Flour is one of the most popularly used baking ingredients out there! While it may not seem like there’s much to it, the variety of baking flours can lead to confusion and wrongly mixed recipes. By understanding the differences between the two most common flours: bread flour vs. all purpose flour you'll be able to determine which is best to use in your next recipe!
What Is Flour?
Flour is typically made by finely grinding a grain into a powder, which can then be used in recipes to create a variety of baked goods. It is used to make cakes, cookies, muffins, tortillas, and bread amongst many other things. While flour is a common ingredient, not all flours are alike. In fact, some flours don’t come from grains at all and can derive from different vegetables, nuts, and seeds. For example, coconut flour, which comes from the dried, ground coconut meat. Not to mention that there are also cake flours, pastry flours, and more.
Although there are numerous different kinds of flour, the two most common baking flours that often get confused are all purpose flour and bread flour. While very similar, there are a few distinct differences between the two that it's important to take note of. Although mixing up the two flours won’t ruin your baked goods entirely, it can affect your recipes slightly.
What Is Bread Flour?
When originally created, bread flour was designed to be paired with yeast in order to produce the perfect baked good (usually breads). The amount of protein found in bread flour is higher, in order to contain and produce more gluten and achieve the desired rise in bread. Because of this higher protein level, bread flour is able to absorb more liquid, allowing it to hold its shape and rise upward instead of outward. All of these elements create an incredibly sturdy flour that works wonders when used to bake a variety of different kinds of bread. The high amount of gluten in bread flour also creates a more elastic dough, which produces a lighter and chewier bread, as opposed to a bread that is more dense and crumbly.
What Is All Purpose Flour?
All purpose flour was designed with one thing in mind: to be all purpose. It works for just about every flour-demanding recipe, including bread, cookies, and cakes. While bread flour holds a higher protein content than that of all purpose flour, all purpose flour does contain quite a bit of protein. This allows the flour to remain firm and hold its structure, while still providing the perfect texture for cakes. Whether you prefer organic all purpose flour or regular, all purpose flour was designed to be the go-to flour when baking and it does a pretty good job of it. While specialty flours such as cake flour and bread flour may deliver a better result than all purpose flour, the differences are subtle and hardly noticeable by those enjoying the baked goods!
What’s the Difference Between Bread Flour vs. All Purpose Flour?
The main differences between bread flour vs. all purpose flour are the protein content and gluten content. Bread flour has a higher amount of protein and higher amount of gluten which is why it’s good for an airy, chewy bread that needs time to rise. All purpose flour has a lower protein content which makes it good for cookies and cakes that don’t need to rise. Here’s a brief rundown of the key differences between bread flour vs. all purpose flour:
- Bread flour has a higher protein content (around 13% more), which leads to more stability, form and rise in the dough, allowing it to lift and hold shape
- All purpose flour has a lower protein content, resulting in lighter, shorter breads, which makes it an ideal flour for cookies, cakes and more
- All purpose flour contains less gluten than bread flour
- The higher content of gluten in bread flour makes it ideal for airy, chewy bread, rather than dense bread
Is Bread Flour More Expensive than All Purpose Flour?
Bread flour is typically more expensive than all purpose flour. Bread flour typically tends to have better baking qualities that make it favorable for those that love baking fresh bread at home. If you love your bread to be airy and chewy, bread flour is worth the extra splurge for better bread results.
Can You Substitute Bread Flour and All Purpose Flour?
The answer is yes! If you’re wondering if you can use all purpose flour in place of bread flour or vice versa, you can! While the results may not be exactly the same, it will not ruin your baked goods entirely, and you’ll still end up with a great result.
Whether you are making pancakes, muffins, bread, or cookies, it depends on the results you want from your baked goods. While it is possible to substitute the two, it’s important to note that the flour called for in the recipe will almost always provide better results. Based on ingredients, cook times, and other variables, certain recipes were created with a specific flour in mind. Because of this, the flour called for tends to work best during the baking process. However, if you’ve already started whipping up a batch of your favorite whole wheat banana bread and suddenly realize you’re out of all purpose flour, using bread flour in its place will work as a suitable replacement!