The Ultimate Flour Guide for Baking

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A guide for how to use the most common types of flour for baking and cooking. Learn about the role of gluten in the texture development of your favorite foods. Gain helpful tips on how to select flours for recipes.

All your questions are about to be answered. Well, I meant questions about flour. Buckle up, ‘cause this is going to be a long ‘ride’

Type of FlourProtein PercentageDescription
All-Purpose Flour/ Medium Flour10 – 12 %If a recipe calls simply for “flour,” it’s calling for all-purpose flour. Milled from a mixture of soft and hard wheat, all-purpose flour is a staple among staples. While not necessarily good for all purposes, it is the most versatile of flours, capable of producing flaky pie crusts, fluffy biscuits, and chewy bread. A-P flour is sold bleached or unbleached; the two are largely interchangeable, but it’s always best to match your flour to your recipe.
Cake Flour/ Low Protein Flour/ Superfine Flour5 – 8 %The relative lack of gluten-forming proteins makes cake flour ideal for tender baked goods, such as cakes (of course), but also biscuits, muffins, and scones. Cake flour is generally chlorinated, a bleaching process that further weakens the gluten proteins and, just as important, alters the flour’s starch to increase its capacity to absorb more liquid and sugar, and thus ensure a moist cake.
Pastry Flour8 – 9 %An unbleached flour made from soft wheat, with protein levels somewhere between cake flour and all-purpose flour.
Pastry flour strikes the ideal balance between flakiness and tenderness, making it perfect for pies, tarts, and many cookies.
To make your own pastry flour, mix together 1 1/3 cups A-P flour and 2/3 cup cake flour.
Bread Flour / High Protein Flour12 – 14 %Bread flour is the strongest of all flours, providing the most structural support. This is especially important in a yeasted bread, where a strong gluten network is required to contain the carbon dioxide gases produced during fermentation. The extra protein doesn’t just make for better volume and a chewier crumb; it also results in more browning in the crust. Bread flour can be found in white or whole wheat, bleached or unbleached. Unbleached all-purpose flour can generally be substituted for bread flour with good results.
Self Raising FlourFlour to which baking powder and salt have been added during milling. Self-rising flour is generally made from the low-protein wheat traditionally grown in the South. It’s best for tender biscuits, muffins, pancakes, and some cakes. Self-rising flour is best stored tightly wrapped in its original box and used within six months of purchase — longer than that and the baking powder in it begins to lose its oomph.
Whole Wheat FlourDuring milling, the wheat kernel is separated into its three components: the endosperm, the germ (the embryo), and the bran (the outer coating).In whole-wheat flours, varying amounts of the germ and bran are added back into the flour. Whole-wheat flour tends to be high in protein, but its gluten-forming ability is compromised by the bran and germ — just one of the reasons whole-wheat flour tends to produce heavier, denser baked goods such as cookies, bread, waffles, scones, pizza dough, Pasta
Gluten-Free FlourThere is a wide variety of gluten-free flours available today, made from all sorts of grains, nuts, and starches. Some of the most widely available are based on rice flour blended with tapioca and potato starch. A small proportion of xanthan gum is sometimes added to help stimulate the chewiness normally associated with gluten.
A substitution for gluten-free flour : 500g of gluten free flour: 240g brown rice powder + 100g potato starch + 40g rice flour + 30g tapioca flour + 1 teaspoon xanthan gum

1. All Purpose Flour

Image Credit : redtick

Tell me about it.

In the world of flour, this is the basic ‘you-know-what’. It is plain flour made by grinding soft and hard wheat. The protein content is about 11%, giving it a medium fine to rough texture in baked goods.

When do I use it?

It is used for making a multitude of baking goods such as bread, cakes, tarts, Chinese dim sum such as pau, mantou, dumpling skins. Basically any baked goods that needs a little strength.

Any substitutes for it?

If you are talking about pau or mantou, you can substitute it with Hong Kong Flour – which we will talk about a bit more later.

On the other hand, if you want to make bread, you can use any other high-protein content flour.

2. Self-Rising Flour

Image Credit : tesco

Tell me about it.

It is called self-rising for a reason, it rises without the presence of leaving agents. This is because it already has leavening agents like baking soda and salt.

When do I use it?

You can use it for making bread, pizza and a variety of Asian delicacies like pau, mantou, mandarin rolls and huat kuih.

Any substitutes for it?

Definitely replaceable. (ouch) You can use plain flour plus baking powder and salt.

3. Cake Flour

Image Credit : tesco.

Tell me about it.

Low protein flour which is about 7-9%, that results in fine soft textured cakes. Softer than a baby’s bottom! (maybe)

When do I use it?

