If you’ve been cooking and baking under the impression that all-purpose flour is the only option, you need to take a seat. There are a plethora of all-purpose flour alternatives, ranging from wheat- and grain-free flours to flours created for particular baking projects. Flour is traditionally made from finely ground wheat or grains. Of course, there are gluten-free options, but even wheat flours can be classified based on one essential factor: protein concentration. During the kneading or mixing process, the protein in the flour aids in the formation of gluten, which gives baked goods their structure. The more protein there is, the more gluten there is, and the more ‘structured’ your final product will be.
Cake flour is made from soft wheat varieties, usually soft red winter wheat, and is low in protein (about six percent). Cake flour is milled exceptionally fine, resulting in a lighter crumb, with a looser structure and fluffy texture. Due to its low level of gluten, cake flour is ideal for baked goods with a soft texture, making it easy to achieve softer, lighter textures when baking delicate cakes, biscuits, layered cakes, and cupcakes.
On the other hand, pastry flour is a finely ground flour that is low in protein (about eight percent). Pastry flour is lower in gluten and is suitable for baked goods with a chewy, flaky, or crumbly texture, such as pie crust, croissants, scones, tarts, or quick breads.
Key differences between cake flour and pastry flour:
Pastry flour is ground very finely. It’s much finer than all-purpose flours, which are meant to handle a wide range of tasks. The texture of dough made with all-purpose flour will be thicker than dough made with pastry flour, although it can still be made. You may also notice that the texture is more bready or floury than the crisp, airy feel of good cakes. Pastry flour is quite adaptable, but it will always seem smoother than coarser flour, such as all-purpose flour or coarse ground semolina.
Cake flour is ground even finer. When you hold cake flour in the palm of your hand, one of the first things you’ll notice is how smooth, cool, and cushiony it feels. You won’t be able to feel individual grains in this flour, assuming you can detect them. Due to the larger surface area of the flour, it usually feels very cool, if not cold, even after being in a warm environment. It’s an even finer floor, which means it’s even softer, cooler and more cushiony.
Pastry flours contain less protein. This is mainly due to the use of wheat varieties that are inherently low in protein. Pastry flour is usually white flour, which adds to the properties of the flour. The low protein content in the flour suggests that the flour is particularly soft. Hard flours include more protein, resulting in stiffer or tougher finished items. This is important because the lack of protein chains in the dough limits elasticity, which allows you to make a crispy or airy crust, and rigidity, which allows the dough to turn out soft.
The difference between pastry flour and pastry flour, as with texture, is that pastry flour has even less protein than regular pastry flour. This is why a batter made with pastry flour and a batter made with pastry flour produce two different cake textures.
Both will be cake, but the one made with cake flour will be noticeably lighter and with more air spaces. Take the same basic dough and make it with cake flour and bread flour. Baked in muffin tins, one batter will most likely be clearly recognizable as cupcakes, while the other batter will probably feel more textured like a muffin, even if the flavor is the same. This is the main reason why you shouldn’t swap cake flour for bread flour, pasta flour, or even all-purpose flour.
Pastry flour is ideal for light, flaky pastries like croissants, as well as baked goods like brownies and chocolate chip cookies. Items baked with cake flour, on the other hand, have a lighter texture, like cupcakes. Cake flour and pastry flour are low in gluten and should not be used to make breads, pastas, or baked goods that require gluten development.