Flour is pretty obvious baking essential. It provides the structure in baked goods. When you first start baking, you'll very quickly learn you need at least a couple of different types of flour in your pantry. When it comes to baking with flour, there are more choices than you think! Here we will take a look at two main types of flour and their subtypes.
Wheat flour is the most common flour used in baking. There are different types of wheat flour, and they're distinguished by the amount of gluten they contain.
Whole wheat flour is made from grinding all three portions of the seed head. Most of the common types of wheat flour (bread, pastry, etc.) are available as both white and whole wheat. Wheat's seed head (the top of the plant) is made from three portions: the germ, the bran, and the endosperm.
White wheat flour has been stripped of the bran and germ, leaving behind the fine, pale endosperm. It is more shelf-stable than whole wheat flour, but as a result, has a milder flavor and less nutritive qualities.
All-Purpose Flour contains just the seed head's endosperm, making it much more shelf-stable than whole wheat flour. Unfortunately, that also means that it contains less nutritious qualities, like fiber and protein.
Bread Flour. With a high protein content, bread flour is made from hard wheat and contains a higher amount of gluten than AP, which is made from softer wheat varieties. When worked by hand-kneading or processing with a dough hook in a stand mixer, the gluten is developed and contributes to a chewier consistency, which is desirable in artisan bread.
Pastry Flour - With a fine texture and lower protein content thanks to soft wheat varieties, pastry flour is the go-to for sweets for many serious bakers.
Cake Flour - Similar in protein level to pastry flour (about 8-9%), cake flour is milled to an ultra-fine consistency. It is also traditionally bleached. Bleaching slightly damages the flour's starches, allowing them to absorb more liquid and rise higher—an ideal quality in lofty cakes.
Although there are dozens of alternative flours available, we'll focus here on the most common. When experimenting with new or unfamiliar flours, use tested recipes for the best result.
Spelt flour - Although spelt is technically a form of wheat, it is often considered in the "alternative" flour guide. It's an ancient grain, and many with sensitivity to conventional wheat products find they're able to more naturally digest spelt. It has a mild nuttiness, natural sweetness, and is relatively easy to work with.
Rye flour is a grain, although not a subset of wheat. It has a tangy flavor and natural gumminess when processed.
Buckwheat - Naturally gluten-free, buckwheat flour is blue in hue and has a very nutty flavor. It absorbs lots of moisture, so adjust accordingly when baking—the batter may require extra liquid.
Barley flour has a natural maltiness in flavor and is low in gluten. Speck recommends letting doughs and batters made with barley flour (and, actually, all whole grain flours) sit overnight. The rest period will soften the bran, make the product more comfortable to work with, and round out the flavors.
Rice flour has a granular, coarse texture and is gluten-free. Combine it with softer, finer oat flour for a more malleable dough.
Oat flour - Made from ground oats, this flour has a superfine and fluffy texture. It is sweet, with one of the most approachable "whole grain" flavors.
Amaranth flour - This intensely nutty and very dense flour can be challenging to work with, but has a complex flavor.
Nut Flours - Made simply from pulverized nuts, these are easy to DIY with a food processor. They can be very powdery, and, of course, contain no gluten. Most common is almond flour, also known as "almond meal."