The Building Blocks of Baking – Part 2 Flour

#3 Flour & friends

#3 Flour & friends (Photo credit: mrlins)

Flour – what’s that all about?  There are so many versions.  Americans call it something different.  I have always wondered about flour and if there is any difference in the cheaper supermarket versions or the expensive versions.  I have tried all of them and I can see or taste no difference so I wonder if it’s just marketing spin.  So lets delve deeper …

Flour that is used in baking comes mostly from wheat, corn, rice, nuts, legumes, and some fruits and vegetables. The type of flour of flour used is vital to get a recipe right.  There are a number of different flour’s that are each suited to different bakes.  You cannot switch between different flours.  But with the a few essential store cupboard ingredients you can make your own flours from just plain flour.  I’m going to tell you how.

Plain flour

Plain flour or all purpose flour in America is used widely in baking and recipes usually add either baking powder or bicarbonate of soda to give the required rise.  You can easily turn plain flour into self raising flour if you are caught out (I have many times!)

Make your own self raising flour:

To make your own home-made baking powder, combine half a teaspoon of cream of tartar and quarter of a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda. This provides the equivalent of one teaspoon of baking powder.

To make self-raising flour from plain flour add one teaspoon of baking powder, bought or homemade to 110g of plain flour.

Self raising flour

I buy self raising flour as it’s easier than trying to make my own (but I have made my own due to poor planning!).  Self raising flour is low in protein/gluten, and can be white or wholemeal flour.  It has a raising agent mixed in at manufacture point.  So it eliminates the chance to error!  Or that’s the plan.  Raising agent’s usually added are baking powder or bicarbonate of soda with a touch of salt to cause a chemical reaction.   Storing self raising flour is important as the baking powder in it absorbs moisture and affects it’s raising ability.  Keep it in an air tight container and away from strong smells – but I talk about storage a little later.

Cake flour

Cake flour is different to plain flour in that it is lower in protein/gluten.  Protein/gluten is great for bread making but not for delicate cake baking.  Cakes made with a flour that is lower in protein will turn out much finer and light than those made with plain flour or self raising flour.  I would say that I rarely have cake flour to hand and in the majority of cases I use self raising flour or plain flour as a substitute.  If I was baking a very delicate cake then cake flour would be better but it’s not the end of the world if you don’t have it.

butter, sugar, egg, flour, baking powder, choc...

Cake flour used to bake muffins

Make your own cake flour:

Take 150g plain all purpose flour, remove two tablespoons or 25 g of the flour and replace with two tablespoons of cornflour or cornstarch.  Sift five times before you use it in your recipe.  Walla – no need to buy expensive cake flour!

Bread flour

Not a flour to make cakes with as its very high in protein/gluten.  This gives the flour more strength which is prefect for bread making.  It is by far the best flour to use when baking with yeast.

Buckwheat Flour

This is a gluten free flour which is great for bread lovers who are sensitive to gluten.  It is fast becoming very popular int he kitchen.  For way more information on buckwheat than you could shake a stick at visit thekitchn.  Here are some delicious recipes for you to give a go.

Figgy Buckwheat Scones

Chocolate Chip Buckwheat Cookies

Buckwheat Hazelnut Sables

Buckwheat Harvest Tart

Banana Buckwheat Muffins

How to store flour

Flour needs to be kept cool and dry and in an airtight container, sealed from moisture, smells and of course pests.  It will happily last in the right conditions for six to eight months.  If you live in very hot temperatures store your flour in the fridge if you can.

You can freeze flour very successfully in an airtight container.  It will keep like this for year!

Flour will absorb strong smells like onion and perfumes so keep strong smells away from flour.

Because of the natural oils in wholewheat flour it can turn rancid quickly at room temperature.

I have heard that putting a bay leaf in the flour container to help protect against insect infections. Bay leaves are natural insect repellents.  I must actually do this as it’s a great idea.

Throw away flour if it smells bad, changes color, or is invested with weevils.  You will see the weevils crawling in the flour.  You will need to completely disinfect and thoroughly clean your baking  cupboard to avoid further contamination.

English: Ad for Henry Jones Self-Raising Flour...

Self Raising Flour

Does the price of flour matter?

So does it really make any difference which flour you buy?  Well I have tried many types of flour and I can’t say I notice a discernible difference in the end product.  I sometimes sift my flour and sometimes I don’t.  So in my humble opinion don’t bother with the mega expensive flour.   Your cakes will still taste delicious!!

James from the Oxford Food Blog does a very scientific and super study in the different supermarket flours which I highly recommend reading.  He experiments with the different flours from the most expensive to the cheapest resulting a taste test.  It seems there is no need to buy the most expensive flour but also steer clear of the value flour.  Go for something in the middle and your will be grand.

Read James’ results here.


Sugar – there are so many different sugars out there.  Does it really matter it you substitute muscavado with brown sugar?  What do the different sugars do to cakes and bakes?


About Claire Sullivan

Bake - Slice - Eat - Enjoy! An Irish girl living in Norfolk, sharing everything I know about baking and everything I learn along the way. The beautiful County of Norfolk is full of wonderful gems and I can't wait to share them with you.
This entry was posted in The Building Blocks of Baking and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Building Blocks of Baking – Part 2 Flour

  1. oxfoodblog says:

    Thanks for the link, Claire- glad you enjoyed the piece. This reminds me, I haven’t done some baking in a while…

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