The Importance of Flour

vintage enamel flour container and scoop

Image courtesy of H is for Home at flickr.com

Flour is a main ingredient in most baking recipes and the type of flour chosen can make a huge difference in the final product. It’s also useful to consider flour nuances when making substitutions in vegan and high-altitude baking, so understanding flour will help you be your best baker.

Joy of Baking’s website explains, “Flour contains protein and when it comes in contact with water and heat it produces gluten, which gives elasticity and strength to baked goods. Different types of flour contain different amounts of protein. Therefore using a different type of flour than what is called for in a recipe … will alter the outcome of the baked good.”

All-purpose flour tops the wheat flour charts with 10-12% protein, although this is sometimes not enough to maintain structure in goods baked at high altitude. As explained in a previous post, baking at higher altitudes can result in crumbly textures. Protein is what helps keeps the batter structure together so upping protein in a recipe can be the solution. But then, by veganizing a baked good, you lose the protein provided by the eggs so you now need even more protein. This can be achieved by substituting some of the flour with a higher protein variety (i.e. almond or garbanzo bean flour) or by using tofu as an egg substitute. These fixes helped my baking because I found that packaged egg replacer (made from potato starch) fell flat in my baked beauties.

Another important baking aspect is how to measure flour. I’ve read recipes that say to pack the flour into the cup and some that say to lightly pour it in. Joy of Baking mentions what I learned decades ago to be the proper way: “When measuring flour spoon your flour into a measuring cup and then level off the cup with a knife. Do not pack it down. Flour gets compacted in the bag during shipping, so scooping your flour right out of the bag using your measuring cup will result in too much flour.” And too much flour makes for heavy cookies and tough bread. When you follow my recipes, this is the method of measuring that I use so for best results you should do the same.

These are just a few ideas on how flour impacts baking. I hope they get you started on making your best looking baked goods.

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2 comments on “The Importance of Flour

  1. rose giglio says:

    what other flour could i substitute if any for pastry flour,as i buy bread flour in 50 lb bags.

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    • Hi Rose. Thanks for your patience – I finally unpacked the cookbooks. From “Bakewise” by Shirley O’Corriher, I learned that pastry flour has 8-9% protein. In comparison, bread flour has 11-14% protein. She also states that the amount of protein in flour determines water absorption. So a lower-protein flour will absorb less liquid leaving a wetter dough. She says you should choose a flour based on the flour the recipe writer used. If you are looking for a similar flour to pastry flour you can try cake flour with its 7.5-8.5% protein content. I hope this helps!

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