Are You Using the Right Type of Flour? Bookmark This Guide.

From all-purpose to self-rising, here's our guide to the different types of flour and when to use them.

Bowls with different types of flour on gray backgroundPhoto: Shutterstock / Africa Studio

Baking is a science as well as an art, and the key to perfectly executed baked dishes is using the proper ingredients. Every baked dish calls for flour, but finding the right one can be tricky. Who knew there were so many options? (Are you measuring flour correctly, by the way?) The key difference between flours is the protein content. Flour with a higher protein content will have a higher gluten content, making it good for dense, chewy, bready baked goods. Flour with a lower protein content will have a lower gluten content, producing lighter, fluffier, more delicate results.

From all-purpose to self-rising, here is our guide to the different types of wheat flour and when to use them.

All-Purpose

The most versatile of the wheat flours, all-purpose is easy to find and easy to use. The name says everything: All-purpose flour can be used in dense breads and light pastries. With a mid-range protein content of around 10.5 percent, this flour is reliable and adaptable, perfect for anything from our best pancakes to carrot cake; it’s also a dependable substitute for other types of flour. A safe bet, make sure to have a bag of AP flour in your pantry at all times.

Cake Flour

For a light, fluffy dessert, turn to tender and delicate cake flour. With a protein content of around eight percent, cake flour is typically used to foster an airy texture. The lighter protein content results in a lighter texture, making this flour perfect for desserts like chocolate cake and moist orange buttermilk cupcakes.

Semolina

Semolina is coarsely ground wheat flour most commonly used in pasta and couscous. It is made from the endosperm of durum wheat and has a yellow hue and granular texture. This flour adds rich flavor, dense texture and buttery color to couscous, pizza crust and homemade pasta (Do you know the names of these pasta shapes?)

Bread Flour

Of all the wheat flours, bread flour contains one of the highest percentages of protein. With a protein content between 11 and 13 percent, bread flour yields high-gluten dough. This results in the irresistible, dense and chewy texture that makes bread…well, bread. Gluten provides structure, and bread flour gives dough the stretch and elasticity necessary for making condensed yet airy loaves of bread. If you’re making a loaf of homemade French bread, turn to bread flour instead of all-purpose.

Self-Rising

A seemingly magical thing, self-rising flour doesn’t require the addition of any salt or leavening agents. Most self-rising flours are essentially all-purpose flour with baking powder and salt already added in. The ingredients are evenly distributed throughout the flour, which results in consistently baked products every time. Self-rising flour is easy to find and can be used in a variety of recipes, from biscuits to Key lime pie cupcakes. If you don’t have self-rising flour on hand, feel free to make your own, with a ratio of 1 cup all-purpose flour to 1 teaspoon baking powder and ¼ teaspoon of salt.

From self-rising to all-purpose, there are plenty of options to choose from. Don’t be intimidated! Before starting a baking project, simply determine what texture you’re hoping to achieve. Light and fluffy or dense and chewy, understanding texture and gluten content is the best way to decide what type of flour you need.

Happy baking!
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Laura Denby
Laura is a New York-based freelance food writer with a degree in Culinary Arts from the Institute of Culinary Education and a degree in Journalism from Penn State. Her work has appeared in Taste of Home, Chowhound, the Culture Trip and Patch.