For cakes of course! Especially sweet soft vanilla cake, oh my just imagine biting into a slice of its fluffiness in your mou- ok i better stop.

Any substitutes for it?

Can be replaced with all purpose flour and 2 tablespoons of cornstarch. In case you didn’t know, cornstarch has less gluten than flour, which makes it a wonderful tenderizing ingredient.

4. Bread Flour

Image Credit : bakewithyen

Tell me about it.

Think of a gym junkie that chows down tons of protein. Yeap, bread flour has very high protein content too. 

When do I use it?

It’s great for making bread because of its high protein content. Using bread flour, makes your baking goods have a very rough, dense texture.

Any substitutes for it?

You may not have that added dense texture without it, but if you really need a substitute, you can choose the all purpose flour.

5. Glutinous Rice Flour

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Tell me about it.

A good kind of sticky. It is made using Asian sticky rice and the flour does not contain gluten.

When do I use it?

Great for making rice dumpling or kuih-muih. It can also act as a good thickening agent for your sauces.

Any substitutes for it?

Yeap you can substitute it with tapioca starch or potato starch. Of course it is not going to be the perfect matches but it will provide the similar chewy and sticky consistency that you need.

6. Wholemeal Flour

Image Credit : shopee

Tell me about it.

Uses the whole wheat kernel, thus the name. Rich in vitamins B1, B2, B3 and B6 and other minerals. An excellent choice for health conscious people.

When do I use it?

Suitable for making bread, mantou, pao, biscuits, pancakes and other healthy versions of baked goods.

Any substitutes for it?

Plain flour or other high protein flour, however, the texture and taste will definitely be different.

7. Gluten Free Flour

Image Credit : matahariorganic

Tell me about it.

Gluten intolerant people, this is your hero. You can still enjoy wonderful baked goods because this flour is gluten freeeee. Non-gluten intolerant people can also use it because it has lot’s of health benefits:

  1. Skin
    • Reduces acne
    • Improves complexion
  2. Digestive
    • Manages acid reflux
    • Reduces bloating
  3. Muscular
    • Manages joint pains
    • Reduces swelling
  4. Other
    • Regulates weight
    • Reduces migraine
    • Reduces blood pressure and sugar

When do I use it?

To substitute any gluten-containing flour of course. 

Any substitutes for it?

Ok write this down – For every 500g of gluten free flour: 240g brown rice powder + 100g potato starch + 40g rice flour + 30g tapioca flour + 1 teaspoon xanthan gum

8. Hong Kong Flour

Image Credit : bakewithyen

Tell me about it.

White as Snow White. It’s a greatly bleached high protein flour, making the finished product white instead of yellowish.

When do I use it?

Perfect for making pau, mantou, huat kuih and other Chinese Baking Goods.

Any substitutes for it?

Plain flour or low protein flour.

9. Superfine Flour

Image Credit : jayagrocer

Tell me about it.

Dayumm it’s fine! So fine it creates the finest cake textures! It is so easy to sift and can also be called low-gluten flour.

When do I use it?

For creating delicate soft cakes, crepe, donuts and cookies.

Any substitutes for it?

Any low protein flour would be fairly good.

10. Pau Flour

Image Credit : tesco

Tell me about it.

Wait there’s a flour for it? Yes there is. With protein contents about 8-10%, it is very white, fine and soft textured.

When do I use it?

Mostly used to make Chinese Dim Sum like pau and mantou.

Any substitutes for it?

Plain flour, Hong Kong flour or for every 600g of pau flour: 420g low protein flour + 80g corn starch

11. Wheat Starch or Wheat Flour

Image Credit : tesco

Tell me about it.

It is a gluten-free flour with high viscosity and transparency. The skin made with wheat flour is transparent and easier to handle. The finished product looks crystal clear after steaming. (I wish my complexion was this clear) 

When do I use it?

For various savories such as shrimp dumplings, chai kueh, fan guo and rice noodle (cheung fun). It is often mixed with glutinous rice flour, to make the skin of snowy mooncakes, ham sui kok, sesame ball, taro dumplings and other thin pastry skin.

Any substitutes for it?

Other starches like corn, potato or tapioca flour.

12. Rice Flour

Image Credit : mygroser

Tell me about it.

Made from ground raw rice and it is not gluten free.

When do I use it?

It can be used to make rice noodles, Traditional Chinese and Malay delicacies like wa kueh, steamed yam cake, turnip cake, kueh lapis and kuih talam. (ok now I’m hungry) It is also ideal for frying bananas, sweet potatoes, yam, chives and so on. Additionally, it can be an alternative to wheat flour in cakes and biscuits.

