when it comes to baking, however, things are really much the opposite. it is both a science and an art [though i'm sure i could get a good argument from those who only cook]. baking requires much more precision and technique to obtain the desired results. this also means using the right ingredients such as the correct type of flour.
baking with the proper flour called for in a recipe does make a huge difference in the final analysis. it can, however, be confusing for those who do not have experience in the art of baking or have never heard of the many different varieties.
the following is a little primer of sorts on the different kinds. be aware that outside north america, they have different names and sometimes certain types just go by numbers. they can even be difficult to find if you are not in a big metropolis or do not live somewhere with good access to a variety of foodstuffs.
i should start by saying that flour can be milled from all types of grains, legumes, seeds, nuts and even tubers [basically anything with high levels of starch]. there are many, many different types, some of which would even seem odd to many a north american or european who is accustomed to using only those made from wheat.
in terms of flours milled from wheat, the different types get their names from the amount of protein which is present in them. different kinds of baked products require different levels of protein — baking cookies with bread flour just wouldn't make sense and neither would making baguettes from cake flour.
wheat flour protein levels:
- cake flour 8 - 10 %
- pastry flour 9 - 10%
- all purpose 10-11.5%
- bread flour 11-13%
- high gluten 14% + higher
- vital gluten flour - pure gluten
it is generally categorized as white or brown and is the result of the level of refinement of the flour and which part of the wheat grain is used in milling.
- hard red winter
- soft red winter
- hard red spring
- hard white
- soft white
- the endosperm is the starch component
- the bran is the fiber component
- the germ is the protein component
- white flour = endosperm only
- whole wheat (grain) flour = endosperm, bran & germ
- germ flour = germ and endosperm only
as an aside, it is said that countries where there are weather extremes [such as where i live (canada)] result in wheats which yield higher gluten contents in the milled flours. so using a flour which comes from canada versus a flour made from wheat in a more temperate area of the united states would make a difference. then again, flours are tested for their various contents and i am sure fortified with agents [such as vital wheat gluten itself] to bring a weaker flour up to par or it is blended with other flours with higher gluten content.
the type of wheat used is important, too. very briefly, wheat can be divided into when it was harvested and the colour of it. for example there is red wheat and there is winter wheat. for more in depth information, check out some of the wheat boards in canada or the united states. mills will use specific types of wheat for the various types of flours they produce. note, too, that some flours require certain types of wheat. end products are usually based on factors such as how the grain is milled (stone ground vs steel ground) and protein and mineral content needed to make the correct flours.
in european countries such as italy, france and germany, there are various types of flours which are usually differentiated by numbers. often here, we see recipes requiring "00" type flour. so what is that all about? these numbers refer to how much mineral content, namely ash, is left after a standardized burn test is done. these types, or numbers, however are not the same in every country.
canada and the united states do not have this system. flours here are basically sold by name, such as: all purpose, cake and pastry flour, bread flour, etc. i cannot even find the amount of protein listed on the labeling of our flours. additionally, while cake and pastry flour is different, here it is sold combined as "cake AND pastry flour". i must say, though, that i have seen a much greater variety emerge over the years. king arthur, an american flour company, produces a great assortment of high quality flours as well as selling other wonderful things for baking and providing gorgeous recipes. some of these european type flours, though american made, are available through this source.
the following is a basic synopsis of some of the different types of flours:
basic types of flours:
all purpose flour - hard wheats or mixture of soft and hard wheats [medium protein]. used in general baking.
bread flour - hard red spring wheat [high protein]; looks like AP flour but stronger. used with breads and yeasted products requiring long kneading.
cake flour - soft wheat [low protein]. low in gluten and good for making cakes, pastries, delicate cookies and crackers. cake flour can be approximated by removing 2 tbsp of flour from every cup of all purpose flour. the texture of the flour however is not the same as cake flour.
pastry flour - soft wheat, low gluten content. protein is similar to cake flour but has less starch. used in pastry making.
(high) gluten flour - spring wheat, higher protein content than bread flour. can be used with low protein or non-wheat flours. improves quality and produces breads with a high protein content. high gluten flour can be approximated by adding 2% vital wheat gluten to the total weight of flour being used, e.g. 200 gr AP flour + 4 g vital wheat gluten.
whole wheat flour - contains the germ, bran, endosperm. bran lowers development of gluten making baked products both heavier and denser.
self-rising flour - all purpose flour with salt and leavening. to maky yourself: one cup of AP flour, 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder and up to 1/2 teaspoon of salt. adjust salt and leavening in original recipe if making yourself to account for this.
bleached flour - flour exposed to chlorine gas or benzoyl peroxide ; this matures flour and conditions gluten and is said to improve baking quality. used to reduce spoilage and contamination.
unbleached flour - bleached by oxygen in air while aging leaving a product off-white in color. said to be healthier.
bromated flour - unbleached from hard wheat. this flour is treated with bromate (vitamin) and has a high gluten content.
enriched flour - per pound, it contains 2.9 mg thiamin, 1.8 mg riboflavin, 24 mg niacin, and 20 mg iron. most all purpose flour in the north america is enriched.
farina - coarsely ground endosperm from hard wheat. seen in hot breakfast cereals.
semolina - coarsely ground endosperm of durum wheat. high protein content. used to make higher quality pasta. used for couscous also. note that there are several grinds of semolina, from coarse to very fine.
durum flour - made in the production of semolina. used for noodles, various kinds of pasta, and some breads and pastries.
specialty (american) flours based on extraction rates:
straight flour - 100 percent extraction flour; breadmaking flour. used to make patent, clear, and low-grade flours.
stuffed straight flour - straight flour with some clear added to it
patent flour - purest and highest quality of commercial flour available. made from center portion of the endosperm. patent flour is classified into five categories, each having its own purpose [see link].
clear flour - by-product of straight flour remaining after patent flour removed. graded into fancy, first clear, and second clear. each has its own use [see link].
more on american flours with specific charts for protein and mineral content. they are also compared to eachother with respect to different brands.
similar flour types from a canadian source.
other specialty (industry) type flours:
biscuit flour - from soft wheat or combination of soft and hard wheat. used for making american biscuits.
cookie flour - lower-protein soft wheat flour.
cracker flour - from soft [red] winter wheat or blend of hard and soft wheats.
graham flour - specialty type flour used for crackers and other baked good. a whole wheat flour but made in specific proportions.
[there are more which i will add later! this is still "in the works!"]