The 411 on Baking Flours
Even though I’m gluten-free, that doesn’t stop me from obsessing about flour. I wanted to spend some time researching and documenting what gluten is, how it works in flours, what the different flours are and how to experiment with them.
So what’s gluten?
Gluten is a protein found in wheat that creates elasticity, helps dough rise, and gives wheat-based products a chewy texture. Flours are different for various reasons including the type of grain, color and how it’s milled. But the difference I want to talk about is the protein, and therefore gluten, content.
And how does gluten work in the different flours?
The higher the protein, the higher the gluten. And the higher gluten content usually results in a chewier product. The most common flours and their protein content are as follows:
White (All-Purpose): 10-12%
What type of flour should you use?
In general, low protein will result in a softer texture and high protein will result in something chewier. I use the following flours as follows:
Cake Flour: soft, able to hold high sugar and butter contents, use in cakes and cookies
Pastry and White Flour: soft but flaky, use on cookies, biscuits, pie crusts
Bread and Wheat Flour: chewiest, use in pizza dough and bread
Can you substitute flours?
You sure can! And you should! Go experiment with them, BUT do so with caution.
Here’s what you probably shouldn’t do…
If the recipe is for something delicate or flaky, I stay away from substitutions. Delicate items like cakes and soufflés react more with varying flours. Pie crust requires a flaky texture that results from several layers of butter baking between sheets of all-purpose flour. If you substitute something with a high protein content like wheat, you’ll get a chewy pie crust or a heavy soufflé.
Here’s what you should do…
Cookies, brownies, and even bread are good places to experiment. If they don’t fall into the flaky or delicate category you can substitute up to 1/2 of a varying flour. For example, if a recipe calls for 2 cups all-purpose, you can use 1 cup all-purpose and 1 cup of an alternate flour. If you are looking for exact substituting measurements a good source is How Stuff Works. I’ve always been too lazy to use exacting measurements and have not met great catastrophe, although I likely just jinxed myself just now.
Almond, coconut and rice are common gluten-free “flours”, but are not actually flour as they are not made from wheat. Rather, they are ground up versions of their solid selves. These flours can be substituted in some recipes, but not 1-for-1 and usually require a gelling agent, such as xanthum gum. Xanthum gum adds chew to items like pizza dough and helps cookies not to spread when baking. My recommendation on use of gluten-free flours is either find specific gluten-free recipes (basically, let someone else do the “fail test” for you) or use specifically made baking flours. My favorite is Cup4Cup by Thomas Keller. I made an incredibly delicate and delicious hazelnut cake with it and no one ever guessed it was gluten free!
So that’s what I’ve learned about magical gluten. I did spend an entire weekend inside my apartment trying out the different flours on my Lindzer Heart recipes so please try out the different flours and different Linzer Hearts in these recipes!
Raspberry Rosemary uses good old white flour
Dark Chocolate Peppermint you can substitute wheat in this one to offset some sweetness!
Fig and Toasted Walnuts with Goat Cheese Frosting I used wheat with these toasty, nutty, goat-cheesy cookies
The Originals because the OG’s are just sooooo gooooood