I bake a lot, so needless to say, I go through a lot of flour. It’s also given me reason to give a bit of thought to flour – which type to use and how to use Canadian flour in US or European recipes.
As Canadians, we are very lucky in the flour department. The flour we can all easily pick up off any grocery store shelf it top-notch and perfectly blended and suited for any baking project. For Canadians, there’s little reason to need much beyond our all-purpose flours. Where it gets a bit tricky is when we use our all-purpose flour in recipes from the US or Europe. Then the plot thickens a bit.
If a US recipe calls for bread flour, you can use Canadian all-purpose flour in most cases with good results. That’s because Canadian all-purpose flour is higher protein than US – more similar to bread flour in the US. (Exception – things like pizza dough and bagels, which thrive on super-high protein flours. Use Canadian bread flour for those things).
If a British recipe calls for “Plain flour”, use all-purpose flour. If the British or European recipe calls for “Soft (or weak) flour”, use Canadian Cake and Pastry flour (or sometimes, a mixture of that and all-purpose, depending on the recipe). If “Hard (or strong) flour” is specified, use Canadian bread flour.
If the recipe doesn’t tell you a specific flour to use at all, always assume and use all-purpose flour (referred to as “Plain flour” in British recipes). It’s the perfect blend of soft and hard wheat and has the best protein % for just about all uses.
Ok, that’s settled, but should you use bleached all-purpose or unbleached all-purpose flour?
I bake a lot and use unbleached all purpose flour almost exclusively. If you only want to have one flour in the house, this is the one to stock. Why unbleached? Well … why not? Unbleached all-purpose flour can be used for 99% of all baking projects, it’s priced the same as bleached all-purpose flour and hasn’t been chemically processed. It’s a personal choice, but one worth considering. The only exception to using unbleached all-purpose is for making pie pastry. For that, I always keep some Monarch Cake and Pastry flour on hand (because my Mom swears by it for great pie crusts!).
These are the 3 most common unbleached all-purpose flours in Canada. Lately I’ve been picking up the PC Organics, but will pick up either of the others if they are on sale. I haven’t noticed a particular difference in the taste or quality of my finished baked goods, but I haven’t done a side-by-side test either.
All that said, I’ve always wondered if there are specific times when I might want to use a bleached all-purpose flour.
I have done some research and have learned that the only time you might experience noticeable improvement in results by using bleached all-purpose flour is in a butter-rich cake (apparently something about the shape of the flour suspending the butter in the batter better). That’s a pretty narrow purpose though, and unless you’re a professional cake baker, probably not a great reason to keep it on hand.
If you are a super keen baker though and want to keep both bleached and unbleached all-purpose flour on hand, bleached all-purpose flour is thought to be best for cookies, quick breads, pancakes and waffles. Use unbleached flour for yeast breads, Danish pastry, puff pastry, strudel, Yorkshire pudding, eclairs, cream puffs and popovers.
But what if you don’t have the flour that’s specified in the recipe? (And you don’t want to run to the store to get some)
First, let me say that you probably shouldn’t expect the best results if trying to substitute all-purpose flour for cake or pastry flour. You’ll have better luck substituting all-purpose for bread flour and vice versa, particularly in Canada, where the all-purpose flour is high protein (equivalent to the bread flour rates in the US).
All that said, if you must make a flour substitution, follow these guidelines …
If the recipe calls for 1 cup sifted cake flour – 1 cup all-purpose flour minus 2 tablespoons sifted
If the recipe calls for 1 cup pastry flour – 1 cup all-purpose flour minus 1 tablespoon
If the recipe calls for 1 cup self-rising flour – 1 cup all-purpose flour minus 1 tablespoon plus 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder and 1/8 teaspoon salt
Do you need to sift the flour?
For all-purpose and bread flour, the answer is no, unless the recipe specifically says you should (such as one that might have you sifting the flour with other ingredients to disperse them).
For cake and pastry flour, the answer is yes, almost always. Most recipes specifying cake and/or pastry flour, will specifically refer to sifting and will word the recipe to tell you whether you should sift before or after measuring.
1 cup of cake flour, sifted = measure first, sift after measuring
1 cup of sifted cake flour = sift first, measure after sifting
What is self-rising/raising flour and can you just substitute with all-purpose?
Self rising flour is a soft flour with the salt and baking powder already added. You can buy small bags of self-rising flour in Canada, so if you come across this a lot, it might be worth picking up and stocking.
You cannot substitute all-purpose flour for self-rising flour, since self-rising has salt and baking powder already added. Use the recipe below to make your own version of self-rising flour. Likewise, you can’t substitute self-rising flour in a recipe calling for all-purpose flour, since you’ll be doubling up on the salt and baking powder.
If you want to make your own self-rising flour, measure the desired amount of all-purpose flour into a bowl. For each cup of all-purpose flour, add 1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Stir to combine.
Common flour pitfalls – Measuring incorrectly
Unfortunately, those of us in Canada and US are still beholden to the volume measurements for dry ingredients. Anyone who bakes a lot from European recipes has learned how much more precise weight measurements are. But until Canada and the US catches up on that, learning to measure flour properly can make ALL the difference in the quality of your baked goods.
1. Stir your bin of flour. (Never scoop flour from the bag. It is compacted and will result in your scoop having more flour than you need. If you store flour in the bag, remove some to a bowl and stir it before measuring).
2. Spoon your flour into your dry measuring cups until it is over-filled (mounded at the top).
3. Use the backside of a knife and scrape across the top of the measuring cup, removing the excess to your bin or bowl.
If you are lucky enough to have a kitchen scale, here are some weight measurements to use, for best accuracy.
1 cup of all-purpose flour, unsifted = 5 oz or 140 g
1 cup of bread flour, unsifted = 160g
1 cup of cake flour, sifted = 4 oz or 115 g
Common Flour Pitfalls – Trying to Healthify
We are all trying to eat more whole grains and whole wheat flour often comes in to the discussion. I’ve seen a number of baker’s just willy-nilly replace all-purpose flour with whole wheat flour and then wonder why their baked good didn’t turn out. The fact is, you can’t just replace all-purpose flour with whole wheat one-for-one. They are different animals, particularly when it comes to baking.
As a general rule, you can replace up to 1/2 of the specified all-purpose flour in a recipe with whole wheat, without disastrous results. Do expect your finished baking to be somewhat more dense and dry.
It you are interested in baking with whole wheat flour, seek out recipes specifically written and tested with these flours. It’s worth the effort for best results. It’s also worthwhile taking a look at products like “White Whole Wheat Flour” or “Nutri Blend Flour”, in Canada, which are white all-purpose flours with some of the grain/fibre added back in. It can be used just as white all-purpose.
How long can you store flour?
The shelf life of white flour is 6 months when stored at room temperature or 1 year if stored in the refrigerator. It is suggested that whole wheat flour always be refrigerated.
Summary – Which flour is best to use for what?
Best flour for baking bread – unbleached bread flour, unbleached (Canadian) all-purpose flour
Best flour for making pasta – Italian tippo 00 flour or a combination of all-purpose and cake flour
Best flour for baking cakes – bleached all-purpose flour (although unbleached will work well often), sometimes cake and pastry, but only if specified, such as Angel cakes.
Best flour for baking Muffins – all-purpose flour, bleached or unbleached
Best flour for baking cookies – all-purpose flour, bleached or unbleached
Best flour for pizza dough – unbleached bread flour
Best flour for pie pastry – pastry or cake and pastry flour
Best flour for baking for bagels – unbleached bread flour