Flour is a staple ingredient in food products and preparations. More specifically, it is pivotal in baking. There are many types of flour, each with special traits for making different baked goods. Keep reading to learn all there is to know about the distinctive uses of cake flour vs. all-purpose flour.
Plainly said, flour is a powder ground from grains –usually wheat. However, other food can be milled into flour, like almond, barley, rice, corn, or rye, to name a few (Davis, 2022).
In the case of wheat flour, milling the grains separates the three main components of the wheat kernel: the germ, the bran, and the endosperm (Halloran, 2019). These elements are then recombined to create distinct types of flour (Davis, 2022).
Additionally, another aspect that creates different flour kinds is their protein content (Stevens, n.d.):
- Harder flour has a high percentage of protein in it. It works best when making chewy, crusty bread or other products that use yeast to rise.
- Softer flour has less protein. It is ideal for tender and chemically leavened baked food such as cakes, cookies and pies.
For instance, all-purpose flour is hard wheat or a hard and soft wheat blend. In contrast, pastry flour consists only of soft wheat white flour. Furthermore, some specialty flour includes additives to achieve specific effects in food. This is the case for self-rising flour, which is all-purpose flour with salt and leavening agents (Davis, 2022).
Plus, further processing can enrich flour with nutrients like iron and B-vitamins. Producers also bleach it to whiten it or enhance its baking qualities (Davis, 2022).
Cake flour and all-purpose flour: how to best use them in baking
Now that you know the essentials regarding flour, let’s take a closer look at two popular types in food production: cake flour and all-purpose flour.
The best flour for delicate, fluffier baked goods
What kind of flour should people use to make delicate, fluffier products? The answer is cake flour. Why? Well, it has the lowest protein content among all flours, between 5% and 8% (Tsang, 2021).
Moreover, it undergoes a special bleaching process that increases its ability to hold water and sugar. As a result, it maintains its rise and is less likely to collapse than other types of flour when baking goods with a high sugar-to-flour ratio (Stevens, n.d.).
This trait, combined with a finer texture, allows cake flour to create a softer, more delicate crumb upon baking. How? By reducing gluten content (which gives elasticity and strength to baked goods) and structure. This leads to moist results (Moncel, 2019. Tsang, 2021).
Such properties make cake flour the best option when baking cakes, muffins, and cupcakes. It is also useful when pursuing a lighter texture in pancakes (Tsang, 2021).
The most versatile flour
As its name indicates, all-purpose flour is versatile enough for baking different goods. This has to do with the fact that it sports an average protein content –between 9% and 12% (Stevens, n.d. Tsang, 2021).
However, it pales in comparison with specialty flours in terms of the end result. For example, using it for baking bread leads to less structured, flatter products than when using bread flour. It also creates tougher cake batter than pastry or cake flour (Stevens, n.d.). Overall, all-purpose flour is best to create biscuits, scones, and even sauces (FabFlour, n.d.).
Nevertheless, all-purpose flour can still produce suitable baked goods across the board. In the case of products that call for cake flour, the indicated quantity should be reduced by a tablespoon per cup when using all-purpose flour. Doing so decreases the amount of protein in the batter or dough so it behaves similarly to cake flour (Stevens, n.d.).