Cake flour is a light, finely milled flour with a lower protein content than all-purpose flour. Cake flour is milled from soft wheat and contains the lowest amount of protein when compared to other flours, around 5 to 8%. For comparison’s sake, all purpose flour is usually 10 to 13% protein, which can produce good results for almost any recipe. However, the low protein and high starch content in cake flour helps create the lightest, most delicious cakes possible!
We love cake flour because, well duh, it is used in cakes and other light, airy baked goods, and of course these are our favorites to make! If you have stumbled upon one of the many delicious cake flour recipes out there, you may be wondering what exactly cake flour is, what it is best used for, and whether or not you can create it if you don’t have it in your pantry right now! As total flour geeks, we at Bob’s Red Mill have done years of research into all of the ingredients and processes that go into our flours, and cake flour is no different. So buckle up, because we are about to take you on a delicious journey through cake flour!
What Differentiates Cake Flour?
The thing that differentiates all flours from one another is something you’ve probably heard about a few times this year: gluten. Gluten makes up the protein content of flours, and every type of flour has a different protein content. In your baked goods and doughs, the gluten protein content helps the flour bind all the ingredients together. This means that the higher the protein content in your flour, the more dense and sticky the dough or batter will be. You can imagine that a flour often used in cakes and light-textured products would logically have a low protein content. And you’d be right! As mentioned, cake flour ranges between 5-8% protein, whereas all purpose flour ranges between 10-13% protein.
Working with Cake Flour
If you already have cake flour and are planning to bake your cake, there are a few things to consider. Cake flour is milled to an extra fine consistency (in fact, cake flour may be referred to by some as extra fine or super fine flour), which allows it to absorb a lot of water. This results in a fine crumb and a soft, tender texture. The extra water absorption also allows your batter to rise a little taller with cake flour, so this type is perfect if you want to create a tall, fluffy cake! Just make sure that your recipe has enough water or liquid in it to account for this extra absorption, and your most delicious cake recipes will be smooth sailing! Cake flour also helps with the even distribution of fats in your cake, which will help eliminate any clumps or chunks of butter, and it makes sure that cakes set up a little faster than other flours, which is why you can get a beautiful, tall cake from it!
Where to Buy Cake Flour
Of course, we believe we carry the best cake flour around, and if you live in America, you can most likely find ours and other brands in your local grocery store. If you’re in Europe or Australia, it might be a little trickier. Cake flour is often bleached, which leaves it a little chlorinated as well as slightly acidic. This is banned in Australia and Europe, so you’ll want to look for a soft wheat flour. You can also use our cornstarch (referred to as corn flour in the UK) hack above, or you may be able to find unbleached cake flour in a specialty store. At Bob’s Red Mill, our cake flour is unbleached because we love to keep things natural!
Most cake flour does not contain a rising agent, so you will still need to combine it with a leavening ingredient like baking powder or baking soda, but you may see a brand or two that does advertise self rising cake flour, which is also okay. If you do use self rising brands, just make sure that you do not also incorporate any additional rising agents into your recipe, as this may create some issues. Most cake recipes only call for a single rising agent.
Can You Substitute Cake Flour?
Because of cake flour’s low protein content, it is not recommended to use cake flour when another type of flour is called for, even all purpose. Baking is so scientific that a seemingly small change like this could drastically affect your end result. If you are making pancakes or bread, for instance, you will have very different results if you substitute cake flour. On the other hand, if you are out of cake flour and have a recipe that calls for it, it is possible to simulate cake flour with some other ingredients.
You will always get the best results if you use actual cake flour, but if you don’t have any on hand, then you can replace it with all purpose flour mixed with cornstarch. For every cup of flour you are using, remove 2 tablespoons of the flour and replace that with an equal amount of cornstarch. For instance, if your recipe calls for 3 cups of cake flour, you can use 3 cups of all purpose flour minus 6 tablespoons, and replace that 6 tablespoons with cornstarch. This will simulate the lower protein content in cake flour and still give you a light, tender cake. The cornstarch serves to prevent some of the gluten formation, which is what makes the all purpose flour seem more like cake flour in this substitution. Cake flour comes highly sifted, and it is recommended to sift it again, so with this substitute a minimum of five sifts is advised for those fluffy, airy cakes that we love!
Cake Flour Substitutes & Other Flours You May See
If you are hoping to substitute for cake flour and you have something else on your shelf, you may be able to make it work, but there are some flours that are not ideal for this purpose. We will talk about a few of them here!
- All Purpose Flour - We already discussed this one, and it’s most likely what you have in your pantry already. The key here is that the protein content is about 3-5% greater than that of cake flour, so you’ll need to cut it with that cornstarch to artificially lower the protein. This flour is great to keep around for almost any recipe, though! It is versatile and produces decent results in almost any type of baking.
- Whole Wheat Flour - Whole wheat flour is made by milling the entire wheat grain, instead of just the endosperm like most flours. This flour has a higher gluten content, coming in around 14%, so not surprisingly, we would not recommend substituting whole wheat flour for cake flour.
- Self Rising Flour - Self rising flour is actually a mixture of all purpose flour and a rising agent, typically baking powder, and a dash of salt, so you will not need to add as much of either of these to your recipe. Self rising flour has a low protein content, so it can be a good cake flour substitute, as long as you account correctly for the remaining ingredients. This flour is ideal for biscuits and is a Southern staple!
- Pastry Flour - Pastry flour is a compromise between all purpose and cake flour, with about 8-9% protein content. They say that a good pastry flour substitute is a mix of all purpose and cake flour, actually. This would be a good alternative to cake flour (probably the best one of all) but is rarer than either cake or all purpose flour!
There’s really only one important thing to remember when baking a cake: let us try some at the end! Okay, that was a joke, but there are a lot of little intricacies to making delicious, tall, fluffy cakes, and cake flour is only one of them! We recommend doing your best to use the real thing whenever possible, but that does not mean your cake will not be delicious if you end up needing to substitute! We will even taste test for you, if you need it!