Flour provides the structure for baked goods. It is the finely ground meal produced during the grinding of various edible grains. The most common flours are made from hard and soft wheat, blended during milling to produce different kinds of flour.
Flour is enriched to restore the natural iron and B vitamins that are lost during milling. Enrichment causes no change in the flour’s taste, color, texture, quality or caloric value.
Flour may be bleached or unbleached. Bleached flour goes through an aging process, which improves its baking performance and whitens the flour. Unbleached flour is allowed to age naturally, and is creamy white in color. Bleaching does not affect the nutritional value of flour.
Today’s flour is pre-sifted more than 100 times during milling, so it is no longer necessary to sift it before measuring.
Store flour in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. It also may be kept in the refrigerator or freezer; just let it warm to room temperature before using. All-purpose and bread flours should be used within 18 to 24 months of purchase; self-rising flour should be used within 12 to 18 months. Because whole grain flours contain fat from the wheat germ, they become rancid more quickly and are best stored in the refrigerator or freezer. Use them within 1 year.
There are a number of different types of flour. Be sure to use the type specified in the recipe.
- All-purpose: Milled from the inner part of the wheat kernel, it contains a blend of hard and soft wheat. This versatile flour is appropriate for all uses and is available bleached or unbleached. Our recipes have been developed with bleached all-purpose flour but unbleached flour can be substituted.
- Bread: Especially milled for baking with yeast, this flour contains more protein, which gives the bread structure and increases the elasticity of the dough, resulting in loaves with higher volume.
- Cake: Made from soft wheat, it produces tender, delicate cakes.
- Cracked wheat: In this flour, wheat kernels are fractured but not finely ground during milling. The flour contains chunks of the cracked kernel, giving baked products a coarser, crunchier texture.
- Rye: Medium (the most common), light and dark rye flour are available. Because rye flour has less baking strength than all-purpose or bread flour, it should be used in combination with them.
- Self-rising: Baking powder, which makes baked goods rise, and salt are added during milling. One cup contains 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon salt. It is especially suited for biscuits, muffins, light cakes and pastries. It is not recommended for popovers, egg-leavened cakes, chocolate recipes, rich bar cookies or yeast breads. It is available bleached or unbleached.
- Whole wheat or graham: Milled from the entire wheat kernel, it has a higher nutritional value and contains more fiber than other flours. Baked products have a heavier, more compact texture. Because whole-wheat flour has less baking strength than all-purpose flour, it should be used in combination with all-purpose or bread flour.