I love baking with whole grains, and I even mill most of my flour from whole grain berries, but you probably grew up using all-purpose flour (I did too!). Understanding what all-purpose flour is, how to use it in your transition to whole grain baking, and why it’s better to make yours at home, can really change the way you bake. Combining whole grains with all-purpose flour can make dishes more nutritious while making them easier for picky-eaters or those who are brand-new to whole grains.
But, what is all-purpose flour? As the name suggests, it’s a go-to for many baking recipes. Made from a mix of hard and soft wheat, all-purpose flour boasts a gluten content around 12 percent, making it suitable for a wide range of baked goods like pizza doughs, crusty breads, pie crusts, cakes, cookies, and pancakes.
It’s available in both bleached and unbleached varieties, with the latter being my personal preference. Unbleached all-purpose flour provides more structure in baked goods and retains a bit more of the wheat’s natural essence.
It’s widely available in grocery stores across the United States and is an incredibly economical way to bake. You can get a LOT of cookies, loaves of bread, and more for the price of a store-bought convenience food!
Is “all-purpose flour” the same as “white flour”? It depends. In my life people typically use these interchangeably, even though “white flour” can mean bread flour, pastry flour, or even self-rising flour. Any “white flour” typically refers to any commercially milled flour that is white in appearance.
All-purpose flour basics
All-purpose flour is a versatile ingredient that’s often found in kitchens around the world. It’s made from a combination of different wheats to really create a “middle of the road” flour that makes it all-purpose.
All-purpose flour is made from a mix of both hard and soft wheat. This blend provides it with the necessary balance of protein and starch, making it ideal for different types of baking. You can find all-purpose flour in both bleached and unbleached varieties. Unbleached contains more of the wheat’s natural nutrients and flavor while bleached flour undergoes a process to whiten and soften its texture, which can be useful for making tender cakes and pastries.
The protein content of all-purpose flour is typically around 12 percent, which sits right in the middle of the protein spectrum when compared to other types of flour. This balance is essential because it gives all-purpose flour the strength to hold up in bread and dough recipes while maintaining the tenderness needed for delicate pastries and cakes.
Hard wheat has a higher protein content, providing more gluten and elasticity, while soft wheat has less protein, resulting in a more delicate texture.
This is where all-purpose flour starts to lose a lot of people, which is in the nutrition department. Even adding 50% of whole grain to a recipe can boost the nutritional value of what you’re making while still keeping the familiarity of baking with white flour.
White flour has the nutritious bran and germ removed and is usually just the endosperm. It also can have chemicals added to it, so be careful of what brand you’re using.
In a 100 g (or 3.5 oz) serving of all-purpose flour, you’ll find:
|Amount per 100g
|– Saturated Fat
|– Monounsaturated Fat
|– Polyunsaturated Fat
|Vitamins & Minerals
|– Vitamin B6
The versatility of all-purpose flour makes it an option for:
- Bread and pizza dough: All-purpose flour’s medium gluten content provides the necessary structure and elasticity for bread and pizza dough to rise.
- Cakes, cookies, and pastries: All-purpose flour creates a tender crumb in cakes and cookies, and its balanced protein content allows for flaky and crisp pastry crusts.
- Pancakes and waffles: The mix of hard and soft wheat in all-purpose flour helps create a light and fluffy texture in pancakes and waffles.
- General cooking: All-purpose flour is great for thickening sauces, coating proteins in a breading, and more.
Making all-purpose flour at home
What? You can make all-purpose flour at home? I know, crazy, right? It was years after I started making bread at home that I realized this.
Knowing how to make all-purpose flour at home is helpful, especially if you prefer a specialty flour like Einkorn or Kamut but want to make it “softer” for cookies, cakes, and other more delicate baked goods.
Homemade all-purpose four, which its actually tan in color, is different than commercially refined white flour which is typically only 75% of the original wheat that entered the mill.
