Master Of Bun: How To Choose The Right Flour

Photo by  Flood G./Flickr.

Bob's Red Mill, a specialty flour company, reports it sells more than 70 kinds of flours. King Arthur Flour, another favorite with bakers, sells 56. That's a lot of flour to sift through.

While we have no problem buying a cookie from our favorite bakery, choosing the right flour for every baking project can be a daunting task. So we turned to a few culinary experts in hopes of demystifying flour's many varieties.

Known for taking unique twists on nostalgic desserts, Brian Mercury, executive pastry chef at Harvest in Cambridge, Massachusetts, spends a great deal of time thinking about flour. He takes into consideration several qualities: flavor, texture, nutrition and end product. Mercury is a big fan of those lesser-known flours, which we'll also cover here. "Using alternate flours is a great way to add unexpected flavor to common recipes," he says.

We also consulted a pair of Boston chefs working to bring Venetian pasta to the south end of town at newly opened SRV. Co-executive chefs Kevin O'Donnell and Michael Lombardi are so flour-forward that they mill their own grains in-house.

Here's a rundown of the common flours you'll find easily in stores and some you might need to buy online, along with recipe suggestions and the best tips we've gleaned from our experts.

Flours with Gluten
All-purpose flour: This kitchen workhorse has a very high percentage of gluten, which is a form of protein. It also has the chemical composition that helps your edibles rise and gives them better elasticity. All-purpose flour can be bought both bleached and unbleached. O'Donnell and Lombardi always recommend unbleached flour when cooking at home. "While bleaching creates a softer texture, it loses the nuance and the original expression of the wheat," the chefs say. Flours with higher protein content are good for items that need a firmer structure and those you don't want to deflate. Try making popovers or this easy little apple galette.

Whole wheat flour: Made from the whole kernel of the wheat grain—bran, germ and endosperm—whole wheat flour is higher in dietary fiber than white flour and has a better nutritional profile. What it lacks is a high level of gluten. Because of this you might find it blended with all-purpose flour to make a better bread, porridge or cookie.

Semolina flour: Used for making pasta, this course grind has the highest gluten level of any durum wheat. It has a nutty, sweet flavor and typically a pale yellow color. Sprinkle it on a baking sheet (in place of cornmeal) to avoid items sticking or boil it for a warm breakfast cereal. You can also make this fennel and semolina cake, or try these dumplings.

Pastry flour: Also called cake flour, this low-protein flour is made for baking with other leavening agents, like baking powder and soda. Pastry flour makes your pastry light but crumbly. Think biscuits, piecrusts, brownies and cookies. This Southern-style biscuit recipe calls for all-purpose flour, but swap one cup plus two tablespoons of pastry flour for every cup of all-purpose flour, and you'll learn that you can safely replace ingredients.

Read the full story here. Written and published for Tasting Table.