(images: Katelyn Allegra)
Pop into the baking aisle of any supermarket and you are no longer just faced with cake, bread, self-raising and wholewheat flour. You can now find coconut, rye, stone-ground, OO, almond, macadamia nut, oat, rice, linseed and even buckwheat flour!
Whether you’re gluten-free, grain-free, Paleo or just want to experiment with your baking, trying out new flours can really enhance your baking! But before we get to figuring out which flour to use for what, let’s first chat about what flour actually DOES in baking and sift through the facts (see what I did there?).
Ask any pastry chef or baker and they’ll tell you that wheat flour is the most important ingredient in baking. It gives structure to cakes, breads and cookies – which you will know if you’ve ever tried to master the art of gluten-free baking! A flour’s characteristics depend on the variety of wheat, where it was grown and can even be influenced by the weather! Have you ever made a recipe for the gajillionth time only to have to add more water? That’s because the flour batches differ!
When we talk about flour, most of us will think of the kind milled from wheat. But since any ingredient that’s dried and pulverized can technically be called flour, new flours are being invented every day! Some are good for being the main ingredient while others are more for flavour, they are not necessarily interchangeable in recipes. It can get super confusing if you’re trying to get creative with a recipe (see this article for tips on how to tinker with a recipe and not get a flop).
I’ve divided the various flours up into their uses: those that are best used as the main ingredient for structure, nut flours and those that are simply good for flavour.
FLOURS FOR STRUCTURE
CAKE WHEAT FLOUR
Cake flour contains a low amount of gluten making it perfect for cakes, pastries and other light, delicate bakes.
If you regularly bake from US or Canadian recipes, you’ll have come across pastry flour before. Pastry flour is also a low-gluten flour but is slightly stronger than bread flour making. Unfortunately, we don’t get pastry flour in South Africa but you can simply substitute it with cake flour.
Bread flour has more protein in it, so you can develop some really good gluten, which is perfect for baking breads and pizza! For the best-quality breads, look for bread flour which has between 11 – 13% protein on the nutritional info.
Self-raising flour is cake flour with baking powder and sometimes a little salt added. It’s convenient but the baking powder does lose it’s power over time so best to buy bags in smaller quantities and use it up ASAP. To make your own simply mix 1 tsp baking powder for every 120g of cake flour.
STONE GROUND FLOUR
Most flour is milled using huge sets of steel rollers or hammers, which generate extremely high temperatures, which damage the wheat germ and destroy valuable vitamins and enzymes in the process. Stone ground flour is milled using (you guessed it), a grinding stone that is a slower more natural process, which retains all the goodness of the wheat.
00 Flour or ‘doppio zero’ is finely milled white Italian flour. The zeros refer to how finely the grain is milled, so a single zero will be course in texture (like polenta) and a triple zero really fine (like cornflour). It’s great for bread, pasta and the crispiest pizza bases. Find it in Italian delis.
Is made by grinding the entire wheat kernel – with the bran and germ. It gives bakes a nutty texture but can make bread and cakes heavy. It’s best to use wholewheat flour with a cake or bread flour to prevent this.
Rye flour has a high protein content but does not form gluten so breads made only with rye flour tend to be very heavy and dense. It’s often mixed with cake or bread flour to give a lighter texture.
Buckwheat flour is made from buckwheat and has an earthy, grassy, slightly bitter (in a good way) flavour. It contains no gluten and if you substitute it into a recipe without really knowing what you’re doing, you’ll end up with some cement-looking inedible bakes. Best to look for a recipe already using buckwheat flour and go with that!
Oat flour is ground from dry oats and has a nutty flavour. It is gluten free and is great in cookies, puddings and cakes.
NUT FLOUR (ALMOND, MACADAMIA NUT, PECAN NUT)
Nut flours are great for baking! You can find a large variety of nut flours on shelves (or you can make your own in a spice grinder!) and they can all be used interchangeably in recipes – pecan nut macarons, anyone? Nut flours are perfect for cookies, meringues and nut cakes.
Chickpea flour (also known as Chana, Gram or Besan) is made from ground raw or roasted chickpeas making it really high in protein. It has a pale yellow colour with a delicious earthy taste and nutty smell. Because chickpea flour is gluten-free, it works best in biscuits, brownies or flatbreads. It also makes a fantastic egg replacer for vegans or egg allergies: 1 egg = ¼ cup chickpea flour + ¼ cup water
BEST USED FOR FLAVOUR
Coconut flour is made from dried coconut which has most of the fat removed. It’s a low-GI, gluten-free flour with a delicious flavour but is extremely absorbent and very difficult to bake with, so best to find a recipe that someone else has created and go with that!
(images: Katelyn Allegra) ALSO READ: Do different types of sugar really make a difference in baking? I want to be upfront here, I have nothing against cakes with domed tops. The top of the cake can be easily trimmed off which leaves you with a flat cake – and a treat!