Flour

There are so many types of flour.  Bleached and unbleached; white flour, whole wheat flour, cake flour; grain free-flours, nut flours, bean flours.  So many choices and within each type of flour, there are different brands.

Does the brand of flour matter?

I’m not comparing flour types because you can’t compare cake flour with garbanzo bean flour; one will yield a great angel food cake and the other will yield great socca.

For the sake of this comparison, I’m talking about all-purpose flour and the brand.

A bit about all-purpose flour:

“All-purpose flour has a 10-12% protein content and is made from a blend of hard and soft wheat flours. It can be bleached or unbleached which are interchangeable.  However, Southern brands of bleached all-purpose flour have a lower protein content (8%) as they are made from a soft winter wheat.  All-purpose flour can vary in its protein content not only by brand but also regionally. The same brand can have different protein contents depending on what area of the country in the United States you are buying it.  Good for making cakes, cookies, breads, and pastries.”

That makes an already confusing matter even more tricky: even within the same brand, there is not a Universal standard.  I guess it’s like drinking a Coca-Cola in Atlanta or Seattle or Mexico City.  They all taste slightly different based on where they are made and bottled.
And I found this about flour protein levels:

“A high percentage of protein means a harder (stronger) flour best suited to chewy, crusty breads and other yeast-risen products. Less protein means a softer flour, best for tender and chemically leavened baked goods, like pie crusts, cakes, cookies, and biscuits.”

Let’s compare based on price:

Store Brand (Ralph’s) Enriched All-Purpose Flour (bleached) = $1.99 for 5 pounds (and it’s almost always “on sale”)

This is what I typically buy and use.

Gold Medal Enriched All-Purpose Flour (unbleached).  On sale for $3.49 for 5 pounds, normally $3.99 for 5 pounds

Finally, King Arthur All-Purpose Flour (unbleached).  $5.49 for 5 pounds

Many say that King Arthur is the best.  It’s nearly 3 times the price.  I could buy 15 pounds of the Ralph’s store-brand flour for just 50 cents more than 5 pounds of King Arthur.

It’s interesting that King Arthur has a higher protein content (11.7% vs. 10.5%) compared to the other brands of all-purpose flour.  Maybe that’s why people say their baked goods turn out better with The King.

Does the brand of white flour result in a better finished product?

Will my White Chocolate Blondies with Chocolate Peanut Butter Frosting benefit from different flour?  I liked them just the way they were.  If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it comes to mind.

Will my Fudgy Nutella Brownies somehow improve? I happen to think they’re the moistest, fudgiest, and densest brownies ever and they were made with store-brand flour.

Will my Oatmeal Raisin Cookies improve?  These cookies were slightly thinner than I’d hoped, but I don’t necessarily attribute that to the flour.  I attribute that to winging it with the recipe and probably needing slightly more flour and slightly less whole oats, more baking soda, and possibly playing around with the egg amount in order to create a slightly thicker cookie; or just chilling the dough.

However, last week a reader wrote to me and said these were the best oatmeal raisin cookies she’s ever made or had.

Would a different brand of flour make my Mango and White Chocolate Chip Cookies thicker?  I believe their thinness is attributed more to the fresh fruit that was in the dough than the brand of flour.

It would be interesting to see what happened if I made them with King Arthur flour, but it’s not just the (brand of) flour that changes the texture of cookies.  If it was that easy to just buy a certain brand of flour to ensure perfect cookies every time, we all would have done so already and we’d buy that brand forever.

Oven temp and hot or cold patches in the oven

size and shape of raw dough balls

the type of baking sheet

the liner used on the baking sheet such as parchment or a Silpat or nothing

rotating the cookie sheets during baking

the humidity levels and weather outside

baking soda and baking powder and their ratios

the ratios of brown sugar and white sugar

how cold the dough is before baking

the type of mixer used and how much the ingredients were creamed, fluffed, worked or overworked

…all these variables in addition to flour (and brand alone) will impact results.

And that’s just for cookies.  There’s bars, brownies, pies, crepes, clafoutis, and croissants.  Mind-boggling, actually.

I have a Cookie Baking Chart describing what adding brown/white sugar, melted or softened butter, extra egg yolks, baking soda or baking flour will do to cookies

I used the melted butter and 1 egg + 1 yolk technique in Peanut Butter Oatmeal White Chocolate Cookies.  Some of my favorites ever based on both texture and taste, and I used store-brand flour, illustrating that it’s not solely flour that matters.

