About flour

Why do we need it and what types of flour are there?

Nov 26, 2020
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Most people don't think about the necessity of flour. But what happens if you replace it in a recipe? Or maybe even exclude it, because almost everybody just screams about the dangers of gluten? Only a few people know that there are different types of flour, and that’s the reason why the texture of ciabatta is so different from the texture of biscuits. Interesting? Then read on!

Flour is a foundation of almost all baked goods; without flour baked goods would not be able to hold shape. The amount of protein (gluten) in wheat flour and, as a result, gluten forming capabilities make it the most common flour used in baking. Further we will focus on wheat flour.

Wheat flour can be divided into 2 main categories based on the amount of protein (gluten) present - high protein content (stronger, springier and elastic gluten network can be developed) and low protein content (less gluten forming capabilities, create weaker network). Type of flour used in a particular formula plays a huge role in the product’s characteristics and has an impact on the result.

High-protein flour (strong)

It is used for products that need to be slightly chewy. For example, bread, bagels and pasta.
When using this flour, the dough rises much better, as it allows you to form a stronger and more elastic gluten network that can trap more bubbles of gas released by the yeast. You can read more about this process in the post "Why the dough rises".
The dough, that is prepared using this flour, must be kneaded for a long time until an elastic and homogeneous ball is formed which does not stick either to the table or to the hands. If you skip this step, the dough won’t be prepared properly and the texture may be poor - there will be several large holes in the finished product.

Low-protein flour (weak)

It is used for products with more crumbly, tender and delicate texture. For example, cakes, scones or shortbread cookies.
Less gluten is formed in the dough when using this flour so, as a result, weaker gluten networks are formed.
The dough that is prepared using this flour shouldn’t be kneaded for a long time. If you overdo it when kneading cake dough or muffin dough, the prepared baked goods will be too dense and tough. And if you don’t mix the cake dough enough, then it can potentially collapse during baking. There should be a measure in everything ;)


Such kind of flour will be perfect for:

All purpose flour

There is another type of flour most commonly used in home baked goods - all purpose flour. With it, almost any dough will be perfectly cooked, the main thing is to knead the dough properly.

Should you replace flour in a recipe?

In most cases, you can’t just take and replace flour without any consequences. For example, bread requires flour with a high protein content and, if you replace it, the bread won’t be suitable for baking and will be more crumbly. This is due to the fact that flour with a high protein content allows you to form a stronger gluten network that can trap more carbon dioxide from the yeast. For a cake, on the contrary, flour with a reduced protein content is required, it should be enough to keep the baked goods in shape, but at the same time remain light and tender.

Why else do we need flour?
In addition to the above, flour performs several other important basic roles:
  • helps to bind liquids and fats,
  • helps to evenly distribute ingredients in batters and doughs,
  • flour contains sugars and starches which provide food to yeast, yeast converts them into alcohol and carbon dioxide; carbon dioxide, in its turn, causes dough to rise,
  • starch molecules in flour have potential to absorb liquids and fats, that is why flour is often used to thicken pastry items, for example, pie fillings, custards and puddings.