Flour power: The ultimate guide to perfect baking

Flour power: The ultimate guide to perfect baking

Learn about the different flour types, where to use them and why it makes a difference

Gulf News Food took a look at the different types of flours available in the UAE, and here’s what we discovered Image Credit: Asiya Kiev/Unsplash.com

You have used up all your self-raising flour for that delicious marble cake, all-purpose flour for crispy Emirati regag, and you have perfected the art of making sourdough bread by using whole wheat flour.

But what happens when a new recipe calls for rye flour instead of all-purpose flour? What makes pastry flour different from cake flour? Do you need bread flour, or can you stick to all-purpose flour? What is spelt flour? And what are T45, T55, T65, T80, T110, T150, Type 0 and Type 00, Type 1 and Type 2?

These questions can be pretty overwhelming, especially because the flour you use makes a difference. But worry not … we’ve got you covered. Gulf News Food took a look at the different types of flours available in the UAE, and here’s what we discovered.

But, first things first, what is flour?

Flour can be made with grains, seeds, nuts, roots and beans and are sold in bleached or unbleached forms Image Credit: Duncan Kidd/Unsplash.com

Flour is the umbrella term used to describe almost everything from grains to roots, which are ground into fine powder. Flour can also be made with seeds, nuts, and beans and are sold in bleached or unbleached forms.

All flours are bleached; however, there are exceptions. Unbleached flours become bleached over time after exposure to oxygen, causing a natural whitening process. Bleaching often involves the addition of agents such as benzoyl peroxide to speed up the ageing process. Bleached flours are usually paler in colour, have a softer texture and will also yield softer results when compared to unbleached flours. Nevertheless, one can substitute the two with each other.

The protein content is the primary differentiator among flours. The higher the protein content, the higher the gluten content and strength. We mean more volume and a chewier texture when we say strength. High-protein wheat flour, or ‘hard wheat’ flour, has a percentage of 10 to 14 per cent of protein content, whereas low-protein wheat flour or ‘soft wheat’ has a percentage of 5 to 10 per cent of protein content.

What is hard wheat and soft wheat?
Flour can be made from two types of wheat. Hard wheat is usually dark brown, and the hardness of the grain allows the starch present in it to absorb more water after milling. In addition, there’s more elasticity to the bread made with hard wheat, and the bread can hold its shape when baked.

According to foodnetwork.com, “unless labelled ‘whole wheat’, all flour is white flour, which means it’s milled from the starchy, innermost part of the wheat kernel or endosperm”. Each grain is comprised of bran (the hard outer layers), germ (the embryo) and endosperm (the inside tissue).

So, here’s a list of all the different flours and when to use them.

1. All-purpose flour:

Cookies (above), pie crusts, pancakes, muffins, and brownies – almost everything can be made with all-purpose flour Image Credit: SJ/Unsplash.com

If any recipe calls for just ‘flour’, it calls for ‘all-purpose flour’. Made with a mix of soft and hard wheat, with a combined protein percentage ranging from 10 to 12 per cent, all-purpose flour is a staple in every kitchen. Although it can’t be used for all recipes, it is the most versatile, capable of producing flaky pie crusts, cookies, and fluffy breads. All-purpose flour can be sold in bleached and unbleached forms and are interchangeable.

Use it for: Cookies, pie crusts, pancakes, muffins, and brownies – almost everything

2. Cake flour

Sponge cakes, muffins and layered cakes (above) are best made with cake flour Image Credit: Becky Fantham/Unsplash.com

Are you someone who likes their cakes tender and moist? Then this flour is just for you. Not only does it have a protein content of 5 to 8 per cent – which decreases its ability to form gluten bonds – but cake flour can absorb more sugar and water when compared to other flours, thus keeping your cake moist for longer.

Use it for: Sponge cakes, muffins and layered cakes

3. Pastry flour

Croissants, sweet fruit or savoury meat tarts (above) and crackers get a unique texture because they are made with pastry flour Image Credit: Alisha Mishra/Pexels.com

This type of flour is somewhere between all-purpose flour and cake flour and has a protein percentage of around 9 per cent. It is best used when making flaky, baked goods such as the Moroccan Bastilla, Turkish baklava, or the famed Galette des Rois or Three Kings’ cake.

Use it for: Croissants, sweet fruit or savoury meat tarts and crackers

4. Bread flour

Bagels, pizza dough (above), pretzels and yeast breads are made using bread flour Image Credit: Henry Perks/Unsplash.com

Pretty sure the first thing that comes to all of our minds is sourdough bread, especially since it has a good crunch and a satisfying chew. A lot of the texture comes from bread flour, mainly because it has a high-protein percentage of 12 to 14 per cent, making it the strongest flour type of them all. This is particularly important in yeasted loaves of bread, where a strong gluten bond is required to contain the carbon dioxide produced during fermentation. When baked, bread flour also results in more browning of the crust.

Bread flour can be found in white or whole wheat, bleached or unbleached forms. Unbleached all-purpose flour can also be substituted for bread flour which yields better results.

Use it for: Bagels, pizza dough, pretzels and yeast breads

5. Self-rising flour

Pancakes (above), quick breads and cakes use self-rising flour Image Credit: Chokniti Khongchum/Pexels.com

Did you know? Self-rising flour is just finely milled flour with an added leavening agent – specifically, baking powder and salt. Milled from soft wheat, self-rising flour has a high protein content of 9 per cent and yields light baked goods. However, it can’t be swapped so easily with other flour types because the added ingredients can throw off other measurements in the recipe.

