We are talking about flour today – an essential ingredient in baking. Lots of terms, names and uses can confuse a beginner baker so I am breaking down the only type of flours you need to know about, their uses along with frequently asked questions.
What are the different type of flours?
Generally speaking, flour is referred to anything that is grounded finely. Now broadly speaking, there are two type of flours:
- one that is made from wheat (or its variations like durum, rye etc.)
- one that is made from non-wheat sources (like vegetables and nuts)
Types of Flour
To understand different type of flours, specially those that comes from wheat, it is vital to understand three components of wheat grain – Bran, Endosperm and Germ. Bran can have several other layers but lets keep it simple and understand that different type of flours will have a varying combination of these three components. It is also the reason of protein percentage but more on that later.
All-Purpose Flour or Plain Flour
In Pakistan, India and other South Asian countries, All-purpose flour (APF) is called Maida (in Urdu).
This is the most common type of flour in baking. APF/ Plain flour is usually 10-12% protein, ideal for 80% of your baking needs. This makes it perfect for baking cakes, cookies, pies and breads. If you bake significantly, get a good quality brand and buy in bulk.
Apart from Maida/ All-purpose flour/ Plain flour, there are following type of flours:
Whole-wheat Flour/ Brown Flour
It is also called Aata (in Urdu) in Pakistan and is not as refined as Maida because more germ and bran is added. It is considered more nutritious and has higher protein content.
With higher protein content from 12-14%, it is the strongest of flours, and gives the required strength to bread while stretching & folding and chewy texture after baking.
I normally switch between above three kinds- mostly all purpose and whole wheat. However, there are other kinds of flour as well:
This type of flour has lighter texture (8-10% protein). It can be easily substituted with some of the all-purpose flour replaced with corn flour.
I never use it but just for information, it is regular all-purpose flour with leavening agents and salt.
In general, if anything is made from non-perishable ingredients (without meat, dairy etc.), it can be stored at room temperature for a couple of days – covered, preferably in an air-tight container. Products with whole-wheat can go stale/ moldy or catch fungus more easily specially in hot and humid conditions. For long term storage, its best to freeze the item, well wrapped.
This is the most common question: I always say these three things:
– Know that home-made is better than store brought; you are already skipping all the artificial preservatives, flavors, colors and additives, which are merely harmful chemicals to prolong shelf life.
– first make the recipe with whatever flour is recommended then usually you can substitute half of the all-purpose with other flours – oats and wholewheat are my favorite substitutions.
– know that whole-wheat flour will add density and a little heaviness to the final product, which might be ok for pies, tarts, cookies, breads and flavored cakes but not for sponges, vanilla cakes and other lighter cakes.
– try making oats flour at home by grinding whole oats into fine powder, my personal favorite to substitute with all purpose flour.
In dry weather places, room temperature works just fine in an airtight container. In humid conditions, however, large quantities of flour can be stored in fridge’s vegetable section.
Bleached flour is made by adding a whitening chemical to the flour, which although a very small amount, is totally unnecessary so its best to get hold of un-bleached flour.
A couple of reasons:
1. By sifting, you incorporate more air, recommended for light sponges and cakes.
2. To remove impurities, any lumps or particles
Non – Wheat Flour
So let’s move on to the flour types, which are made from nuts and vegetables:
Also known as Besan (in Urdu) is the ground flour from yellow lentil (split brown chickpeas), widely used in Pakistani cooking. My favorite way in using besan in baking is to make these scrumptious, melt-in-mouth Pakistani version of shortbread – Besan Naan Khatai.
Note: It is similar to chickpea flour which is made from chickpeas or garbanzo (safaid channay or cholay).
Made from blanched, peeled almonds, this is the main ingredient in Macarons and other gluten-free baking.
Note: Almond meal is usually made from ground almonds, with skin.
Made from corns, this is also confused with corn starch. Corn flour is made from grinding yellow corn while corn starch is used as thickening agent made from starchy part of corn kernels.
I use it for my Red Velvet Cake to mimic cake flour.
Made from rice, it is a great flour to add crispness to baked products, specially shortbread.