Flour is a important and dominate ingredient in the pastry kitchen. By grinding up seeds, cereal grains, roots, or nuts, a powder is formed, thus flour is born. Flour is made up of complex carbohydrates and starches, giving its products structure and form. Flour is classified by which variety of wheat it is milled, the location, and growing conditions. There are strong flours, which have a higher protein content, and weak flours, which have a lower protein content.
A brief overview on popular American flours:
-Bleached versus Unbleached white flour: When flour has been treated with chemicals, it will be labeled "bleached." Bleached flour has less protein than unbleached flour. Some bakers like bleached flour to make their pastries "extra white." I, on the other hand, do not like using bleached flour in any of my products. All purpose flour is a combination of cake and pastry flours.
-Bread Flour: has a higher protein content (13-14%) and is used primary in bread production. Bread flour will have a trace amount of malted barely flour, which helps yeast do its job in the bread making role!
-Cake Flour: Used when making cakes and fine pastries that require little gluten activity. Cake flour has a protein content around 8% and naturally is a pure white color.
-Pastry Flour: Another low portein flour (about 9%) yet a bit "stronger" than cake flour. Mainly used in cookies, quick breads, and some cakes.
-High Gluten Flour: This flour has a high protein content, 14%, and is used for pizza crusts and bagels.
-Whole wheat Flour: Made by the entire wheat kernel (where are the nutrients are located; white flour only uses about 75% of the wheat kernel) and is a "heavier" than white flour. Used for all baked items in the pastry kitchen and for healthier baked goods.
There are many other flours in the pastry world, esp. for gluten-free baking. Just like buying a good pot roast, buying quality flour is essential because it is the structure behind the baked good. Know about your flour! Happy Baking!