Kitchen Tips

Flour power: everything you need to know about the different flours for cooking and baking

Do you know your self-raising from your plain? Your spelt from your wheat? We've got everything you need to know, and which choice is the best for your recipe.

Wheat flour

Wheaten flour has been around for tens of thousands of years. It consists mainly of protein and starches that together form the structure and backbone of most baked goods. Other flours simply don’t have the same properties as flour made from wheat. It takes a mixture of different flours with varying properties to come close to the results you get from wheaten flour.

Can I substitute gluten-free flour for wheat flour in any recipe?

Unfortunately, no. Sometimes a direct substitute will work, other times it won’t. You’ll need to use specifically tested gluten-free recipes.

Bread flour

Bread flour is simply stronger – that is, it has more gluten – than the regular wheat flour available at supermarkets for general use in cakes and biscuits. It goes under various names – strong, bakers, bread-mix or gluten-enriched flour. It’s available in some supermarkets and in health food stores, as well as shops that carry specialist ingredients. Bread flour is perfect for yeast doughs used to make bread and pizzas. The flour used for making bread in electric bread makers is bread flour.

Spelt

Spelt is a cereal grain that has been used for centuries in European countries. It contains a slightly higher amount of protein than wheat flour and has a nutty flavour. Some people find it easier to digest than wheat flour. Health food stores stock it, and you can use it as a substitute for wheat flour in recipes. However, as the results will be slightly different it’s probably wise to use recipes that have been tested using spelt flour.

Replacing white flour with wholemeal flour

Use half and half (to start with) white to wholemeal, you might have to add a little more liquid. However, there is no magic formula for substitution. You can increase the wholemeal flour, but so much depends on the textures that you like in cakes, cookies, breads, etc.

Cornflour

Cornflour, also known as cornstarch in the U.S., can be made from either wheat (labelled as wheaten cornflour) or corn (maize). Wheaten cornflour has marginally more gluten in it – which helps to form a crust on baked goods such as cakes, biscuits, muffins, etc. They can generally be substituted for each other, the results will be only slightly different. People who have a gluten intolerance should use 100% corn (maize) cornflour.

Both flours work well in cornflour sponges. However, we think the wheaten cornflour gives marginally better results.

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