- What has been removed? The most nutritious part of the grain, the bran and germ
- What has been added? Chlorine, nitrogen oxide, acetone, peroxide, ascorbic acid, and potassium bromate are just a few chemicals that are used to brighten, moisten, condition, aerate, preserve, sweeten, and add flavor that is lost from the removal of the bran and germ
Making your own all-purpose flour ensures that you don’t get any of these added ingredients, but remember, there is a learning curve when switching to whole grains as you have to learn to work with the individual grains.
First, you can make all-purpose flour from any whole grain. creating “All-Purpose Einkorn Flour” or “All-Purpose Spelt Flour” .. and the list goes on and on.
To achieve the right balance, you can even mix different types of flours together. (Another “what?!” moment for me to figure out!) For example, you can try combining equal parts of wheat and barley flour. Alternatively, you can use just one type of flour, such as whole wheat, and adjust the recipe slightly to accommodate the change in texture. Remember that whole-grain flours tend to be heavier and denser than refined flours, so you might need to add more liquid to your recipe when using them.
Tips for success
- Measure accurately: Make sure to measure your flours precisely when combining them. This will help achieve the right texture and consistency in your baking.
- Use a sifter: Sifting the flour will help improve its texture, make it lighter, and get rid of any lumps. This is particularly important when working with whole-grain flours, which can be coarser and heavier compared to refined flours.
- Store properly: Once you have made your all-purpose flour, store it in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. This will help maintain its freshness and quality.
- Make small batches: Homemade all-purpose flour might not have the same shelf life as store-bought flour, so make smaller batches that you can use up within a few weeks.
How to make your own all-purpose flour
- Step 1: Pour flour through a fine sieve into a bowl. What filter’s through is homemade “white” or all-purpose flour, which will actually be tan in color. What is left behind in the sieve is nutrition wheat bran
- Step 2: Store the wheat bran in the refrigerator or freezer and use for the bottom of pizza, coating breads, or toppings on muffins or loaves
So, that’s how I make all-purpose flour in my own kitchen. It’s a simple process that enables me to have control over the types and combinations of flours I use in my baking.
As a baking enthusiast, I enjoy exploring different types of flours that can be used as alternatives to all-purpose flour. In this section, I’ll share some information on whole wheat flour, bread flour, pastry flour, and some gluten-free options.
Whole wheat flour
I usually bake with whole wheat flour. It’s made from the entire wheat kernel, providing more fiber, vitamins, and minerals than all-purpose flour. It can be used in various recipes, from bread to cookies. However, the texture might be denser due to its higher protein content.
To counter this, I usually mix it 50/50 with store-bought all-purpose flour or sift it before using.
Store-bought bread flour is another alternative that I like to use when making yeasted bread. It has a higher protein content than all-purpose flour, making it suitable for creating a chewy texture and supporting high-rising doughs.
Although it’s not ideal for delicate baked goods like cakes or pastries, it can be combined with softer flours to create a suitable all-purpose flour substitute.
For lighter baked goods such as cakes and pastries, you can use pastry flour. It’s made from soft wheat and has a lower protein content than all-purpose flour, resulting in tender, delicate textures. In a pinch, pastry flour can be used as a substitute for all-purpose flour, but the final product may be softer and crumblier.
When I got married to my husband, a native Texan, I was introduced to self-rising flour, which is more common in the South and Southeastern parts of the United States. Self-rising flour is just all-purpose flour with baking powder and salt already mixed in.
I love using self-rising flour for biscuits, although it’s easy to make if you don’t have any on-hand. Just use this formula: for every 1 cup of all-purpose flour, add 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder and 1/4 teaspoon fine salt.
If I’m baking for someone with gluten sensitivity or intolerance, I explore various gluten-free flours. Some popular options include:
- Amaranth flour: Ground from the amaranth seed, it’s a sticky dough that can be tricky but delicious.
