Types of Flour

Most of us would describe "flour" as fine powder, made from wheat, which we use in cooking. However, depending on the wheat and the blending processes used by millers, it is now possible to buy different types of flour, each with a different purpose. No longer must the home baker use just one type of flour for all baking needs. The intended use of the various types of flour on sale is usually listed on the packet.

To ensure that the best type of flour for a particular end use is provided, flour millers produce different types of flour for cake/biscuit making, for bread making, for household use, and pasta production. A lot of care is taken before the milling process begins to ensure that wheats have been tested to determine their best potential end use.

Some wheat is eaten in grain form and whole wheat can be flaked, shredded or treated in some other way to make breakfast cereals or muesli bars. Softened, malted or kibbled grain is often incorporated into baked products.

Flour can also be separated into its major components, gluten (protein) and starch. Wheat starch is used primarily as a thickening agent for soups, gravies, puddings, spreads and various other products. Gluten protein is often added to wheat flour to improve bread making quality, and it can also be used as a base for making various vegetarian foods.

A flour specification is a list of quality standards that a flour must meet, for example, moisture content 14-15% and protein content 10-11.5%. Bakers can write a flour specification for the quality of flour they want to buy. The flour specification that a bakery prefers may not work as well foar another bakery, event if both make the same type of product, due to different combinations of processing equipment, ovens and recipes which make each bakery unique.

Wholemeal/white flour

All of the flours listed can be found as wholemeal and white. Wholemeal flour contains all parts of the wheat grain including the outer layers of bran and the germ. White flour contains only the inner portion of the grain called the endosperm. Often when using wholemeal flour more water needs to be added to the recipe because the bran absorbs more water than the white portion of the grain.

Bread making flour

Bread making flour is made from a semi-hard wheat with a medium to high protein content. This type of flour is referred to as a strong flour. When water is mixed into the flour two of the flour proteins combine to form gluten. It is gluten which forms a network that will stretch as the dough ferments and carbon dioxide gas is released. On baking this stretched gluten network sets to give the structure and texture to bread. Strong flour is needed to ensure that sufficient gluten is formed to produce bread of good volume and appearance.

Flour for pastry

Puff pastry should also be made from flour with a high protein content as it is the water absorbed by the gluten that, with the folded-in fat, forms the layers and makes the pastry puff up during baking. For pastry, use the same type of flour that you would use for making bread.

Flour for cakes and biscuits

The ideal flour for making most cakes and biscuits has a lower protein content than bread making flour and is milled from soft wheat varieties. The protein needed to form the structure of cakes and biscuits is not from the flour used but from other ingredients such as egg. Use of cake flour gives a tender soft product as the gluten in the flour does not contribute significantly to the cake structure. If flour that is too strong is used the resultant cakes will be tough and dry and biscuits will not spread out when baked.

Self-raising/Self-rising flours

These are made by combining biscuit flours with chemical aerating agents similar to baking powder. The aerating agents cause batters to rise when heated. The flour and raising agents are sifted together many times to ensure even distribution and consistent product quality. Self-raising flour is ideal for making scones and pikelets. Note: plain flour should be used on the bench to pat out scones to avoid a bitter after-taste.

Storing flour

When storing flours there are a few pointers that should be observed. To ensure the flour is always at its best for use store in a cool, dry cupboard, preferably in an airtight container.

Flour is always readily available so it should only be brought in quantities that will last a maximum of two to three months. This is particularly applicable to wholemeal flour which contains the germ part of the grain as this can go rancid with time. If it is necessary to store flour for extended periods of time we recommend that the flour is kept in the freezer. It is better not to mix new flour with old if you are not using the flour regularly. Make sure bags are secure to prevent infestation by the flour moth or beetle.