What kind of flour do you typically bake with?  Any types you avoid?  Haven’t tried?  Want to try?

Do you think brand matters?  What brands have you tried and do you have opinions?

But I’d be willing to spring for “vanity” flour like King Arthur rather than store-brand if people think it makes a difference.

And conversations like these are why I’d love to hang out with Alton Brown.

   

64 Responses to “Flour”

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    Jess @ Keeping It Real Food — February 8, 2012 at 5:13 pm

    I used white rice flour for cookies when baking for a friend with gluten intolerance, and they came out really nicely—they were fluffy and moist and really similar in texture to cookies made with all-purpose flour. At home when I’m just cooking for myself, I usually just use whole wheat, but it’s better for some things than others. I’m really curious about chickpea flour, though!

    Reply

    • Averie @ Love Veggies & Yoga replied: — February 8th, 2012 at 8:52 pm

      chickpea flour has a very pronounced taste and is heavy/dense…not something I’d want to use in cookies or a cake but I know some people do!

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    Michaela — February 8, 2012 at 5:13 pm

    that is something that always confuses me when in the States or in Ireland/UK. In Germany, you pretty much only get either plain flour or whole wheat flour and that is it.
    I always use whole wheat flour that I make with my mill and no matter for which purposes, the results are always great!

    Reply

    • Averie @ Love Veggies & Yoga replied: — February 8th, 2012 at 8:51 pm

      Oh there are sooooo many varieties. White, wheat, cake, pastry, AP, unbleached, bleached; it’s a bit dizzying and that doesnt even take into account the GF or nut-based flours. I can only imagine it’s a bit baffling to you if you were trying to flour shop here!

      Reply

    • Ellani replied: — February 9th, 2012 at 3:28 am

      Actually in Germany flour is differentiated according to how finely it has been ground (a flour with a lower number has a lower mineral content, has less of the whole grain in it). That is why there is always a number on the package. A white flour that is finely ground (i.e. 405 or 550) would be called cake flour in the States. A white flour for hearty breads would be have a higher number (1050 or 1600). Spelt and Rye have their own ‘degree’ specifications. Whole grains are not typed. When I first moved here I too was very confused and didn’t realize that the numbers on the packages were what differentiated the different kinds of flours. Though it might seem a bit too numbers-oriented, I have come to like this system better. I have made some very fine cakes with less processed flours than the usual ‘cake flour’.

      Reply

      • Michaela replied: — February 9th, 2012 at 5:20 am

        Oh, Ellanie, I did not know that! I mean, of course I know the numbers meant a grade of nutritional content, but I had no clue you could kinda compare it to the US flours.
        Though there are still so many more flours, like Averie said.

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    Nicole — February 8, 2012 at 5:20 pm

    The protein content can vary by brand even if it is an all purpose flour. I generally don’t notice too much of a difference for day to day things like cookies and pancakes, but my grandma always said it made a huge difference when she made her homemade bread. She always said to avoid Pillsbury for bread baking. Maybe it has a lower protein level.
    I do like King arthur a lot. I’m a huge fan of whole wheat pastry flour since it isn’t as grainy as regular whole wheat flour, but it is healthier than AP flour.

    Reply

    • Averie @ Love Veggies & Yoga replied: — February 8th, 2012 at 8:50 pm

      Yes in one of those links I cited they mentioned that as well “The protein content can vary by brand” — and I mentioned that “even within the same brand, there is not a Universal standard. ” — which makes a tricky situation even a bit more confusing!

      That’s interesting your Grandma said to avoid Pillsbury. That one has one of the lower protein counts, too. Hmmm….

      “whole wheat pastry flour since it isn’t as grainy as regular whole wheat flour, but it is healthier than AP flour.” — great tip!

      Reply

      • Nicole replied: — February 8th, 2012 at 10:17 pm

        Thanks! & I forgot to mention great post too! I love that you shared about this & highlighted with so many great pics :)

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    Jenny — February 8, 2012 at 5:28 pm

    I never knew that having more brown than white sugar makes cookies chewier! Great post, very informative.

    Reply

    • Averie @ Love Veggies & Yoga replied: — February 8th, 2012 at 8:48 pm

      Yes which is why if something calls for 1/2 c of white and 1/2 c of brown, I will typically use like 2/3 c brown and 1/3 c white…just to have a higher brown to white ratio.

