0 Basic Bread Flours: Which to Use?

Image from MarthaStewart.com
With so many different flours, it can be difficult to know which ones to use for making bread. Here is a simple guide of common flours used for baking to help you navigate and choose the right one for your recipe.  For a list of my bread recipes, visit my Bread Gallery.                                                                                                                                                                                                                 
Each brand of flour has slightly different specifications with protein, blend of wheat strains, etc, so they may perform differently. Gold Medal, King Arthur Flour, Honeyville, & Bob's Red Mill have reliable grains and flours.

The higher the protein in the flour, the more water it will absorb and require additional kneading. Wheat flour is an example that requires longer kneading times to develop the gluten needed for making bread,

Storing Flour
As flour ages, it can become bitter. Store your flour in an airtight container, in a cool, dark place. If you are not using flour often, store it in your fridge or even better, your freezer. I like to store my wheat, grains, sugars, and flours in 5 gallon buckets with a gamma lid.

Wheat berries (kernels), when stored properly, can last for 5 years or much longer. I grind wheat into flour. using an electric wheat grinder. Wheat berries (kernels) are high in protein, fiber, calcium and iron.

All Purpose
Also known as Plain or White flour. As the name implies, it is a flour that is suitable for many baked goods: breads, cookies, muffins, biscuits, pizza, etc. It is essentially wheat flour that has been sifted.
Shelf Life: 1 year at room temperature, 2 years in the freezer.

Bleached All Purpose Flour: treated with chemical agents that speeds up the aging process. Whiter in color, finer in grain, softer in texture. Can be used interchangeably with unbleached flour, if the recipe calls for it. Good for making cookies, pie crusts, quick breads, muffins and pancakes.

Unbleached All Purpose Flour: contains more nutrients, such as beta carotene, which contributes to better aroma and flavor. As it naturally ages, it becomes a "bleached" flour. Has slightly more protein. Can have a denser grain and tougher texture. Can be used interchangeably with bleached flour.

Umbromated Flour: A high protein flour that does not contain potassium bromate. Potassium bromate is typically added to bread flour to help the rise & elasticity of the baked product. In many countries, bromate is not allowed in flour and other food products.

Bread Flour
Bread flour is made from hard wheat, Contains more gluten, a protein that forms more strands in the dough, which help give it structure. Typically contains 12%-14% protein. This is designed for making yeast breads. More gluten means the dough is more elastic, light, and results in a chewy, airy bread. When this flour is used in cookies, it gives it a more chewy texture. If you don't have bread flour, you can add 1 Tablespoon of vital wheat gluten to every 4 cups of all purpose flour.

Whole Wheat flour
Has the most protein (14%), as it includes the entire wheat kernel. Hard wheat flour is great for hardy, rustic, artisan breads, while Soft wheat flour is used for pastries (cakes, cookies, etc.)
Shelf life: 3 months room temperature, 1 year in freezer

Red Wheat flour: Hard red wheat kernels have a reddish hue, has more protein, and works well with rustic artisan breads. Has a more nutty (bitter) flavor.

White Wheat flour: Hard white wheat kernels, with a sandy-biege color, and a moderate protein content. Mild in flavor and most people say it is easier to digest than hard red wheat. Works well for pan loaves of bread and dinner rolls. This wheat flour is the one I prefer to use for its mild color and taste.

Stone Ground Wheat flour: Wheat that is ground into a powder using a stone mill, rather than a modern steel mill. It can be coarser and have variability in texture.

Semolina Flour
A very fine textured flour from durum wheat, is usually found in pasta. It has a nutty flavor and when used in bread, makes a very crusty crust. Great for making bruschetta or croutons.

Self Rising Flour
A mixture of all-purpose flour, baking powder & salt. Is used in biscuits, cakes or recipes that call for baking powder. If the recipe calls for self rising flour, you can make your own using 1 cup all purpose flour, 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Omit using the baking powder in the recipe if you use self rising flour.
*If you use self rising flour with a yeast bread recipe, your dough can rise too much, cause cracks and may collapse during baking. It can also affect the taste.

High Gluten: Made from hard red Spring wheat, this flour has about 14.5% protein, a little more than bread flour.

Vital Wheat Gluten
Vital wheat gluten is the natural protein that is found in wheat. It is about 75%-80% protein. A small amount added to flour improves the elasticity and texture of the dough, especially with whole wheat breads. Your dough will be able to keep its shape while rising, giving it more volume without collapsing or breaking.


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