Guide to different types of flour

In a change from the status quo, this post is not a recipe. Instead I’ll be talking about different kinds of flour, how they are made, and when one should use them. Let’s start at the beginning. Flour is made by milling the wheat berry. By selecting different parts of the berry (or the kernel) we get different flours; all-purpose, whole wheat, bread/strong, white wheat. We can understand the various properties of these flours in relation to which part of the kernel was selected. The key concept is protein content.

Wheat-kernel_nutrition

I’ve got an analogy that I find useful. Think of the wheat berry like an egg. The shell of the egg corresponds to the bran, the yolk to the germ, and the egg white to the endosperm. White flour is made by milling only the endosperm. Whole wheat flour is made from the entire wheat berry; endosperm, bran and germ. Different bakes require different flours just as different recipes call for different use of eggs. To make a meringue we only use the egg white, but you’d be crazy to leave out the yolks if you’re frying an egg! Okay, the analogy isn’t perfect – not many people eat egg shells!

As I said, the most important difference is the protein content. The proteins in flour become gluten when combined with water, and it’s the gluten that does all the magic in yeasted baking. The gluten forms long chains, and it is this that gives dough its stringy elasticity. When we knead the dough we tangle all these strands into a lattice-like structure. As the yeast develops it releases CO2 which inflates this lattice, causing the dough to rise. See, magic!

Keep in mind that for some baking you don’t want a high protein content. A good example is pastry. There’s no yeast involved, and we don’t want a stringy, dense pastry. To achieve a light, crumbly pastry you want a low protein flour.

Although the numbers will vary from company to company, and even from bag to bag, here are some guidelines for the most important flours.

All purpose

Protein content: 8-10%, low/mid
Uses: Pastry, muffins, pancakes

Whole wheat

Protein content: 16%, very high
Uses: Yeasted breads

Bread Flour

Protein content: 12% high
Uses: Yeasted breads, pizza

Self-Raising

Protein content: 8%, low
Uses: Scones!

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