Nina’s Tips and Techniques: Wheat Flour


Why are there all these specific flours? Cake, pastry, bread, pizza, etc. — can’t I just use regular all-purpose flour?

Well, you CAN use all-purpose flour (they don’t call it all-purpose for nothing!), but your finished product will come out slightly different than what you are expecting in certain applications. Let me explain… Flour contains a protein called gluten. Gluten proteins, when in contact with fat or water, begin to elongate and become elastic. These elastic webs hold the gas given off by leveners (yeast, baking powder, baking soda, egg white, etc.) and allow things to rise. When gluten proteins are worked a lot they becomes chewy (like bread) and when they are mixed gently they remain tender (think cake or muffin). It is easier to achieve these various qualities of density and tenderness with specific flours because they are milled to pack in more or less protein. Bread and pizza flour are high protein flours, meaning they will become more elastic and allow your dough to rise higher. Cake and pastry flour are low protein flours and they remain tender even if you accidentally over mix your batter slightly.

OK, now I get how gluten works, but how do I know which flour to use?

For most recipes (cookies, muffins, crisps, cobblers, etc.) you’ll be fine with good quality all-purpose flour. My general rule is to ask myself, “what do I want my finished product to feel/taste like?” If I want light-as-a-feather pancakes, I’m going to choose pastry flour. If I want amazing, doughy, rise-a-mile-high pizza dough, I’m going to choose high protein flour. And if you’re following a new recipe that calls for a specific kind of flour you can assume the author called for it for a reason!

Get the recipe – Fail-Proof Pizza Dough