A rose by any other name would smell as sweet” but all flour isn’t created the same. That’s why I’m sharing some flour basics with you. I’ve been baking for over 30 years and I’m still learning more about my craft. When I started baking I didn’t have a clue about the difference in flour. As a home baker, I just wanted to bake not delve into the whys and how-tos. Boy was I wrong. Now, I devour every morsel I can about everything that will help my sweet treats come out great each time.
Flour Basics – Types of Flour
All-Purpose –a blend of hard and soft wheat used for all types of baking. All-purpose flour comes in two basic forms—bleached and unbleached—that can be used interchangeably. Flour can be bleached either naturally, as it ages, or chemically. A couple of years ago, I switched over to unbleached. I don’t think I keep it long enough for it to bleach due to age and I certainly don’t want anything chemically bleached. All-purpose flour has a fine texture. Although it is milled from the wheat kernel it doesn’t contain the germ (the sprouting part) nor the bran (the outer coating). U.S. law requires that all flours not containing wheat germ must have niacin, riboflavin, thiamin and iron added. (Individual millers sometimes also add vitamins A and D.) These flours are labeled “enriched.” Un-enriched flour is also available and I’ve used both. When sealed properly in the original bag or an airtight container the shelf life of all-purpose flour is 6-8 months.
Egg and Avocado Breakfast Sandwich
Whole Wheat – Whole wheat flour is the result of grinding the whole grain of wheat. It’s most often used in bread and other baked goods and typically mixed with other lighter “white” unbleached or bleached flours to restore nutrients that are lost in the milling process. Whole-grain whole wheat flour contains vitamins, minerals, and protein and is more nutritious that refined white flour. When reading the label on wheat the first ingredient listed should be whole wheat. If it says enriched wheat flour, it’s not the real thing. Caramel coloring or flavor can also be added to enriched flours to give the appearance of whole wheat. Don’t be fooled by the pretty colors, read the label. Ingredients listed on a label are in descending order of proportion. Whole-wheat flour has a shorter shelf life than white flour, as the higher oil content leads to rancidification if not stored properly. Stored properly in the refrigerator or a cool dry area its shelf life is 4-6 months.
Cake Flour – It’s milled from soft wheat which has a low protein content. Less gluten forms when you mix cake flour into a batter which gives cakes a tender crumb and fine-grained texture. It can be substituted in a recipe that calls for all-purpose flour but not the other way around. Here’s an easy substitute for cake flour from The Kitchn.
1 cup AP flour – 2 Tablespoons AP flour + 2 Tablespoons cornstarch = 1 cup cake flour
Self-Rising – This is a combination of all-purpose flour, baking powder, and salt. It’s best to use it only in recipes calling for self-rising. If you used self-rising flour instead of all-purpose and then add leavening agents chances are it won’t turn out well. In this category, there’s also something called Southern Flours – who knew there was such a thing? I’ve used them before but had no idea that they were in a category all their own. The most popular brands are Lily White and King Arthur. This is a soft wheat flour typically used for biscuits,cakes, quick breads and pie crusts. If properly sealed or wrapped it should last safely on your shelf for 4-6 months. If refrigerated, then up to 24 months. You can make your own self-rising flour by adding 1 ½ teaspoons baking soda and a half teaspoon of salt to one cup of All-purpose flour.
Bread Flour – Is milled from hard wheat and has a high protein content that produces a strong gluten which gives yeast bread the structure it needs to rise. Your finished product will a bit more firm and chewy. That’s why it’s best used for yeast bread only. It will last several months in a cool, dry cabinet when stored in a sealed container. As an extra layer of safety, place it in a zipper type bag before placing it in a sealed. You can also wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and store in it the freezer for up to a year.
Whole Wheat Pastry Flour – Also known as graham flour, whole wheat pastry flour is milled from low-protein soft wheat. You can take comfort in the fact that it also adds whole grain nutrition to pastries.
Flour Basics Best Way to Measure
Nestled metal or plastic cups are best for measuring dry ingredients. My personal preference is metal. Plastic cups often become misshapen over time especially if they are washed in a dishwasher. In addition, try to avoid the cutesy shaped ones, like hearts, flowers etc. Often times their measurements are not true. Due to the fact that, flour tends to settle when store it’s a good idea to give it a good whisk before measuring. When it comes to measuring flour there are several schools of thought and preferred cups for measuring. By far, weighing is one of the most accurate methods, but let’s be real not many of us do that. Number one, it requires a scale and it’s a bit time-consuming. Then there is dip and scoop which can sometimes pack the flour giving you an inaccurate result. Which leads me to the most preferred and most accurate if you’re not weighing which is to spoon the flour into the measuring cup and level with a straight edge of a knife.
Flour Basics – When Good Flour Goes Bad
Whole wheat flour is made using the entire grain, and it retains a few of the essential oils from the grain. Over time, and if not stored properly your flour will develop a rancid smell. The other reason that flour goes bad is because of an itsy bitsy bug called a weevil. There’s nothing worse than opening a bag of flour and finding these little critters. Once they’re in the bag they lay eggs.
The most common reason that flour spoils is if weevils (teeny, tiny bugs) inhabit and then lay eggs in the bag. Some say you can freeze the bag for 48 hours to kill the weevils. That’s just nasty. Throw it away and get a new fresh bag.
Know that you have the goods on they different types of flours, plus how to use and store them, it’s time to bake. Have fun!
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