Baking Guide | 7 Types of Flours and When to Use Them

These days, baking recipes call for all types of flours. And though it may seem like no big deal to swap in what you have on hand, different flours can vary to pretty extreme amounts. Recipes will be written to account for the specific flavor, texture, and absorbency of the flours used, so changing a recipe will often have a drastic effect. Here is our guide to substituting flours, plus their weights per cup to help you do so. Happy baking!

A note on substitutions: There are all kinds of reasons you may want to substitute out a certain flour – you may be looking to boost nutritional value, achieve a different flavor profile, be baking for someone with a gluten intolerance, or simply don’t have a specific flour on hand! Many chefs and bakers have experimented with substituting in flours, and your results at home will vary based on the recipe and your desired results. Trial and error is your best strategy! We’ve listed some common suggestions for subs.

 

Unbleached All-Purpose

What It Is

Wheat grains are seeds that contain three parts – the germ, bran, and endosperm. When processed, white flour is stripped of the bran and germ, leaving behind the fine, pale endosperm. While this does it mean it won’t go rancid as quickly as whole wheat flour, it doesn’t have as much flavor and you’ll miss out on the nutrition from the fiber and protein in the bran and germ.

When to Use It

If you only have one kind of flour in your kitchen, choose this one – they don’t call it all-purpose for nothing! Most recipes for cookies, bread, pie dough, and other baked goods will call for it. It’s high levels of gluten will create more structure and elasticity in your baked goods, so it’s a good choice for situations where you need the dough to be a little more resilient.

What You Can Substitute it With

For each cup of all-purpose flour, try:

1/3 cup whole wheat flour plus 2/3 cup white flour
3/4 cup coarse cornmeal
3/4 cup rice flour
1.5 cups oat flour

Recipes to Try

 

Whole Wheat

What It Is

In contrast to white flour, whole wheat flour is made by processing the whole kernel of the wheat grain – bran, germ and endosperm. This makes it higher in dietary fiber than white flour and gives it that darker color and nuttier flavor. White it has a bit more protein, it actually contains less gluten. This is why breads with 100% whole wheat flour are generally denser in structure.

When to Use It

In recipes, you’ll most likely see whole wheat flour called for in combination with all-purpose flour for heartier breads, or cookies and muffins with higher nutritional value.

What You Can Substitute it With

Be careful substituting whole wheat flour – it’s high protein content means it absorbs more liquid than other low-protein flours. You can generally substitute up to 1/4 cup of whole wheat flour with oat flour. Or, for 1 cup of whole wheat flour, 1/2 cup can be subbed with all-purpose flour. More than that and you’ll likely have to adjust the ratio of dry to wet ingredients.

Recipes to Try

Pastry

What It Is

Sometimes called cake flour, pastry flour is milled from a soft wheat, but has less protein and a finer texture. This also means less gluten development, and it’s designed for use with leavening agents – baking soda and baking powder.

When to Use It

Less elasticity from the lower protein/gluten content means pastry flour is best for baked goods like quick breads (not yeast breads), biscuits, cookies, pie dough, and pancakes. The final product will be crumbly and tender rather than fluffy and airy.

What You Can Substitute it With

The Kitchn has this recommendation for replacing pastry flour with all-purpose flour: take 2 tablespoons of every cup of all-purpose flour and replace it with 2 tablespoons of corn starch. (Sift the flour mix for best results!) Cake flour is also similar to pastry flour, and can often be used as a substitute.

Recipes to Try

Buckwheat

What It Is

Despite the name, buckwheat flour is not a variety of wheat, and is naturally gluten-free. It’s almost blue in color and has a rich, nutty flavor. You may know it from soba noodles, in which it’s the main ingredient. It’s an incredibly versatile and nutrient-dense flour, supplying all your essential amino acids.

When to Use It

Use buckwheat flour for pancakes or crepes, crackers, noodles, and dense cakes, rather than breads and baked goods. Take note that this flour absorbs a lot of water!

What You Can Substitute it With

If you want to maintain some sense of distinct flavor, try using equal amounts of quinoa or spelt flour instead of buckwheat, though note that it may change the level of moisture. Flours like oat, barley, rice, or corn may also be fine substitutes, though note that recipes may have adjusted the leavening for use with buckwheat – be open to experiment!

Recipes to Try

Oat

What It Is

Oat flour is made by simply grinding oats! The result is a superfine, fluffy, and sweet flour that will make baked goods chewier and crumblier. It will give baked goods more flavor than those made with all-purpose – it’s a great entry into whole grain flour. And as an added bonus, it’s gluten-free! (Though you will need to make sure it was made from certified gluten-free oats if you’re baking for someone with Celiac’s or a serious gluten allergy.)

When to Use It

When combined with wheat flour, oat flour makes a wonderful whole wheat bread. It is often used as a gluten-free substitute in make cookies, quick breads, and muffins as well.

What You Can Substitute it With

If you have oats on hand, you can easily make your own oat flour by grinding rolled or quick-cooking oats in a food processor. If you have neither on hand, try using a combination of all-purpose and whole wheat flour instead.

Recipes to Try

Rye

What It Is

Rye is a grain, though not a wheat variety. As a flour, it can be described as tangy and gummy. It’s low in gluten and high in nutrients – it retains much of the bran when processed, which is where the protein and fiber is stored.

When to Use It

You can use rye flour in breads, though start with a smaller ratio of rye-to-wheat flour when starting out. Besides the obvious rye sandwich bread, rye can also be used in sweet bread and cookies – it pairs well with chocolate.

What You Can Substitute it With

If a recipe calls for a small amount of rye flour, you can most likely leave it out and make up the different with wheat flour. There’s is really no substitute, however, to get that rye flavor in a bread!

Recipes to Try

Spelt

What It Is

An ancient grain and distant relative of durum wheat, spelt is growing in popularity. It’s nutritional profile beats out that of traditional wheat flour, and has a mild, slightly sweet flavor. It’s relatively easy to work with, and many with a sensitivity to other wheat products find they can more easily digest spelt.

When to Use It

Breads, pizza crusts, cookies, pasta… there is lots you can do with spelt flour! It can generally be used in place of whole wheat flour, though it’ll probably require less liquid.

What You Can Substitute it With

The easiest substitution for spelt flour would be simple whole wheat flour or even a combination of white and whole wheat.

Recipes to Try

 

Looking for more tips on subbing extra virgin olive oil into your baking recipes? Check out our tips here.

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