When you go to the market these days, after deciding you’re going to quit using so many mixes and use more ‘scratch’ recipes; you stop first at the flour section. It’s full of all kinds of flours – even the simplest store will have an assortment of different kinds. If you go to one of the Amish stores or look at a catalog or website like King Arthur Flour, you’ll find even more, along with dough enhancers, grains, etc.
Since we’ll all be baking more as the holidays approach, let’s look at the different kinds of flours available.
Bleached flour is flour that is treated for a longer shelf life and to strengthen the protein. Unbleached flour is aged naturally and many cooks think it has a better flavor. I usually buy unbleached flour.
All-Purpose Flour and Self-Rising Flour– this is a combination of hard and soft flours, used most often for pie crust, biscuits, muffins, quick breads and the like. It’s also used in most French bread recipes and sweet yeast dough recipes. This is the flour most cooks use regularly. Northern or national brands like Gold Medal, Pillsbury or Robin Hood are more hard wheat for bread bakers. If you want softer, “biscuit” flour, a Southern brand, like White Lily or Martha White, is perfect. Most self-rising flour is also softer, biscuit flour. Interestingly, the only place I can get Martha White self-rising flour around here is at one of the dollar stores.
Bread Flour – this flour is mostly hard wheat, sometimes called “high-protein” flour, and makes light, firm stretchy yeast bread dough. It’s also good for homemade noodles and pasta. I use bread flour for most sandwich breads; especially if I also use other flours or grains, like whole wheat or oatmeal. It helps multi-grain breads from being as heavy as bricks. French-type breads usually call for all-purpose flour, and I don’t usually use bread flour in white dinner rolls or sweet bread dough either, as I want a tenderer crumb. It isn’t any more necessary to the occasional bread baker than cake flour is to the casual cake baker.
Cake flour – our mothers bought Swansdown or SoftaSilk, which I can still buy today. It’s made from soft wheat flour, with low protein, and makes very tender cookies, cakes, biscuits – Myrna and I both keep some on hand, in the freezer because we don’t use it regularly, but most cooks and current cook books use all-purpose flour instead.
Pastry flour is used for things like puff pastry, Danish, croissants and piecrust. It’s not commonly found in local grocery stores.
Whole wheat and Graham flour are both whole wheat – the Graham flour is usually more coarsely ground. I use them interchangeably for whole wheat bread; since whole wheat is our family favorite, I keep some always on hand.
Rye and Pumpernickel flour are higher in bran, minerals and fiber than wheat. Medium rye is most common in the US. Pumpernickel rye, often called rye meal, is just that: a coarse meal rather than a flour; it is made by milling the entire rye berry.
Storage -I keep my whole wheat, rye and cake flour in the refrigerator or freezer; keep your regular all-purpose and bread flour in a cool place, preferably under 75°. Whole wheat flour, which has more of the oily wheat germ, turns rancid if keep for long periods, and I don’t use my cake flour as fast, so I keep it cool.
Brands - I try to buy my flour where it turns over quickly, so I don’t get it with bugs already in it. That’s more important to me than brand. Sad to say, that isn’t at our local groceries. I’ve been happy with flour I’ve purchased at both Sam’s and Costco, as well as at the local Amish stores. The amount you buy should depend on the amount of regular baking you do. I recommend starting small, and I usually reduce the amount I keep on hand in hot weather, which seems to encourage bugs. Even I don’t like to buy more than 25# at a time, but I also don’t want to run out!!