The art of baking requires the correct tools and ingredients to insure the resulting creation is a delight to both the eye and the taste.
Originally, the type of flour used in a recipe was a simple choice; all-purpose or plain. Some bakers favored one brand over another, their reason often as simple as it was the first brand they ever used and the outcome was a success. The flour produced by local and regional mills, with limited distribution areas, were often the go-to brand for bakers in that specific area. Plain or all-purpose flour has a medium gluten protein content between 9.5 percent to 12 percent. This protein content flour will work for many bread and pizza bases. Specialty bakers will often use bread flour and special 00 grade Italian flour when baking.
Todays home baker has access to a wide variety of different flour types for their recipes. Between the neighborhood grocery stores, specialty markets and the Internet, a home baker can find the correct flour type for each for the recipe.
When the bag of flour states ‘bleached flour’, this is letting the buyer know the flour has an added chemical ‘whitening’ agent. This means the germ and bran, with most of the nutritional fiber and vitamins, has been removed from the flour during processing. This type of artificially aged flour used during processing a ‘bleaching’ agent to alter the natural color of the flour, a ‘maturing’ agent which can strengthen or weaken gluten development, or both.
Here in the United States, there are four commonly found additives used as bleaching/maturing agents in available flour.
- Potassium bromate – a maturing agent, not a bleaching agent, which strengthens gluten development
- Benzoyl peroxide - a bleaching agent, not a maturing agent, which has no effect on gluten
- Ascorbic acid – a maturing agent, not a bleaching agent, which strengthens gluten development; either used during processing or added to flour as a dough enhancer
- Chlorine gas – used as a bleaching agent and a maturing agent, which weakens gluten development and oxidizes starches
Certain varieties of flour packaged for commercial bakeries are still bromated during processing, although in the United States this technique is no longer in favor and only used to process a few of the retail flours available to the home baker. In the United Kingdom, the use of any bleaching or maturing agent during flour processing is totally banned.
According to Wikipedia, “Retail bleached flour marketed to the home baker is now treated mostly with either peroxidation or chlorine gas. Current information from Pillsbury is that their varieties of bleached flour are treated both with benzoyl peroxide and chlorine gas. Gold Medal states that their bleached flour is treated either with benzoyl peroxide or chlorine gas, but no way exists to tell which process has been used when buying the flour at the grocery store.”
Cake flour is the flour lowest in gluten protein content of 5 percent to 8 percent depending on brand; produces minimal binding, finihed item ‘crumbles’ easily
Enriched flour has had some of the nutrients lost during the ‘bleach/maturing’ prcessing replaced
Pastry flour has a gluten protein content of 7.5 percent to 9.5 percent depending on brand; produces a flaky crust instead of hard or crisp crusts
Plain or all-purpose flour has a gluten protein content of 9.5 percent to 12 percent depending on brand, and contains no leavening agent; will work for many breads, some biscuit recipes and pizza bases
Bread flour has a gluten protein content of 11.5 percent to 14 percent depending on brand; the increased gluten protein content results in a stronger rise and more chewy texture
Hard flour has a gluten protein content of 13.5 percent to 16 percent depending on brand; used for recipes with added ingredients requiring a strong dough to hold together as in a centerpiece display
Gluten flour is refined gluten protein (approximately 100 percent protein) which is used to strengthen the gluten protein content of other flours; added to whole grain flour recipes so the created bread will rise better and have a good chew
Unbleached flour is as the name implies; the flour has not undergone the ‘bleaching/maturing’ process
Self-Rising flour has been altered with the addition of chemical leavening agents evenly distributed throughout the flour and giving a consistent rise to the baked creations; used in recipes for sponge cakes, scones and muffins to name a few – If a recipe calls for self-rising flour and none is available, use this substitution trick
1 cup plain flour
1-1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
The flours discussed above cover those a home baker will regularly encounter when shopping and need when baking, but the list of specialty flours available for unique doughs and tasty creations is long and varied. Enjoy testing a new recipe using a different flour type or stay with those you love the most. Happy baking!
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