Kitchen Essentials – Flour
Have you noticed lately how many different types of flours are for sale in any given supermarket? Except for the obvious grain differences (rice, corn, wheat), flour is flour isn’t it? Take a close look at the labels on those bags of flour and you might see terms like hard wheat, soft wheat, high gluten, no gluten, high-medium-and-low protein, unbleached, and on and on.
The type of flour you choose depends entirely on what you plan to do with it. It is possible to get flour happy and stock your pantry with every type available. But most people rely on good old all-purpose wheat flour. As the name suggests, it will give you great cookies, muffins, biscuits, cakes, and pie crusts. If you find that you bake a lot of pies or cakes, then you’d probably be wise to invest in a few bags of specialty flour. Here’s a break-down of the different types of flours and their qualities.
• Pastry flour is made from wheat and has been specially formulated to contain a mid-level protein content. Since there are fewer proteins to bind together, it will produce tender pie crusts. If you’ve promised your family and friends pies but find you’re all out of pastry flour, you can mix up your own by combining one part cornstarch and two parts all-purpose flour.
• Cake flour, also made from wheat, contains very little protein. If you’re interested in a completely natural product, you should know that cake flour is always bleached with chlorine. This process improves the strength of the dough, and makes it withstand longer mixing times. It’s perfect for professional bakers and industrial mixers. For the home baker, all-purpose unbleached flour is an excellent substitute.
• Whole wheat flour contains all of the nutrients found in the wheat kernel and results in dense, hearty baked goods. Use it just as you would all-purpose flour.
• Self-rising flour is used for quick breads, biscuits, muffins, and pancakes. It already contains baking powder, so don’t add any other leavening agents.
Most people think of flour as being derived from wheat. When in fact, flour can be ground from anything, even nuts and seeds. Some specialty types are: spelt, amaranth, arrowroot, barley, buckwheat, chickpea, corn, kamut, nuts, oats, potato, quinoa, rice, rye, soy, spelt, tapioca, teff, wheat, fruit and vegetables. Most of these specialty grains are perfect for people with a gluten sensitivity or allergy. June’s Tidings Cooking Challenge serves up a recipe for Strawberry-Cabernet Pie that uses a new type of flour ground from dried grape skins.
The next time you bake up a storm, try mixing in one or two different types of flours for an added twist.