Another fact to note about self-rising flour is that it is different from self-raising flour. Yes, that little ‘a’ does make a huge difference. What is the difference, you wonder? According to epicurious.com, “self-raising flour generally does not contain salt, but does usually have a little more baking powder in the mix.”

Use it for: Pancakes, quick breads and cakes

6. Instant flour or Wondra

Gravies, murukku or deep-fried snack (above), thin batter, pie crusts, coating vegetables or meats use instant flour or wondra and also removes the raw flavour of ingredients Image Credit: Saveurs Secretes/Pexels.com

The ‘crisp’ and ‘crunch’ from a crepe or murukku (a twisted deep-fried snack) comes from using this type of flour. A low-protein, pre-cooked version and finely milled type, wondra is known for its ability to dissolve instantly in steaming hot water or cold water, without any lumps. It is also often used to coat meat or seafood before pan-frying them. Ideally used in gravies and sauces, instant flour streamlines the overall preparation time by removing the raw flavour of ingredients.

However, it cannot be substituted for all-purpose flour but can be used in pie crusts for a flakier crust.

Use it for: Gravies, thin batter, pie crusts, coating vegetables or meats

7. Spelt flour

Cakes, muffins (above), chips and cookies use spelt flour, which has a slight tang and is acidic in nature Image Credit: Tomateoignons/Pexels.com

Simply put, spelt flour is a type of whole wheat flour milled from the entire grain of spelt. However, unlike whole wheat flour, spelt flour is lower in protein content and behaves like all-purpose flour, with more flavour. It has a slight tang and is acidic, almost like yoghurt when tasted.

Use it for: Cakes, muffins, chips and cookies

8. Semolina flour

Similar to double zero flour, semolina flour is best used for Middle Eastern recipes, puddings, pasta, upma (above) and other Indian sweets Image Credit: Mario Raj/Unsplash.com

Similar to double zero flour, semolina flour is milled from durum wheat and is high in gluten, with almost 12 to 13 per cent of protein. It is easy to differentiate from other flour types, mainly because of its pale yellow hue and nutty flavour. While semolina flour is almost never baked with, you have probably eaten it with couscous, pasta, upma and is also popularly used in Middle Eastern cooking and puddings.

Use it for: Middle Eastern recipes, puddings, pasta, upma and other Indian sweetmeats

9. Rye flour

Rye flour has low protein content than all-purpose flour, but is sticky and difficult while baking bread (above) Image Credit: Christopher Farrugia/Unsplash.com

Without rye flour, you can’t have German dark rye bread. Rye flour has low protein content than all-purpose flour. However, it is quite sticky and difficult to handle whilst baking. The result will be a dense and hard loaf of bread, so many bakers use a combined mix of rye and wheat flour to help increase the gluten content.

Use it for: Cookies and bread

Other flour types also include those made from corn, rice, oats, barley, almonds, millet and legumes. Also, gluten-free flours do not contain wheat proteins at all, so be careful to read the flour packet thoroughly before making a purchase.

What are T45, T55, T65, T80, T110 and T150 flour?

The French introduced these numbers to classify the type of flour based on 'ash' content Image Credit: Ivan Rohovchenko/Unsplash.com

Now that you have covered the basics types of flour, it’s time to get into a little bit of math. Please don’t close the article; it is not like baker’s math. Trust us.

The French introduced these numbers to distinguish between the different types of wheat flour. The French classification of wheat flour is based on the ‘ash’ content present in the wheat flour – unlike the US version of classifying flour based on protein – and is divided into eight categories.

Here’s how you can differentiate between them all, but before that, what is ‘ash’?

Ash refers to the mineral composition included in wheat bran. To simply put, the impurities contained in bran. As you would expect, the 'T' stands for type and is known as l’amande du grain in French.

The smaller the number after ‘T’, the higher the degree of refinement and brighter the colour of the flour; whereas the bigger the number after ‘T’, the lower the degree of refinement and darker the colour of the flour. The flour classification, in general, is according to the protein content; however, the French classification relies solely on the proportion of the ‘ash’ content.

‘Ash’ is based on the resulting amount after processing approximately 10 kilograms of wheat flour in a 600C furnace. For example, in T45, there are only 45 grams of mineral content combined with the flour after the burning process. The same goes for T55, T65 and so on.

What is Type 0, Type 00, Type 1 and Type 2 flour?

These types make a big difference for those in Italy and other parts of Europe Image Credit: Elle Hughes/Unsplash.com

Your Neapolitan pizza, is made with Type 00 flour; that ravioli recipe you can’t stop thinking about, also made with Type 00 flour. But, of course, when it comes to Type 0, Type 00, Type 1 and Type 2 flour, things are a little different, mainly because it is often collectively termed as bread flour. However, these types make a big difference for those in Italy and other parts of Europe.

Double zero flour, also known as doppio zero flour, is commonly used to make pasta and pizza dough; these numbers refer to the grain size. According to masterclass.com, “Type ‘00’ is the finest grind, whereas Type ‘2’ is the coarsest”. Most of the time, type 00 is substituted with all-purpose flour, but doing so could yield different results, so it is always recommended that you read your recipe twice thoroughly before beginning to bake.

Now that you know your flour a little better, it is time to start baking! Try out these recipes from Gulf News Food and amp up your baking game.

Recipes to try!

Share your food stories and recipes with us on food@gulfnews.com

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