All-purpose flour. What is it? Why is it termed “all-purpose” and can you really use it as such? What if I need to make a cake. Can I use all-purpose flour? What if I need to make bread? Does AP flour do the trick?
Okay, so what exactly is all-purpose flour?
All purpose flour is a blend of wheats, typically hard red winter wheat and soft red winter wheat. So what does that mean? And what is all this red wheat stuff, my flour is white!
The term “red” is coming from the color of the kernel, not the actual color of the end product ground from those kernels. To show you better, here’s an image of a grain of wheat:
According the Bob’s Red Mill site:
Red wheat has a slightly higher amount of protein which makes it better for more rustic, artisan and generally harder bread loaves. In contrast, hard white wheat’s more moderate level of protein makes for softer loaves such as your typical pan loaves and dinner rolls.
Most supermarket AP flours will have 10-12% protein. Compare this to the protein of cake flour 6-8%. In general, higher levels of protein mean a higher gluten level. Gluten is what gives the bread that chewy, elastic structure—something that is great in bread and rolls, but not in cookies or cakes.
You probably also noticed that all-purpose flour can be either bleached or unbleached, and enriched. Since the 1940’s, white flour has been enriched by adding folic acid, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin (three of the B vitamins), iron, calcium and vitamin D and it’s now a federal law that these things are added. They started doing this as flour production changed and the result was a finer, softer flour. So many nutrients are lost during flour production that some need to be added back in.
The bleached and unbleached terms are fairly self explanitory… or are they?
When flour is fresh milled it actually has a yellowish tint. Then the flour needs to be oxidized to become a uniformly white color. This process would also age the flour, improving the gluten proteins and helps them bond more easily when mixed. So rather then having to wait around for flour to age and oxidize, flour manufacturers take a short cut and bleach it.
So then unbleached flour is flour that has been naturally oxidized. It doesn’t mean, however, that their aren’t other additives, so just read the package and be aware of it if you are concerned about that.
So there you have it. All-purpose flour is good for lots of things, which is why it has it’s given name. You can make cakes with it, but be very careful not to over mix, as that will increase the gluten levels and make for a denser cake. It works well with most breads, but you may get better results with bread flour.
At Pacific Sourdough Bakery and on The Slice of Life show, we use Shepherd’s Grain unbleached flour. You can learn more about Shepherd’s Grain on their website: http://www.shepherdsgrain.com/
Shepherd’s Grain: http://www.shepherdsgrain.com/
America’s Test Kitchen: Baking Illustrated