Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Wheat and Flour Varieties

There are so many flour varieties that it can make one's head explode trying to figure them out. With this post I am only looking at Wheat flours. I have been trying to come up with a way to add more whole grains to our diet but whole wheat flour can be really dense and can change a recipe greatly. All purpose flour lacks the nutrients of whole wheat but is so much easier to use. Then you add things like cake flour and bread flour and I just want to curl up and cry.
So for your sake but mostly mine, I thought it was time to figure it all out. I did a google search with the hope of finding a perfect explanation but it didn't happen. I am using King Arthur Flour's site for some information and may have to google each flour as I go for more information.
Growing up in wheat country I have learned there are 4 basic types of wheat in American flours - Hard Red Spring Wheat, Hard Red Winter Wheat, Hard White Wheat and Soft White Wheat. I don't quite understand what the difference is between the two hard red wheats but they seem to have different properties. There are more varieties of wheat than just these 4 but they are the ones that seem to be used for most wheat flours.
All Purpose Flour is made from hard red winter wheat. The outside parts of the wheat are stripped leaving only the endosperm when ground. This makes the flour easy to use but not overly nutritious. There are two types of AP flour - bleached and unbleached. I can't explain the bleaching process but when possible I choose unbleached because it's just one less process the wheat goes through before becoming flour.
Bread Flour is made from hard red spring wheat. It has a higher protein content than AP flour making it produce more gluten which in turn produces a better bread. The gluten makes dough rise more and produces a chewier product (in a good way). You can "make" your own bread flour by adding gluten flour to AP flour but I don't have a ratio for you.
Cake Flour is produced from the endosperm of soft white wheat. This makes the flour very low in protein/gluten giving cakes a softer lighter texture. It's also ground finer than AP flour.
Pastry Flour is like cake flour but not as finely ground.
Whole Wheat Flour is ground hard red wheat that has all three layers in place. It can be used for any recipe but does require extra liquid.
Whole White Wheat Flour is made from hard white wheat that is ground whole. I have found that it works just like AP flour but has a higher nutritional value and more fiber.
Graham Flour is whole wheat flour that is more coarsely ground and is used in making graham crackers as well as other baked goods.
Self-Rising Flour is AP flour that has had a leavening added such as baking powder. It's in between AP flour and a biscuit mix and allows the baker to cut out the leavening.

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