Flour is a basic ingredient in all bread making. Wheat flour is the most common flour used in bread making. It contains high amounts of proteins that, when mixed with liquids, form gluten. Gluten, a necessary component in yeast-leavened breads, is a rubbery substance that gives structure and elasticity to doughs. The amount of gluten in the flour will affect the volume and tenderness of your breads. When your yeast dough is kneaded, the gluten forms a structured network that is responsible for capturing the gases produced by the yeast, allowing the dough to stretch and expand during rising.
Choosing the correct flour is important for making good bread. Flour isn’t just flour. There are two basic types of wheat grown in North America, hard and soft. Hard wheat has a higher level of protein, making it the wheat of choice for most yeast doughs. Soft wheat has a lower level of protein and is best suited for making pastries and cakes.
Types of Flour
There are two types of wheat flour:
1. White flours are milled from the endosperm or inner part of the wheat kernel.
- Bread flour is the preferred flour for yeast-leavened products. It is made from hard wheat and contains high amounts of the gluten-forming proteins.
- All-purpose flour is a blend of hard and soft wheat and contains lower amounts of the proteins that form gluten. It is the most versatile of all the wheat flours and can be used for cookies, cakes and pies. Yeast-leavened breads made with All-purpose flour tend to be smaller and more compact.
Some brands of All-purpose flour contain higher amounts of protein that would make them comparable to bread flour quality. Protein levels of around 12-14% are sufficient for yeast-leavened breads.
2. Whole grain flours are milled from the entire wheat kernel, which includes the bran and germ.
- Yeast breads baked with the whole grain flours (like whole wheat) are more compact and lower in volume than those made from white flour.
- The whole grain wheat flours form less gluten and are usually combined with bread flour to insure good volume and appearance in breads. You can substitute up to 50% of bread flour with the whole grain flour. Start substituting in whole grain flours with a lower percentage, working your way up as you make more breads. You will need to adjust your recipe, so take notes along the way.
- Whole grain wheat flours can be used alone, however, the loaves are heavier and denser, but have an excellent flavor.
- To compensate for the low bread volumes, other ingredients like eggs and cottage cheese can be added to help make the dough lighter, rise higher and have a better texture and taste.
Other flours used in bread making
- Rye flours are also used frequently in breads. Rye flours form less gluten than wheat flours, and are usually combined with a substantially larger amount of bread flour in order for the bread to rise. Rye flours are natural flours with no additives.
- Flours milled from other grains (such as buckwheat, corn, rice, barley, oat, and soy) are also used in yeast-leavened breads and other baked goods. These flours are not a variety of wheat flour nor do they contain any gluten. Nevertheless, small quantities may be substituted for bread flour to make a delicious, homey loaf.
- These flours add unique flavor, color and texture to breads generally associated with old-fashioned baking.
- Self-rising flour is an All-purpose flour that has baking soda and salt added. It is used for dumplings, biscuits and pancakes. Self-rising flour is never used in yeast breads.
Usage Tips for Flour
How to measure flour correctly
Flour is sifted many times before being packaged. During shipping, it settles and becomes compact. It is important not to dip the measuring cup into the flour bag; instead, scoop or spoon the flour lightly into a dry measuring cup. Do not tap or shake the cup to put more flour into it. Using the flat edge of a knife, scrape off the excess to make the flour even with the rim of the measuring cup. This method will assure an accurate measurement. Do not sift flour unless your recipe calls for it.
Moisture variences in your flour
In your recipes, flour usage can vary by up to 1/2 cup. Flour is like a sponge. It’s moisture content can vary because of differences in flour brands, protein levels, weather conditions, and how the flour has been stored.
- Higher protein flours absorb more liquid, so less flour is needed in. Lower protein flours absorb less liquid, so more flour is needed.
- In humid weather doughs may be more sticky as the flour absorbs moisture from the air; more flour may be needed in your recipe. Under dry conditions (or if flour is stored near heat), doughs may be drier as flour loses moisture to the air; less flour may be needed in your recipe.
KNOW YOUR DOUGH! Always start out using the lower amount of flour in the range suggested in your recipe, adding more in as needed during the mixing and kneading stage. Doughs that are too dry or too wet will not rise well. See the Mixing and Kneading section of our Baking Steps Guide for more information.
Storage Tips for Flour
- Store flour in an airtight container, in a cool, dry place away from heat. Flour can be refrigerated or frozen for long-term storage.
- Let flour come to room temperature before using.
- Whole grain flours and other varieties of flour have a higher amount of fat and should be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator or freezer to preserve its freshness and baking quality.
- Avoid storing flour in self-defrosting refrigerators, since they tend to dry out flour.