Is all-purpose flour (farine in French) really for all purposes?
Actually the only thing different flours have in common is that they are made from wheat. What makes them different is how they're milled, what kind of wheat they're made from, and even what time of year the wheat was harvested. But what it really all boils down to is protein content.
Protein content is directly related to how much gluten can be formed using that particular flour. Gluten helps create structure and determine texture in your final baked good. Flours with low protein contents will generate less gluten and flours with high protein content will create more.
To get the light and airy structure of cakes, you want a flour with very little protein. But to form the dense chewy structure of bread, you want a flour with a lot of protein so that you can create as much gluten as possible.
Here is the approximate protein content of common types of flour:
Bread Flour: 12-14% All-Purpose Flour: 8-11% Self-rising Flour: 8.5-10.5%
Pastry Flour: 8-10% Cake Flour: 8-9%
The exact protein content varies by brand, by region, and also by country. However, the name given to the flour is usually an indication of how it's intended to be used. If you're having trouble with a recipe written by someone in another country, try to figure out the protein content of the flour they're using and then find your local equivalent.
It can be tricky substituting flours with different protein content. For most recipes, you're safe using pastry and cake flour interchangeably. You can also generally use all-purpose flour for either pastry or bread flour.
If all you have is all-purpose flour, you can substitute for other flours with little adjustments like adding cornstarch to lower the flour's protein. Likewise, you can bump up a flour's protein content (and it's gluten potential) by adding a few tablespoons of vital wheat gluten.
What about Self-rising flour? Self-rising flour is a softer, lower-protein (8.5-10.5%) wheat flour that creates wonderfully tender biscuits and muffins. Self-rising flour has an even lower protein content than all-purpose flour because it’s made using a soft wheat flour rather than the hard wheat flour that makes up most all-purpose flours.
Self-rising flour also contains non-aluminum baking powder and a dash of salt so we don’t have to deal with measuring spoons and extra additions.
Can we substitute Self-Rising Flour for All-Purpose Flour? Sure you can! First, look for a recipe that calls for baking powder. Omit the baking powder and salt from the recipe and simply use store bought self-rising flour or make your own. Unfortunately, a recipe with only baking soda won’t work. If a recipe calls for both baking powder and baking soda, omit the baking powder and salt, and add the baking soda.
Now you are probably wondering about bleached or unbleached? The answer is bleached flour has a whiter color, finer grain, and softer texture, while unbleached flour has a denser grain and tougher texture. Due to their variations in texture, each type of flour may be better-suited for certain recipes. Bleached flour is treated with chemicals to speed up the aging process therefore it has a finer grain and absorbs more liquid, which works well for foods like cookies, quick breads and pie crusts. Meanwhile, the denser texture of unbleached flour helps baked goods hold their shape a better, making it a good fit for puff pastries, eclairs, yeast breads, and popovers. That said, both types can be used interchangeably in most baked goods without significantly altering the final product or needing to adjust other ingredients in your recipe.
Here are some basic FLOUR SUBSTITUTES:
Bread Flour Substitute - Just replace bread flour with all-purpose flour. The only difference is all-purpose flour has 8-11% protein and bread flour has 12-14%. The extra protein in bread flour results in a slightly higher rise but you still get a good rise with all-purpose. Use in place of bread flour called for in any recipe.
Self-rising Flour Substitute - 1 cup all-purpose flour, 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon salt. The homemade will have a slightly higher protein content compared to the store bought version which usually goes undetected. Use in place of self-rising flour called for in any recipe. Note: You can also use the same measurements to make self-rising white or yellow cornmeal.
Pastry Flour Substitute - 1/2 cup all-purpose flour, 1/2 cup cake flour. This will create a flour with a protein content that is close to that of pastry flour. If you do not have cake flour use substitution below. Use in place of pastry flour called for in any recipe.
Cake Flour Substitute - 2 tablespoon cornstarch, 1 scant cup all-purpose flour. Place two tablespoons of cornstarch in a one-cup measure. Fill the rest of the cup with all-purpose flour. Use in place of the cake flour called for in any recipe.