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    Cassie — February 8, 2012 at 5:43 pm

    Great post, Averie! I typically buy the store brand and buy name brand if they are on sale or if it’s a specific type of flour that I need that might not be available in a store brand. Knowing that AP flours have different percentages of protein is interesting though and I will start to pay attention to it. I think I would spend more on flour if I didn’t go through it so quickly. I would be interested to compare my favorite cookies side by side with different flours to see if I could tell a difference, but then again, I do agree with “don’t fix it if it isn’t broken”!

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    Heather (Where's the Beach) — February 8, 2012 at 5:43 pm

    I do think brand matters. I find that the King Aurthur whole wheat has a better texture than Kroger brand. The one flour I’ve not tried is coconut flour. Not really sure about that one.

    Reply

    • Averie @ Love Veggies & Yoga replied: — February 8th, 2012 at 8:47 pm

      I take your word for it on the K.A. and am going to try it out and so many others have said the same thing, too.

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    Crystal @ Tea Leaves and Vanilla — February 8, 2012 at 5:54 pm

    I only buy generic flour because flour prices are off the charts here. Those $3 bags of flour that you buy costs me about $10. I haven’t tried brand name so I can’t say much!

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    Kristen @ Change of Pace — February 8, 2012 at 5:58 pm

    What a great post! I’ve always wondered what everything actually does in a recipe. I use the King Arthur flour only because it really does make things taste better. I notice it especially when I bake bread.

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    Maryea @ Happy Healthy Mama — February 8, 2012 at 6:11 pm

    I use a variety of brands depending on the type of flour. For baking I mostly use Bob’s Red Mill whole wheat pastry flour. I agree with other commenters that for bread, King Arthur is the best.

    Reply

    • Averie @ Love Veggies & Yoga replied: — February 8th, 2012 at 8:46 pm

      I know you’re frugal and I know you wouldnt say K.A. is the best if you truly didn’t think so….and I take your word for it and am going to try it out!

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    emily W. — February 8, 2012 at 6:25 pm

    I pretty much stick to King Arthur for everything: cake flour, unbleached AP, white whole wheat, whole wheat, bread flour. And I agree with a previous poster about the yeast breads – I only use their bread flour if I can help it. The difference is subtle, and part of it is that I really don’t like bleached flour and I can’t find generic unbleached where I live now. It’s not even legal to sell in some countries. Besides which King Arthur is about $3/5lb where I can get it so you betchyer tush I’m buying that! Especially given that I don’t bake like a madwoman a $.50 difference isn’t going to bring down the house. Though if I could find an unbleached generic like I could at HEB in TX I’d be all over that.

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    Jamie @ Thrifty Veggie Mama — February 8, 2012 at 6:39 pm

    I have noticed that King Arthur flour gives better results when baking cookies but haven’t really noticed with baked goods. Would be interesting to do a side by side bake test.

    Reply

    • Averie @ Love Veggies & Yoga replied: — February 8th, 2012 at 8:45 pm

      “I have noticed that King Arthur flour gives better results when baking cookies”- thanks for that anecdote. I’m going to try it, soon.

      Reply

      • Jamie replied: — February 9th, 2012 at 4:17 am

        Oops. I meant to say better results with bread :)

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    Paula — February 8, 2012 at 6:54 pm

    Bread flour for yeast breads, Kroger AP for everything else. Since I have a vita mix w/ a dry container, I also grind my own wheat berries, buckwheat, millet, quinoa, rice, or any other grain for other flours. I typically mix them with a little AP or bread flour so things will rise better.

    Reply

    • Averie @ Love Veggies & Yoga replied: — February 8th, 2012 at 8:44 pm

      I have the dry blade, too. But I actually just grind with the wet blade if I’m just grinding a cup or two of oats :)

      Glad to hear you use Kroger AP for everything else.

      Reply

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    Nadine — February 8, 2012 at 7:22 pm

    Wow, flour is so much cheeper in the states, like scary cheeper. Here a bag of flour is around 6$ and I buy at the discount store(usually the organic kind).

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    Anna @ On Anna's Plate — February 8, 2012 at 7:37 pm

    That baking chart is really helpful– I love seeing what all of the different methods can do to a simple batch of cookies.