Any substitutes for it?

If you were using the popular Cap Gajah Rice Flour, you can substitute it with Gao Fen also known as Chaozhou powder. The Gao Fen is cooked glutinous rice flour – after the flour has been dried and fried.

13. Potato Starch

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Tell me about it.

The potato starch is a fine, white powdery substance derived from yes you guessed it, PO-TA-TO. 

When do I use it?

To make gravies and sauces. It also makes baked goods light and fluffy.

Any substitutes for it?

Cornstarch and tapioca flour.

14. Corn Flour

Image Credit : tesco

Tell me about it.

Cornstarch or maize starch (if you want to sound fancy) is the starch derived from endosperm of the corn grain.

When do I use it?

Often to thicken sauces or soups and to make corn syrup and other sugars.

Any substitutes for it?

Can be replaced with tapioca flour.

15. Tapioca Flour

Image credit : eborong

Tell me about it.

It is starch extracted from the root of cassava, no not a casanova. (though using it to make delicious taro balls will have the same effect – it charms you haha)

When do I use it?

As mentioned, awesome for making taro balls, pearls (the one in your boba tea not on your neck), put chai ko and bika ambon. Dim sum made from this tapioca flour will be crystal clear and chewy. It can also be used for frying and thickening in cooking.

Any substitutes for it?

You can use other starches like corn or potato flour. If you are not obsessed with the transparency and elasticity brought up by tapioca flour, you can just use plain flour instead.

16. Custard Powder

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Tell me about it.

A kind of food flavoring agent, which is in the form of light yellow powder. It has a rich milky flavor with a sweet taste and it is easy to melt.

When do I use it?

Usually used for bread, pastry surface decoration, cream filling, pudding or internal filling. 

Any substitutes for it?

If you can’t get custard powder, you can actually make it with egg yolk, granulated sugar, milk and low-gluten flour.

17. Almond Flour or Almond Powder

Image Credit : target

Tell me about it.

Peeps on a diet, grab this flour. It is well known to be a low-carb powder, made by peeling and grinding almonds into a powder. It also has a similar texture to low protein flour.

When do I use it?

Mostly used for baking biscuits, cakes and even breads. It is actually the main ingredient for making macarons.

Any substitutes for it?

You can use plain flour and low protein flour directly to make breads and cakes. If you are making macarons, you can use peanut or hazelnut powder but the flavor will surely change.

18. Oat Flour

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Tell me about it.

Whole-grain flour made from rolled oats that is rich in nutrients such as manganese, chromium and fiber. However, the absence of gluten definitely makes a difference in its ability to provide elasticity and structure.

When do I use it?

Can be used to make healthier versions of cookies and cakes (I have tasted some, and boy it’s actually pretty good.)

Any substitutes for it?

1 cup of all purpose flour for 1 ⅓ cup oat flour

19. Hoe Kwee Flour

Image Credit : shopee

Tell me about it.

Also known as mung bean flour. It is a finely ground, powdery white starch made from Mung Beans.

When do I use it?

To make traditional kueh such as kueh tako, mung bean kueh and corn pudding.

Any substitutes for it?

Can be substituted with the same amount of corn flour.

20. Semolina Flour

Image Credit : martinsgroceriestogo

Tell me about it.

Sounds like a beautiful name. Well this flour is used to make beautiful pasta. It is known as pasta wheat or macaroni wheat, a type of flour made from hard durum wheat. The flour has a rather coarse texture and is high in protein.

When do I use it?

Due to it being less sticky and more elastic, it is perfect for pasta. Noodles made from semolina flour will hold their shape well and have a firm texture.

Any substitutes for it?

You can substitute it with the same amount of all purpose flour, bread flour or whole wheat flour.

21. Coconut Flour

Image Credit : shopee.

Tell me about it.

Self explanatory, it is made from dried coconut meat to produce soft, natural, gluten-free flour. A popular alternative to regular flour because of it’s low-carb content while still being high in protein and fiber.

When do I use it?

Common in baking, particularly gluten free baking. It can be used to make cakes, cookies, bread and muffins.

Any substitutes for it?

Yes, almond flour with ratio 1:1Well that was a long ‘ride’ I know. But hey, aren’t you a little expert on flour now hehe?

New to baking?

Check out our quick and easy 30 Day Guide for Beginner Bakers
Want to know about the best flour for cakes? Check out Cake Flour Or Some Other Flour, Help Me!
Want Bread Baking Tips? Check out Bake Bread Like A Pro: Flour Types and Tips

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