- Cassava flour: I baked exclusively with cassava while I was on an AIP restricted diet and found some success, but it can be very dense and takes some time to adjust when coming from wheat.
- Almond flour: Made from ground almonds, it adds a nutty flavor and is perfect for low-carb or paleo-friendly recipes.
- Coconut flour: Made from dried, ground coconut flesh, it has a mild coconut flavor and is usually used in smaller quantities due to its high fiber content.
- Rice flour: A mild-tasting flour made from ground rice, it’s suitable for many baked goods and can be combined with other flours for an improved texture.
Each gluten-free flour has its unique properties, so finding the perfect combination might require some experimentation. But in the end, these alternatives can give you delicious and nutritious results.
Storage and shelf life
I always make sure to store my all-purpose flour in a cool and dry place, as it helps prolong its shelf life. Using an airtight container is my go-to method (I use food-grade buckets) for keeping flour fresh, since it prevents any moisture or insects from getting in. If you’re using the original paper package, it’s a good idea to transfer your flour to an airtight container as soon as you open it.
When it comes to shelf life, all-purpose flour typically lasts for around 7 to 8 months if stored properly. However, various factors can influence its longevity, such as the room temperature where it’s stored, the cleanliness of the storage area, and the type of container being used.
White flour varieties, such as all-purpose flour, usually have a longer shelf life compared to whole wheat or gluten-free flours. This is mainly due to their lower fat content, which makes them less prone to spoilage.
Frequently asked questions
Can I use self-rising flour instead of all-purpose?
It’s not always ideal to use self-rising flour in place of all-purpose flour. Self-rising flour contains a leavening agent, typically baking powder, and salt, which can affect the taste and texture of your baked goods. However, if you’re in a pinch and don’t mind the adjustments, you can substitute 1 cup of self-rising flour for 1 cup of all-purpose flour, minus 2 teaspoons of baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon of salt.
Is there a difference between plain and all-purpose flour?
There isn’t a significant difference between plain and all-purpose flour. They are both medium-gluten flours, typically with a protein content of around 10-12%. Plain flour is more commonly used in the UK, while all-purpose is a popular term in the US. In most recipes, you can use these two types of flour interchangeably.
What can I use as a substitute for all-purpose flour?
If you need a substitute for all-purpose flour, you have several options. For general baking, you can use cake flour or pastry flour, which have a lower protein content, or bread flour, which has a higher protein content. For gluten-free alternatives, you can use a gluten-free all-purpose flour mix, almond flour, or coconut flour, but keep in mind that these alternatives may require adjustments in the recipe to achieve the desired texture.
Is all-purpose flour the same as maida or atta?
All-purpose flour is similar to maida in terms of protein content and usage. Maida, an Indian flour variety, is also made from wheat and is used for baking a variety of breads and pastries. Atta, however, is a whole wheat flour that contains bran and germ, which makes it healthier and more fiber-rich than all-purpose or maida flours. Keep in mind that using atta in recipes that call for all-purpose or maida flours will result in a denser and slightly nuttier end product.
How does all-purpose flour compare to wheat flour?
All-purpose flour and wheat flour have different characteristics that affect their baking properties. All-purpose flour is made from a blend of hard and soft wheat and has a medium protein content, making it versatile for many baked goods. In contrast, wheat flour comes in various varieties, including whole wheat, which has a higher protein and fiber content due to the presence of bran and germ. In general, using wheat flour instead of all-purpose flour will result in a denser, more robust texture in your baked goods.
What is the difference between all-purpose flour and bread flour?
The main difference between all-purpose and bread flour is the protein content. While all-purpose flour has a protein content of around 10-12%, bread flour typically contains 12-14%, making it stronger and more elastic. This higher protein content results in more gluten development, which gives breads their signature chewy texture. If you’re making yeast-based bread or rolls, it’s usually better to use bread flour for the best results. However, all-purpose flour can still be used in many bread recipes with acceptable results.