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    Jane — February 8, 2012 at 7:52 pm

    I call b.s. On that small of a protein difference having an effect on baked goods.
    Say a 5 lb bag of flour was 11.7% protein. Then there is about 0.58 lbs of protein per 5 lb bag (.117 X 5 = 0.58). Lets say you use 5 lbs of flour to make 20 cookies (theoretically) then each cookie has 0.029 lbs of protein per cookie. There are 16 ounces in a pound, so to break down there is 0.0018 ounces of protein per cookie.

    Running the same (theoretical) calculations for the flower that is 10.5% protein, yields
    (.105 percentage protein {expresed as a decimal} X 5 lbs of flour = 0.52 lbs of protein per 5 lb bag of flour) = 0.026 lbs of protein per cookie or 0.0013 ounces of protein per cookie.

    For some reason I have a hard time believing 0.0005 ounces of protein per cookie make a difference in texture or taste, not to mention the cost.

    5 lb bag of flour / 20 cookies = 0.026 pounds of protein per cookie.

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    Julie — February 8, 2012 at 7:58 pm

    I try to use whole wheat or mix whole wheat and all purpose unbleached. I don’t think brand matters. I’ve tried gluten-free flours as well and oat flour when I can.

    P.S. I love my cookies chewier too!

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    Katie — February 8, 2012 at 8:39 pm

    I think the protein difference really comes into play with bread because kneeding the dough (especially if there is more protein) activates the gluten, which makes a chewier, denser bread. I don’t think it matters as much with cookies, but that is why most recipes say not to over mix when you add the flour.

    That’s one of the only nice things about GF baking – you can’t overmix! But the flours all suck in comparison to AP flour. Oat flour is the best for on-its-own baking, Namaste makes the best all pourpose blend. I’ve done my homework, too. :D

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    Kiran @ KiranTarun.com — February 8, 2012 at 8:41 pm

    That egg, sugar & butter chart is very helpful — thank you!! :)

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    katie @ KatieDid — February 8, 2012 at 9:10 pm

    I like experimenting with some different flours but they usually end up sitting in my cabinet/fridge after a few trials because I don’t bake that much. I need to learn this about myself! I have almond meal, garbonza bean flour, coconut flour, and all purpose GF all waiting to be used up!

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    Deborah — February 8, 2012 at 10:21 pm

    I typically just buy the store brand because I’m cheap! I should do some baking tests one day, though, because I have heard people swear by King Arthur. But then I might fall in love and go broke!! :)

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    Leanne @ Healthful Pursuit — February 9, 2012 at 4:16 am

    Sometimes people will ask me if regular all purpose flour will work for my recipes. Sad to say… I’ve never, ever baked with it. I know nothing about how it acts or which are better… but I can say for almond flour that I find there is such a variety! The brand you get really determines how well your muffin will be!

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    Christine (The Raw Project) — February 9, 2012 at 5:29 am

    Interesting post on flour, thanks! It’s a grey area for sure, there are so many different types. I use either whole wheat flour or chickpea flour lately for cooking either pancakes or socca.

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    marla — February 9, 2012 at 6:18 am

    Lots of great info here Averie for both bakers and wanna be’s!!

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    Rachel @ The Avid Appetite — February 9, 2012 at 7:21 am

    Thanks for sharing this. I’m really interested in learning more about the ingredients that go into baked goods…the anatomy of a cookie or cake…and how adding more or less of something will alter it for your taste! I think some science experiments need to commence. As for brand of flour, I usually use Gold Metal.

    Reply

    • Averie @ Love Veggies & Yoga replied: — February 9th, 2012 at 11:00 am

      Glad that the Gold Medal is working for you and I want to do some side by side tests!

      Reply

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    jackie @ marin mama cooks — February 9, 2012 at 7:27 am

    Hi Averie! I am a King Arthur fan and I have a favorite brand of vanilla and brown sugar. My sister in law who is a pastry chef and also graduated from the CIA, tells me that the less expensive flours and sugars work just as well and that I am wasting my money on the expensive stuff. Perhaps she is right because her pastries are amazing and she owns a very successful catering company on Minneapolis.

    I do prefer dark chocolate over milk in anything I bake as milk chocolate tastes to artificial now that I have gotten use to the darker varieties. My kids agree as well.

