Types of Flour for Baking

Learn about the different types of flour for baking! In this post, I’m covering six common types of baking flour, what they’re used for, and how you can substitute them in recipes. If you’ve ever wondered about the differences between types of wheat flour, this is the post for you. I’m sharing my favorite types of gluten-free flour, too!

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Four types of baking flours on a serving dish

Why learn about all the types of flour?

These days it seems like there are so many types of flour that it’s almost overwhelming! It’s also a great thing because there is so much choice, and the right kind of flour is critical for baking, whether it’s achieving the right texture or for dietary reasons. 

I’m always happy to see my regular grocery store selling all kinds of different kinds of flours. I like not having to go to multiple stores! I love my all-purpose flour, but sometimes it’s not always the best choice, so it’s great to see so many options at mainstream grocery stores.

So, I thought I’d do a post all about different flour for baking! I get lots of reader questions about the difference between flours and substitutions. Consider this your guide! I hope to clear up the confusion and answer all of your questions.

What are the Types of Flour?

There are a lot! There are so many it would be a very long post to list them all. Basically, What separates different flours is their protein content. The more protein flour has, the more gluten it has. Gluten refers to a flour’s strength, so each kind of flour has a different gluten amount or “strength.”

When gluten is developed, it gives whatever you’re making structure. So, the more you work the flour (i.e., mixing, kneading, etc.), the stronger the gluten will be. Depending on what you’re making, gluten plays a huge part in how light, fluffy, chewy, or dense your baked goods will be. Long story short: the type of flour you use is critical!

For our purposes, I’m covering six common types of wheat flour for baking and gluten-free flour. They’re the ones I use the most and ones you can easily find these days. Ready? Here they are:

  • All-purpose flour
  • Whole wheat flour
  • White whole wheat flour
  • Gluten-free 1:1 AP flour
  • Cake flour

Again, this is in no way an exhaustive list! But we all have busy lives, so I wanted to stick to the common ones.

Photo of one type of baking flour in a bowl

All-Purpose Flour

Our old friend, AP! I’d bet money that pretty much all of us have some all-purpose flour on hand all the time. I know I do – it’s my go-to.

The best way to describe it is “middle of the road.” If you put all the different types of flour in order of protein amount, AP flour would be in the middle. It gets its name because it really is all-purpose. You can use it to make cakes, bread, cupcakes, brownies, pastry… so many things.

There are two types: bleached and unbleached. Unbleached flour is allowed to turn white naturally when it’s processed. With bleached flour, this process is done with chemicals to speed it up. You can use them interchangeably in recipes, with the only difference is bleached flour is softer than unbleached.

There are quite a few all-purpose flour brands. Pillsbury, Gold Medal, King Arthur, and Bob’s Red Mill are the most popular. 

Photo of one type of baking flour in a bowl

Whole Wheat Flour

Whole wheat flour is often used in bread making, but there are tons of recipes for whole wheat muffins, cookies, and quick breads.  

The big difference with whole wheat flour is that nothing is removed in the processing. Unlike all-purpose flour and wheat flour, the entire wheat kernel is processed. This gives the flour a grainer texture as well as more nutrients. It’s also made from a different kind of wheat, which gives it a darker color.

Whole wheat flour is a strong flour with more protein than all-purpose flour. Because of that, it’s a popular flour for making bread but not for cakes, which are best when they have a tender light crumb. 

You can find the same brands for whole wheat flour – Pillsbury, Gold Medal, King Arthur, and Bob’s Red Mill. Depending on where you live, you may be able to find smaller high-quality brands, too.

Photo of one type of baking flour in a bowl

White Whole Wheat Flour

The only difference between white whole wheat flour and whole wheat is the type of wheat used to make it. Whole wheat uses red wheat, which gives it a darker color. White whole wheat is made with lighter colored wheat. Hence, its name!

It’s made the same way, too, by processing the whole kernel. Flavor-wise, it’s a little less nutty than whole wheat, and whatever you are making will be lighter in color. Just like whole wheat, you can find several different brands at the store.

Photo of one type of baking flour in a bowl

Gluten-Free 1:1 AP Flour

There are all kinds of gluten-free flours available, but my go-to is Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free 1:1 AP flour.

In general, gluten-free flour is a type of flour that has no gluten. In other words, it’s not made with wheat and, instead, is a combination of alternative flours like rice flour, potato flour, and other ingredients that make it work like regular flour. For people who can’t eat gluten, it’s a great thing.

I like Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free 1:1 AP flour because you can use it just like you would all-purpose flour. It’s a 1:1 substitution making it easy to swap in recipes.

It’s great for cookies, cupcakes, muffins, quick bread, and cakes. It’s not great for making bread – Bob’s Red Mill has another type of flour they recommend for that.

Like I mentioned, this is by no means the only gluten-free flour! It’s the one I use when I make gluten-free treats, and it’s easy to find at my grocery store.

Cake Flour

If whole wheat flour is on the high end of protein content, cake flour is on the opposite end. Cake flour is soft, fine, and most often use to make – you guessed it – cakes.  

Less protein means less gluten, which means soft, tender cakes when you use cake flour. If light and fluffy is your goal, this is the flour to use. 

Swans Down, King Arthur Flour, Pillsbury, and Bob’s Red Mill are the common brands of cake flour you’ll find at the store. 

I have a whole post about it, including how to make cake flour using all-purpose flour. If you don’t use it often, it’s a great hack to know. It saves a trip to the store!

Basic Flour Substitutes

There’s nothing worse than getting all of your ingredients to bake, only to realize you don’t have the right flour on hand. Luckily, you can often substitute flours, so I wanted to share some basic swaps.

Keep in mind that any time you change a recipe, you might not get your desired result. Well written recipes should always specify the kind of flour to use. Making substitutions is always a risk, so just be aware. Oh, and always use the spoon and level method to measure your flour. Even better? Use a kitchen scale if weighted amounts are included in the recipe.

All-Purpose Flour Substitutes: Remember that AP flour is a middle of the road flour when it comes to protein or strength. So, substituting it with something else will depend on what you’re making. If it’s a loaf of bread, you can sub whole wheat or white whole wheat flour, but you will want to add a little less. If it’s a cake or cupcakes, you can substitute cake flour. If you’re going to swap it for gluten-free flour, go with gluten-free 1:1 AP flour.

Whole Wheat and White Whole Wheat: Again, it depends on what you’re making. Technically, if it’s bread, you can use all-purpose flour or bread flour, but the texture won’t be the same. If you are using whole wheat to make muffins or quick bread, you can sub all-purpose flour. Just keep in mind the texture and flavor won’t be the same.

Gluten-Free 1:1 AP Flour: The easiest swap is with all-purpose flour. I use these interchangeably a lot, especially for events. I’ll make one batch of cookies with all-purpose and a second batch with gluten-free flour. With all the different types of flour for baking, it can get confusing! I hope this post helped clear things up so you can bake with more confidence. Knowing the differences will definitely make baking more fun and easier!

More Baking Tips

Four types of baking flours on a serving dish with recipe title on top of photo

In this post, I’ve covering six common types of baking flour, what they’re used for, and how you can substitute them in recipes.

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