Anyone who bakes (or watches the Great British Bake Off) knows the importance of flour. But did you know that there are different types of flour? All-purpose, cake, pastry, and strong flours are all commonly used varieties. Most of us have likely used or seen these all on the grocery store shelves, but there's one type us Americans don't often see: strong flour. What is strong flour and how is it different from the other flours? Here's everything you need to know about this Great British Bake Off staple.
Where Does Flour Come From?
According to Joy the Baker, flour comes from the wheat berry from the wheat plant. That berry is the divided into the bran (hard outer shell of the berry), the endosperm (the inside of the berry) and the germ (the heart of the berry).
White flour only contains the endosperm, while whole wheat flour makes use of the entire wheat berry. The protein within flour comes from the endosperm, and when water is added to flour gluten forms. The protein and gluten content of the flour is what differentiates the different types.
#SpoonTip: The germ of the whole berry actually contains some fat in it, which explains why whole wheat can go bad. To combat this, freeze your whole wheat flour.
Types of Flour
All-Purpose flour does exactly what it says on the bag: it can be used for all purposes. Its gluten level is down the middle at around 12 percent, according to The Spruce. It can make bread loaves, cakes, and pastries. It's the go-to flour for a college student wanting to start baking.
The next flour is pastry flour, which is slightly weaker than all-purpose at 9-10% gluten. This is perfect for muffins, cookies, and biscuits. Use pastry flour for these banana chocolate chip muffins or vegan peanut butter cookies.
Cake flour is the weakest of all flours at 7-9% gluten. As its name suggests, cake flour is used best in cakes where it will yield a tender and fluffy cake like this almond olive oil cake.
What Is Strong Flour?
Strong flour (AKA bread flour) is the strongest flour with a very high gluten content (13-14%). This makes it perfect for making breads like Paul Hollywood's white loaf or a traditional Italian Easter loaf.
Since it has all that protein, it takes a lot of kneading to develop the gluten structure. The foolproof way of making sure that you have kneaded the dough enough, is to do the "windowpane test." According to the Kitchn, if you can stretch a small ball of dough out until it is translucent without breaking it, then you have developed enough gluten.
The Bottom Line
The different types of flours are dependent on the amount of protein and gluten in the flour. Each flour has its own use, but when in doubt just buy some all-purpose flour. It can be used for just about anything.
So now you have it, the different types of flours for every situation. Now you can feel like the sisters from Georgetown Cupcakes or Mary Berry from The Great British Bake Off when you're baking up a storm in your own kitchen.