    Reply

    • Averie @ Love Veggies & Yoga replied: — February 9th, 2012 at 11:00 am

      I grew up in Mpls!! I think she’s a wise woman and probably pretty frugal and much like the women I grew up with, i.e. my mom and grandma and so forth :)

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    Deirdre @ Ladies holiday — February 9, 2012 at 7:28 am

    Averie,
    Who knew there could be so many factors? Thank you though for illuminating some of the finer details…and as an interesting aside, I was having a oatmeal raisin cookie craving a few weeks ago and literally tried three different recipes! But I was looking for the chewy in the middle crunchy around the edges kind and I think I’ve found it!! Yay (though since I wasn’t achieving the desired effect with the recipes I was trying, I hadn’t considered all the components that could be effecting the cookie…)
    Lots to chew on!!!

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    Kris | iheartwellness.com — February 9, 2012 at 8:56 am

    Thank you dollface!! If I wasn’t grain free right now, I’d dive into every batch of flour and make your GOODIES!!!!

    xxoo

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    Annie @ Naturally Sweet Recipes — February 9, 2012 at 9:18 am

    I typically try to avoid all white refined flours. Though I use store brand when I do use it. I love spelt flour and white wheat. I feel they give great taste and hold up really well in baked goods. I love that cookie baking chart! SO helpful to have it mapped out like that, especially when you want to experiment! And oh my word, your treats look amazing!!

    Reply

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    Anna @ The Guiltless Life — February 9, 2012 at 9:34 am

    I really love reading posts like this because I learn so much more from them. Even just knowing that the higher levels of protein help yield a crustier baked product is helpful, let alone all your other comparisons, so thank you! It’s tidbits like this that make good cooks into great ones, right??? (I say hopefully!)

    Reply

    • Averie @ Love Veggies & Yoga replied: — February 9th, 2012 at 10:58 am

      I like your logic, yes :) And I like random facts and anything that can help…that good to great thing :)

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    Natasha — February 9, 2012 at 9:40 am

    I absolutely love to use coconut flour – it is a very sweet flour so naturally I’m obsessed with it :)
    I usually stick with Bob’s red mill flours – they never fail for me.
    I would love to try garbanzo flour – I have been meaning to try to make socca.
    PS the other day I made your Marshmallow Peanut Butter Double Chocolate Pillowtop Bars – OMG they were amazing….they didn’t last long in my house!!!!
    Love your blogs too! Just goes to show that dessert can be a part of a healthy/fit lifestyle :)

    Reply

    • Averie @ Love Veggies & Yoga replied: — February 9th, 2012 at 10:57 am

      Thanks for LMK you made the marshmallow pillowtop bars…there were/are one of my FAVE desserts from 2011 (and ever) :)

      Thanks for reading and saying hi and making those!

      Reply

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    Amber K — February 9, 2012 at 10:58 am

    Oh my gosh, remembering how cheap “regular” flour is makes me yearn for my pre-gluten problem days. I never paid any attention to the brand I was buying at that time though. I just bought whatever was generic and cheapest, because I never even realized there would be a difference between them. I figured it was all the same stuff and they just suckered some people into spending more and I didn’t want to be one! ha!

    I mostly use oat flour now, because my stomach doesn’t allows like the bean flours and I haven’t wanted to spend a ton of money experimenting with all of the other gluten-free flours.

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    Jolene (www.everydayfoodie.ca) — February 9, 2012 at 4:10 pm

    I typically use whole wheat and white unbleached flour. The numerous types of flour is overwhelming!

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    Meghan — February 9, 2012 at 5:45 pm

    I am not a baker by any means, but I took a class at King Arthur last year, and after learning what an awesome company they are, am a flour devotee! They do a lot of great work around the country teaching kids about baking and sharing the baked bread with local organizations. They are also employee-owned. Our experience with them was just wonderful!

    Reply

    • Averie @ Love Veggies & Yoga replied: — February 9th, 2012 at 9:52 pm

      I love this firsthand account. THIS is what I love hearing about companies. On that alone, I bought some at the grocery store tonight and will be trying it out in my next batch of something or other!

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    Elisabeth — February 9, 2012 at 5:51 pm

    I buy organic sprouted wheat flour from a woman who sprouts and grinds it herself. I prefer sprouted flour for the nutritional aspects alone. It bakes up pretty much the same as regular wheat flour.

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    Tiffany Mirisoleiman — March 1, 2012 at 2:40 pm

    This is a great article on flour:http://www.cooksillustrated.com/tastetests/overview.asp?docid=9804

    Reply

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