Updated: Jul 31, 2020
Flour is quite the versatile substance, if you didn’t know. It’s been around since ancient times and shortly after the advent of agriculture it established itself as a cornerstone of most cuisines. Flour, much like the grains, cereals, and even beans that it can be created from, comes in many forms, each with their own uses and specializations. The main differentiation between flour varieties comes in their gluten content. In case you didn’t know (no shame if you didn’t), gluten is a type of plant-derived protein. To learn more about it, checkout a previous blog post here. In our case, we use all-purpose flour in our traditional all-butter crust as its protein content (ranging from 10% to 12%) and mixed composition of soft and hard wheat types lends itself perfectly to the flaky, full texture of pie crust.
Most people also use all-purpose flour when baking, especially if it’s something simple like cookies. The other varieties of flour, such as cake, bread, and whole wheat flour, serve their own unique purposes.
Cake Flour: As the name would suggest, cake flour is useful in the creation of cake and other cake-like pastries. The process of creating cake flour leaves it with a lower protein content than most of its peers, as well as weakening the aforementioned gluten present in the flour so it may absorb sugars and water more easily. This process is known as chlorinating, and if you want to learn more about it, you can do so here. As a result of this process, cake baked using cake flour has a tendency to be tender and...well, cakey.
Bread Flour: Again, it does what it says on the tin; bread flour makes bread better, to put it simply. Bread flour is made entirely out of hard wheat types, and it contains a high protein content of 12%-14%, which is vital to the chemistry of bread. The higher gluten content makes trapping air bubbles much easier, generating a stronger rise and a fluffier bread. Better yet, the higher-than-normal gluten protein content allows for more browning, allowing for that perfect, golden-brown color.
Whole Wheat Flour: Whole wheat is an interesting variety, with its creation including not just the starchy part of the wheat (like in the case of all-purpose flour), but instead grinding the entire kernel of the wheat. You’ve probably seen whole wheat bread or other whole wheat baked goods before; they tend to have a darker color and tend to be better for you, although whole wheat bread can be tougher than other bread at times. Same holds true for whole wheat flour and home-baked goods using it. It’s got a higher protein content (13%-14%) than regular all-purpose flour, although the bran and germ of the wheat hamper its glutenous properties and interactions with other compounds.
Fun Fact: As with most fine powders, flour is ridiculously flammable and can act as a potent explosive when suspended in air. There have been a couple of incidents throughout history of flour mills exploding due to the ignition of the suspended particles, with a particularly catastrophic incident occurring at a mill in Minneapolis that killed 22 people.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: “What if I’m allergic to gluten?” Well, no worries friend, because modern food sciences have found a way to allow you to consume bread once more, by getting the gluten OUT of flour! Wonders of modern technology, truly. Gluten-free flour does in fact exist. Gluten-free flour can be made from a wide variety of equally gluten-free plants, such as rice, potatoes, or even buckwheat. A compound known as xanthan gum, a type of sugar, is normally added to mimic gluten's chewiness in baked goods. This generally isn’t fully effective, however, as gluten-free baked goods (particularly bread) tend to have a flatter texture to them. Our gluten-free pie crust has a very similar texture to our traditional all-butter crust. The versatility of flour really cannot be understated. Its uses in baked goods and general cuisine are plentiful, and the forms it can take with help of a little science are equally so. Pretty cool stuff, huh?