We’ve had a lot of people ask us about different kinds of flour, what they’re used for, and if you need to get really wild and have all these different types of flour in your house.

Normally, I’m an all-purpose flour kind of girl; if a recipe calls for something different, I usually ditch the recipe because last time I had a bunch of cake flour on hand, I opened it up 6 months later and found it full of weevils. However, there are a couple of recipes (cupcakes! Cupcakes!) that call for different kinds of flour and, having tasted their deliciousness and having used both all-purpose and cake flour, I begrudgingly admit defeat and will use cake flour if I need to.

So maybe you’re wondering what the difference is between different kinds of flour. Wonder no longer.

All-Purpose Flour. Just what it says–when a recipe calls for flour, this is what they want. The biggest difference between flours is the protein content. All-purpose flour has an average protein content, making it versatile for everything from cookies to cakes to roux to bread.
Cake Flour. Cake flour has the lowest protein content of all the flours and it undergoes a unique bleaching process from all the other white flours. It is very soft and fine, a little like powdered sugar. This is an absolute must in light, airy cakes like Angel Food and a lot of spongy cakes.

Pastry Flour: Harder to find than cake flour; as far as protein content goes, it’s somewhere between cake flour and all-purpose flour.

Self-Rising Flour. This is an all-purpose-y flour that has been mixed with salt and baking powder. You’ll often see biscuit (or similar) recipes calling for self-rising flour. I can honestly say I’ve never used it.

Bread flour. Bread flour has the highest protein of all the flours (which allows for a lot of elasticity and rise without collapsing). Don’t use bread flour for quick breads (like banana bread).

Whole wheat is a completely different post. Just know that due to the high protein content in whole wheat flour, it is not directly exchangable with white flour. You can substitute wheat flour for white flour in some things (although not everything…I have a friend who tried to make roux with whole wheat flour and things did not end well), but it involves a certain knowledge of the properties of white and wheat flour.
So what if I don’t have or don’t want to buy a specialty flour?
“I brought you flours.”

Good question. Almost all of the time, there’s a good enough substitute:

Substitute for cake flour: Sift together 1 3/4 c. all-purpose flour, 1/4 c. cornstarch. This works in a pinch, but for a really, truly light and airy cake, you’ll need the cake flour.
Substituting cake flour for all-purpose flour: 2 c. flour + 2 Tbsp.
Substitute for bread flour: Add 1-2 Tbsp. gluten to desired amount of flour.
Substitute for self-rising flour: 1 c. flour, 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder, 1/2 tsp. salt
I hope that helps! Oh, and whoever can name the movie gets big, fat bonus points!
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19comments

  1. 1
    Amber says:

    I use whole wheat flour for everything I bake, hard wheat for things that use yeast, and soft wheat for pastries, but I do have a little bag of white flour that I save just for making a roux!!

  2. 2
    imajacobs says:

    Stranger Than Fiction!

  3. 3
    C. says:

    Stranger than Fiction is one of our favorite movies, at least partly because of the food!

  4. 4
    Sara says:

    Great post Kate. We do get a lot of questions about flour, it’s nice having all of the info in one place!

  5. 5
    LollyChops says:

    Thank you SOO much for posting this! What a fantastic resource and terrific explanations!!!!

    YAY for Flours!

  6. 6
    Steph says:

    I used to love cake flour, but I’m starting to find that all purpose flour works too as long as the other steps are followed properly. Thanks for all the info!

  7. 7
    MollyE says:

    Hey, as maybe your only gluten free blog follower, there are all kinds of other great flours out here. Almond flour, rice flour, tapioca flour, etc. There are some great substitutions if you are allergic to wheat!

  8. 8
    Kate says:

    Ooooh, good point, MollyE! We’ll have to have you come back and talk about gluten-free flours because I KNOW you’re not the only one, but it’s something I really don’t know much about!

  9. 9
    The Wifey says:

    Stranger than Fiction is one of my favorite movies!

  10. 10
    PaniniKathy says:

    Thanks for the primer! I know I’ve had to make substitutions in the past (it’s what I get for not reading recipes too carefully sometimes!) – I’ll be bookmarking this resource.

  11. 11
    The Food Hunter says:

    very informative. Thanks

  12. 12
    Adriann says:

    I LOVE that you included that picture! You made me smile =).

  13. 13
    Mama Chicken says:

    I LOVE that movie. And that’s one of my favorite parts. lol!

  14. 14
    liso. says:

    great info, i’ll be coming back to this when i come across my next flour question…

    i wonder about whole wheat subs, though. as an effort to be more healthy, i’d like to use it more, but is there a rule of thumb to when you can use it? i know my mom used to go halfsies on a lot of things, but i’m too chicken to try.

    i just looked over and it looks like amber over there uses it in everything. hmmm, any ideas?

  15. 15
    Heidi says:

    I'm making cupcakes for a bridal shower and one recipe called for cake flour and one for self-rising flour, this has been soooo helpful! Thank you!

  16. 16
    Kiahna Williams says:

    Wow, I am new to your blog and this was soooo awesome! Thanks for the substitutes for bread flour. I hate that recipes call for different flour!

  17. 17

    I am always debating which flour to use for cupcakes. Does the cake flour make a HUGE difference? I think im going to make a batch of both and have a taste test with some friends :)

    • 17.1

      You know, it really just depends on the recipe. I don’t know all the ins and outs and science and chemistry behind when exactly it’s okay to use all-purpose flour, but I do know that there are some DELICIOUS cupcakes out there that call for all-purpose flour. I think it really just boils down to what other ingredients are involved and the method. Like our lemon cupcakes? I’m really not being dramatic when I say it’s better not to make them at all if you use all-purpose flour, haha!

  18. 18
    Brittany says:

    I’m confused…I’m trying to make the Strawberry cupcakes and you say to follow this link to find a substitute for cake flour. Your substitute just says ’2 c. flour + 2 Tbsp.’ So is it just flour? Or flour + something else?

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