nutritious germ and bran as well as the endosperm contained in the whole wheat kernel. It is sometimes referred to as Wholemeal Flour. In addition to fibre, whole-grain baked goods are better sources of B vitamins, vitamin E, and many minerals than are those made with white flour. Whole grains are also a good source of folate and selenium, two nutritional buzzwords.
Whole wheat flour may be substituted for part (50 %) of the white flour in yeast and quick bread recipes, but the recipe will be denser. Bran particles cut through the gluten during mixing and kneading of bread dough, resulting in a smaller, heavier loaf.
WHOLE WHEAT PASTRY FLOUR: Low-gluten flour milled from soft wheat with the bran included. It is sometimes labelled Whole Grain Pastry Flour. Do not confuse it with whole wheat flour. I sometimes use it instead of all-purpose flour when creating healthy baking recipes. In the absence of fat, it gives a more tender outcome. Keep tightly wrapped in the freezer. No need to thaw before using.
WHOLE WHEAT WHITE FLOUR: Whole White Wheat flour is milled the same as the typical Whole Wheat flour, and is growing in popularity. The difference is the bran coating on the wheat; it is classified as white compared to the typical red wheat grown in the United States. Functionally, both flours should perform the same. The key difference is the red pigmentation in the red wheat has been removed which gives it a lighter, whiter colour. With the red pigmentation removed, a less bitter taste is also apparent.