There are many kinds of flour and not all of them are made from wheat. Flour is also made from cassava, chickpeas, rice and potato, among others.
When we talk of baking, and I mean baking in the Western context, we talk about kinds of wheat flour. In recipes, we find references to all-purpose flour, cake flour, bread flour, self-rising flour… The classification varies from one country to the next.
In scientific terms, flours are classified according to their “ash mass” (read more) which, in a nutshell, is about how much of the whole grain remains in the flour and, from another perspective, whether the flour was milled from hard or soft wheat.
I found three articles that outline the methods for testing the quality of flour.
Unfortunately, none of the three explains anything in terms simple enough for a home baker.
Now, I don’t like muddling my head with too scientific terms. As a home cook, my guideline is as follows:
- All-purpose flour for cookies, scones, pies and some muffins;
- Cake flour for most cakes and cupcakes, and other muffins;
- Bread flour for most breads; and
- Pizza flour for pizza dough.
I hardly ever use self-rising flour.
Does using the “correct” flour really make a difference? Yes, it does. Think of the grain and the texture of the baked product.
Why do cakes have finer grain than bread?
Why is bread more chewy than cake?
Why is pizza dough even more chewy than ordinary bread?
It’s partly because of the different flour used in each baked product and partly because of the difference in baking procedure.
The obvious question, of course, is whether, for the home baker who does not really bake everyday, it is advisable to keep all kinds of flour in the pantry.
I bake. But I don’t bake everyday. I do keep all-purpose flour (I buy the 2 kg. pack) and, occasionally, rice flour, pizza flour and bread flour. The rice, bread, and pizza flours, I buy in smaller packs because I don’t use them as often as all-purpose flour. What I don’t keep is cake flour because it is so easy to make my own:
Place 2 tablespoonfuls of cornstarch in a 1-cup capacity measuring cup, fill with all-purpose flour, sift together and the result is cake flour.