Flour power: The varieties and what they’re for

By Chef Dez | Sep 11, 2013

Not only is flour considered the most beneficial ingredient in baking, but also it is an ingredient found in almost every household kitchen.

Therefore, the more one knows about this necessity, the better the judgments made in refining culinary adventures.

Although there are a number of varieties of flour available, many of them are made from wheat. This will be my focus for the rationale of this column.

The main varieties of wheat flour available will vary slightly from store to store, but will typically be all-purpose, cake/pastry, and bread flour.

Wheat produced into flour can be separated into two categories: hard or soft kernel. The milling process begins at separating the bran, germ, and endosperm of these wheat categories.

It is from the endosperm that flour, as we know it, is created as it is milled into a powder. Whole-wheat flours, on the other hand, are made from milling together all three components of the wheat kernel, not just the endosperm.

The flour from hard wheat contains a higher gluten content than soft wheat. Higher gluten is beneficial to creating structure in baked goods, such as breads and pizza crusts.

When flour is mixed with a liquid, the gluten is responsible for the elastic responsiveness of dough.

Cake/pastry flour is made entirely from soft wheat to provide a low gluten content to ensure the tenderness of these delicate goods.

This flour is therefore generally used with leaveners such as baking powder, baking soda, and/or eggs, and then keeping agitation/mixing to a minimum.

Bread flour is made entirely from hard wheat to provide a high gluten content to ensure texture in breads. Yeast is almost always the leavener with bread flour.

The elastic strands of dough capture yeast gases as it bakes, giving the bread height and structure.

All-purpose flour is a mixture of both hard and soft wheat, and functions in the manner that the name represents. It is good for all applications such as breads, cakes or pastries, but it is not ideal.

Superior quality baked goods will always start from the correct selection of flour.

Dear Chef Dez,

In a previous column about quick breads, you wrote that gluten is formed/created when flour is mixed together with a liquid. However, you also mentioned that bread flour "contains" more gluten than all-purpose or pastry flour.

What is the difference between the gluten that is already present in flour, and the gluten that is formed when flour is mixed with a liquid?

-Gerrit B.

Maple Ridge, B.C.

Dear Gerrit,

This is a very excellent question. The terms are basically synonymous with each other. Let me see if I can try to make it easy to understand.

If the term "gluten" is referred to, when discussing raw flours, it is in reference to the amount of hard wheat content in the flour. This is in turn responsible for the amount of "gluten" created when moisture is added and agitated.

One will say, "create gluten" when mixing, but more accurately it would be described as "making it more apparent" by the kneading/mixing process.

This in turn makes the gluten (the one in the raw flour) stringy and stretchy – giving us structure in baked goods such as bread.

Chef Dez is a food columnist, culinary instructor and cookbook author. Visit him at www.chefdez.com. Send your food/cooking questions to dez@chefdez.com or P.O. Box 2674, Abbotsford, BC V2T 6R4.

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