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There are usually a few essential ingredients to start baking.
Flour is one of the baking essentials, which ranges from finely milled wheat flour, to other grains such as oat. In this baking basics post, I’ll talk about the basic types of flour we frequently see.
Flour gives structure to baked goods, so it’s important to know that different baked goods would have different structural supports. Choosing the right flour is likely to help you in a successful bake.
I remember when I first started out baking, the different types of flour I saw always gave me a headache. Like, is plain flour all-purpose flour?! Can I use bread flour to make muffins?! And why is there cake flour?!
Well, we’d commonly find 4 types of wheat flour in the supermarket or baking supplies stores – bread flour (high protein flour), plain flour, self-raising flour, top/cake flour (low protein flour).
Interestingly, “More protein = More gluten = More Strength = Chewier texture“.
Whole Wheat VS White Flour
Most flour is white flour, unless labelled as whole wheat or wholemeal, or white whole wheat.
White flour has been stripped of the bran and germ, which is also more shelf-stable than wholemeal flour. However, white flour contains less nutritional values compared to wholemeal flour.
As recommended by HPB, we should incorporate whole grains into our daily diet to reduce our risk of getting diabetes.
For healthier baking, you can replace some of the white flour with wholemeal flour, at about 25%, and gradually increase to your liking. Interestingly, there is also a kind of whole wheat flour that is called “white whole wheat flour”. As wholemeal flour makes baked goods a little brownish in color, this white whole wheat flour can lighten the brownish tone.
One of the brands that have white whole wheat flour is King Arthur, but I am not too sure if it’s selling here locally.
Bleached VS Unbleached
White flour can be bleached sometimes, by using chlorine or benzoyl peroxide. Most of the cake flour, top flour or Hong Kong flour are bleached.
Traditionally, flour requires ageing over time, which helps improve the gluten and the quality of our bakes when we use the flour. However, with the fast pace of life these days, most flour would have been bleached, so that this process can be sped up.
For me, I try to steer clear of food additives and “chemicals” which might be harmful, as much as possible. So, I am currently using the series of unbleached flour (plain / bread / unbleached top flour) from Prima. I also like the superfine whole wheat flour in this new range.
All-Purpose / Plain Flour
The most commonly used flour would be all-purpose flour, which is also known as plain flour. When a recipe states “flour”, it’s referring to plain flour.
Some cake or muffin recipes might call for self-raising flour, which is a kind of flour with baking powder and salt already added to it.
If you’d like to make your own self-raising flour, simply combine 1 cup of plain flour with 1 tsp of baking powder and ¼ tsp of cake or top flour.
Cake / Top / Hong Kong Flour
Cake flour has the lowest protein content, which makes the baked goods tender when this flour is being used.
Most cake flour would be bleached, which changes the flour to increase its capacity to absorb more liquid and sugar, and so, you can get a moister and tender cake when you use this flour.
Top flour / Hong Kong flour seems to be the same as cake flour – a highly bleached flour to achieve the extra fine and soft texture. Pau (steamed buns) made using the Hong Kong flour also have a whiter appearance due to the bleaching process.
I have yet to find a cake flour that is unbleached, however, I do use Prima’s unbleached top flour if I want a tender cake.
Or, to make 1 cup of cake flour, you can remove 2 tbsp of plain flour from 1 cup of plain flour, and add in 2 tbsp of cornstarch. Sift at least 3 times. As cake flour is light in nature, sifting helps to achieve the lightness.
Bread flour is mostly used to make yeast products, like bread loaves or buns, and are mostly white bread flour. However, I’ve also come to know that there is a strong wholemeal bread flour selling under Bake King – which can be a healthier choice, compared to white bread flour.
Do also note that the more wholemeal flour is being used, the bread baked would usually be less fluffy and more dense.
Most of the time in bread recipes, I’d use about 20-30g of wholemeal flour in place of bread flour.
As I try to make a conscious effort in choosing ingredients with no additives for the family, as much as possible, I look out for unbleached flour.
It also took me a while to discover the unbleached top flour by Prima, and it does produce quite tender cakes, so it’s not too bad for me. So I have stuck to using this flour when the recipe calls for cake flour. Do note that Prima’s range of cake flour is not unbleached.
How about you? Do you have any tips to share on flour? Leave us a comment below! 😉