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There are dozens of types of flours available for various baking needs. Understanding the difference between these types of flour is important for all bakers, whether you’re making a chewy, stretchy loaf of levain or a pillowy slice of angel food cake. Learn more about cake flour and all-purpose flour and how to determine which is optimal for your next bake.



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What Is All-Purpose Flour?

All-purpose flour, also known as AP flour, is a mild-flavored white flour made from the endosperm of hard and soft wheat varieties. During the AP flour milling process, two wheat kernel components, bran and germ, are separated from the endosperm. These components contain oils which encourages spoilage—their removal during the milling process makes AP flour more shelf-stable than other whole-grain flours. You can use this type of flour in various sweet and savory applications, including layer cakes, chocolate chip cookies, muffins, quick breads, and gooey brownies, and making buttery crusts for chicken pot pie, dredging fish for frying, and thickening rich sauces and gravies.

What Is Cake Flour?

Cake flour is made from varieties of soft wheat—often soft red winter wheat—and has a low protein content (about six percent). Cake flour is ground extra-fine, which results in a lighter, loosely-structured crumb and fluffy texture. Cake flour is ideal for baked goods with a tender texture due its low gluten content, which makes it easier to achieve lighter, tender textures when baking delicate sponges, cupcakes, muffins, and pastries. For heartier baked goods, skip the cake flour and use a more substantial type of flour with a higher protein content. For example, baked goods that require a bit more structure, like pie crust, pound cakes, or breadsticks are a better match for pastry flour.

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What Is the Difference Between Cake Flour and All-Purpose Flour?

There are two main differences between cake flour and all-purpose flour:

  • Texture: The particle size, or granularity, of milled flour determines the flour’s ability to absorb water. The finer the particle, the greater its rate of absorption. Cake flour is ground extra fine, resulting in a particularly moist, tender crumb. Conversely, the texture of AP flour largely depends on whether it undergoes the bleaching process, which can soften the texture. Bleached AP flour has a finer, softer texture, while its unbleached counterpart has a tougher and denser texture.
  • Protein: Cake flour comes from soft wheat. This flour type has lower protein content and less gluten than AP flour, yielding a more delicate treat. All-purpose flour is made from a blend of soft and hard wheat, with 10 percent protein content, and work best for baked goods with denser textures.

Can You Substitute All-Purpose Flour for Cake Flour?

Yes, you can substitute all-purpose flour for cake flour when a cake recipe calls for it. When substituting a cup of all-purpose flour for a cup of cake flour, remove two tablespoons of AP flour and replace it with two tablespoons of cornstarch, which will prevent the formation of gluten to a similar effect. Sifting all-purpose flour will also help lend a more tender texture.

Even in the world of cakes, cake flour is not always the right flour for the job. Cakes with an abundance of wet ingredients (like carrot cake or banana bread) or dry ingredients (like cocoa powder) benefit from the relative strength of all-purpose flour to give it proper, balanced structure.


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