When you Google “AP”, there are a lot of things that come up. There’s the Associated Press and Advanced Placement. If you are a Vikings fan, Adrian Peterson may be the first “AP” to come to mind. How about AP Valves, manufacturers of scuba diving equipment? Bet you didn’t know that, did ya?
However the AP I want to talk about involves none of the above. N/A. Completely irrelevant to this topic. Nope, we’re talking about good old AP, all purpose flour. Now I know that doesn’t seem like much to discuss but believe me, there are some dilemmas when it comes to flour and cooking, more specifically baking. Because although most kitchens are stocked with AP flour, what about all of the others? When do pastry, cake, bread, rye, wheat flours and the like get their moment in the sun? Their time to shine? Although they’re not that shiny…not shiny at all in fact, pretty dusty rather. Floury one might even say.
Well that’s what I am about to tell you, so read on!
In the world of flour there are 2 primary classifications, soft or weak flour and hard or strong flour. Soft flour is just that. It has a low protein content, perfect for baking up cakes and other tender goodies. Pastry and cake flours are a couple examples. On the other hand hard flour is the opposite. It’s high levels of protein are critical in the development of gluten which comes into play when making bread. Bread flour is a type of hard flour, go figure! All purpose is somewhere in between the two. Generally it is a blend of 2/3 hard and 1/3 soft flours.
So when do you decide which to use? And what difference does it really make at the end of the day? First, I would consider the amount of flour you go through. If it takes you a few months to go through a 5 kilo bag of AP, I personally wouldn’t bother branching off and buying 1500 different types of flour. Just like anything it does go bad over time so you don’t want too much excess kicking around. However, if you like to bake up a storm and you go through flour like toilet paper (sorry that was the first comparison that came to mind), why not have the right flour for the job? I bake almost all of our bread from scratch so I always, always use bread flour. It’s also good for pasta, spatzle and other doughs that really rely on gluten.
Then I have some pastry/cake flour (they are almost the same thing, it really depends on which you can find at the store) for pastries and cakes. To be as scientific as possible, cake flour ranges from 7-9.5 percent protein whereas pastry is 7.5-10%. Almost the same thing, no? Cake and pastry flours are just so much softer than AP and therefore produce highly tender products (also assuming that they are properly executed). If you don’t believe me make something simple like a batch of muffins, or even some crepes, one with a soft flour and one with all purpose. Then you tell me which are more delicate. My only recommendation with these flours is definitely to sift before using. Not only does it incorporate air, creating an even fluffier product, it also gets rid of those nasty lumps.
Last but not least, let’s finish with such flours as whole wheat and rye. Mostly they are used in breads for both flavor and health benefits. The key with these is that it tends to be beneficial to combine them with white flour. Let’s say you are baking bread. Because of the larger particles in the flour, like the bran, it makes it more difficult to develop gluten. Think of it like little shards of glass in the dough, cutting the gluten strands to shreds. Not good. Also, products made with these flours will end up a tad more dense, which is logical because the flour itself is more dense. As well, you want to be careful how much you keep on hand. Whole wheat flour can go rancid because of the fat content of the germ.
So there you have it, my “scoop” on flour! Get it, “scoop”? Because you generally portion out flour with a scoop? Sorry I’ll stop now.