Baking with Different Types of Flours

Cooking Tip #5

There are various different types of baking flours, some designed for specific purposes and all offering a wide range of unique benefits in baking. Gluten to gluten-free, strong flavoured to mild, silky smooth to gritty in texture. Explore the wonderful diversity of baking with different types of flours.

Types of Wheat Flours

To start with let’s look at the most common baking flours made from a type of wheat grass. There are 8 main types of wheat-based flours made for different baking purposes. White, all-purpose, whole-wheat, white whole-wheat, bread, pastry, cake and self-rising. What is the difference between them?

White or All-Purpose: This is the most commonly used type of flour made from a blend of soft and hard wheat. White flour is stripped of most of its nutrients during processing and is “enriched” with several B vitamins, folic acid and iron afterwards. This is a good all-purpose flour for making most types of baked goods.

Whole-Wheat Flour: Made by grinding entire kernels of red wheat, which results in a darker flour. Whole-wheat flour is an excellent natural source of B vitamins, folate and iron. Whole-wheat flour is often blended with all-purpose flour in recipes to lessen its strong wheat flavour; and is commonly baked in hearty breads.

White Whole-Wheat Flour: This flour is made by grinding hard white kernels, which results in a paler and milder flavoured flour than that of the red kernel wheat. White whole-wheat is an excellent natural source of B vitamins, folate and iron. White whole-wheat flour is often blended with all-purpose flour to achieve healthier and heartier results in baking.

Bread Flour: Similar to all-purpose flour except it is made with a wheat grain with a higher gluten and protein content. Gluten produces a chewier consistency and reacts well with yeast, part of the reason this flour is used exclusively for yeast breads, pretzels and rising-crusts.

Self-Rising Flour: Similar to all-purpose flour but with salt and baking powder added to it. A popular flour when baking biscuits, breads, muffins and pancakes. This flour will not work with yeast bread recipes.

Cake Flour: This is a finely milled flour from soft wheat that is has been highly processed and stripped of its natural essential nutrients and protein content. The result is a high-starch acidic flour that helps cake recipes to rise and turn out tender and fluffy.

Pastry Flour: This is a finer flour, made from a softer grain; and falls somewhere in-between a cake flour and an all-purpose flour. This flour has a lower amount of protein and higher starch than that of cake flour. This flour gives pastries and pie crusts a tender and crumbly texture whereas a higher protein flour would result in a harder pastry.

Semolina: This heavy flour is made from the coarsely ground endosperm of durum wheat; which is the hardest variety of wheat. Semolina is heavy and coarse with a high protein content, best used to make pasta and couscous.

Non-Wheat Flour Varieties

A growing trend continues to move towards gluten reduced and gluten free diets and foods. In this list we are going to explore the gluten free flours followed by the gluten-reduced.

Almond Flour (gluten free)
Through adding 1/4 of the flour content in a recipe with almond flour will add a moistness to your baked goods with a light almond flavour. This flour provides a little binding and density to baked goods as well. This flour works well in pastry crusts, tarts and cookies.

Amaranth Flour (gluten free)
This is a powerful ancient grain packing more protein than any other grain. Up to 20% of a recipes flour content can be replaced with this flour, but no more is recommended.  This flour or whole grain is most often used in bread, biscuit and cracker recipes; as well works better when combined with the wet ingredients in a recipe like eggs, butter and dairy. Amaranth is often added to breads, nutrition bars and cookies.

Rice Flour (gluten free)
Made from both white and brown rice, this flour can have a slightly coarse texture. White rice tends to be lighter, milder and easier to digest than wheat flour. Rice flour works well as a thickening agent in sauces and is used to make rice noodles, tempura batters and different asian desserts all for its (non-gluten) glutenous effects. Rice flour can be made more malleable when mixed with oat flour.

Buckwheat Flour (gluten free)
This flour is loaded with nutrients, has a blue hue and a nice nutty flavour. Buckwheat flour can easily be introduced into many types of recipes, often mixed with other flours. Buckwheat is very absorbent, so recipes substituted with the flour may require extra liquid. Buckwheat makes noodles, dense cakes and excellent pancakes. When substituting, add no more then 25% buckwheat flour, otherwise it may be structurally challenging.

Chickpea Flour (gluten free)
Also known as garbanzo flour, gram flour and besan; this flour is commonly used in many countries such as India, Pakistan and Nepal. Up to half of the all-purpose flour ingredients in a recipe can be substituted for chickpea flour; as well this flour can be used as an egg substitute in vegan cooking. To replace one egg, use ¼ cup of chickpea flour and ¼ cup water.

Corn Flour (gluten free)
Corn flour is often used in combination with other flours most often with bread and  breading recipes. Corn flower is refined finer than corn meal, which has a slightly grittier texture.

Millet Flour (gluten free)
This ancient grain is naturally sweet and is most commonly used in desserts and sweet breads. Substitute no more then 1/3 of the all-purpose flour for the millet flour.

Oat Flour (gluten free)
Oat flour makes baked goods more moist than ordinary wheat flour as it has a fluffy texture; as well it is sweet to taste. Oat flour is easy to make, just add dried cereal oats to a blender and grind it until it is smooth. Oat flour makes excellent bread when mixed with wheat flour.

Quinoa Flour (gluten free)
Quinoa flour is one of the most nutritious grain flours available and is a great healthy addition to anyones diet. Substitute up to half of the all-purpose flour in a cookie recipe for quinoa flour for an excellent health boost.

Tapioca Flour (gluten free)
This is a starchy white flour with a faintly sweet flavour. Tapioca flour or starch works well as a binding agent in gluten-free recipes; as well is an ideal thickening agent. This flour is a great substitute for cornstarch; use 2 tablespoon of tapioca flour to 1 tablespoon of cornstarch.

Barley Flour (gluten reduced)
This flour is a popular alternative to wheat flour as it is gluten reduced and has a nice malt flavour. Barley flour is a mild flavoured with a slight nutty hint. A healthy alternative for those looking to lose weight as it has less calories than wheat flour and 4 times the fibre. Gluten reduced flours do not rise very well with yeast recipes; substituting only half the flour with all-purpose flour can make up for this. Allowing doughs and batters made from barley flour sit overnight will also help soften the bran, making the product easier to work with, and balance the flavours.

Spelt Flour (gluten reduced)
Spelt flour is the most popular and widely available alternative baking flours. Spelt is related to wheat but its fats are more soluble, reducing its gluten content. Most people with IBD complications and wheat digestion issues can often tolerate spelt. Severe IBD cases should stay with gluten free flour choices. Spelt is high in essential nutrients and has a nutty and slightly sweet flavour. This flour can be fully substituted for wheat in bread making; producing a heavier and slightly more dense bread. Up to half of all-purpose flour can be substituted for spelt in most other recipes.

Rye Flour (gluten reduced)
Rye flour can come as a light, medium or dark flour, depending on how much of the bran was removed in the milling process. Since rye flour is gluten reduced it is often only used 1 part rye to 2 parts wheat in recipes to ensure the bread rises properly. Rye is a healthy choice for people with diabetes.

Pumpernickel Flour (gluten reduced)
This flour is made from whole rye berries and produces a dense dark and strongly flavoured bread.

Written by: J. Marshall

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