Pantry Magic and the Miracle of AP Flour


In the pancake thread, M had this thought provoking thing to say. I thought it deserved it's own thread:

  • Flour is the most underrated ingredient. It's amazing how many completely different and tasty dishes you can make with flour and just a few other ingredients. But they all depend so much on proper technique and many unspoken rules. If you grew up learning how to "cook by feel", then all of this will be very intuitive. Otherwise, it can certainly be overwhelming.

I've often marvelled at the magic of eggs and wondered who figured out emulsions, meringues, egg rising cakes, egg wash, whipped eggwhites for fluff and structure, custards, sauces and all the miraculous things you can do with the waste product of a rooster's inattention.

I love flour. I love baking and all the things one can do with flour. Grainlady turned me on to the wonders of milling my own flour. I've always kept at least all purpose and bread flour on hand. Now I have a bunch of different grains and flours and different uses for many of them. Recently, however, I've been rediscovering the magic of bleached white AP flour. It's not the most nutritious, but it's certainly the most versatile, and so much fun to play with!

Frankly, I don't really think it was the flour, but I'd kind of lost my biscuit mojo (which I learned from Caroline). The last batch was back to normal, and the ones that weren't as good were bleached. The recent good ones were unbleached white AP. I really do think there were other factors, but I just felt I had to stick up for unbleached flour.

I've spent years working with whole grains only, but it turns out they weren't good for me, which is a shame. They're delicious. But they're a PITA, really, so having an excuse to make lovely things out of white flour isn't entirely unwelcome, though what it really means is that I'm eating more seeds and other nutritious stuff.

I can't give short shrift to the other staples, though. Salt is magic. Sugar is delightful and does nearly as many unimaginably magical things as eggs. Baking soda. Magic. Milk and butter? Possible to live without, but so amazing as they are! And yeast. Wild or commercial, yeast is a gift. Besides all the lovely risey stuff, it's the source of life saving B12 for vegans, because yeasts are simple enough organisms they're willing to eat them. :)

The pancake story was about someone who doesn't really cook, who comes from a different culinary background than most of us, but who wanted to learn the most basic of entries into the world of the magic of our staples, especially flour. No one really needs to eat pancakes, but pancakes have become a trendy trope in popular film and TV, because they're so delightful, and so often bring up memories of family togetherness. A great many cultures make some kind of pancakes. And the few that don't start with some kind of flour are made from eggs. :) Out of our simple staples, even if they're more about the millet or maize or cassava, magic happens.

Comments (3)
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
bragu_DSM 5

too true, too true: a tasty trendy trope ..... yeah!!!!


Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
ediej1209 AL Zn 7

I have several different types of flour on hand: unbleached AP, bread, cake, semolina & durum. The AP can be substituted for any of the others in just about any recipe, but in talking with a KAF customer service lady, bread flour and cake flour are NOT interchangeable. She even told me I should use cake flour only in part in a cake recipe and use AP flour for the rest.

Oh yes, yeast. Both Active Dry and instant have their uses and again are not really interchangeable except in a few cases. If you want pizza crust in a hurry, instant yeast is just the ticket! I always keep both on hand. But instant just a few packets at a time. Active Dry I have a jar of it in the refrigerator. When I bake bread I measure the yeast out first onto a little plate and let it get to room temperature, not sure if that really does anything to help or not. And the other leaveners, baking soda and baking powder. Some recipes don't call for much so it seems hardly worth digging out a measuring spoon for, but leave it out and you won't like the results. I bless those early science pioneers that figured these out!

1 Like Save    
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

A quarter teaspoon makes such a difference, doesn't it? I once lived in a time and place where bp and soda came in little packets. Measuring was a big problem, and I finally learned that half a packet, by eye, of baking powder was enough for a cake, and that it didn't really matter so long as you didn't forget it.

KA are protein happy. :) Their flours are "heavier" than others. So I guess it's natural that the helper suggested half AP for cakes. Or they say that so it'll come out more like cake mix. For standard American white flours, there are four basic categories based on the fact that Southern wheat is traditionally "soft" (lower protein=less gluten) and hard Northern wheat gives "heavier" (higher protein=more gluten): pastry flour 6% protein, cake flour 8% (plain soft wheat), all purpose flour 10.5% (mix of both kinds of wheat), bread flour 13% (hard wheat).

As flour is milled and sold there are a lot of variations. They can test for the protein content of the crop, and try to produce a stabilized protein content so the consumer can have a similar experience, bag after bag.

Scroll down to Antilope's chart detailing many flours by protein content:

For cake, you don't want gluten development. If you leave flour mixed with liquid to sit, the gluten will develop itself. That's the genius behind no knead bread. Kneading promotes the development of the gluten. Stretch it, bang on it, roll it, and it speeds up the process. You can also control the extent by feeling the texture. That's bread. For cake, you want fluff not stretch, and the stretchy gluten will just make the cake tough.

If you bake a cake with pure Swansdown cake flour, you'll get a lovely, airy, melt on the tongue (especially if your fat is butter), open crumb, feather light cake. That's the point of cake flour! With major mill standard white AP, you'll get a denser cake that is still light, but more substantial. With heavier AP's, like King Arthur unbleached, you're wandering into bread territory. As I said, my biscuits, which are also in the feather light, no gluten zone, seem to love KA unbleached, but it's better for lacy breads than cakes. In cakes, it's noticeably heavier in the eating. Lacy bread comes from gluten that is strong enough to puff up well but weak enough for some of the bubbles to break like they do in bubbly bath where they combine to make bigger bubbles.

I haven't been baking as much this past year so have less flour, but always have wheatberries (hard red, hard white and soft white), ryeberries, and small amounts of other grains, to mill as needed, as well as vital wheat gluten, barley malt, etc. I also keep Gold Medal white, Gold Medal bread (for my mother's challah recipe which is more like brioche and doesn't want a heavier flour) and KA unbleached white. I've been known to use KA unbleached bread flour for country style bread, but in the past I was far more likely to use whole wheat so haven't been keeping it on hand.

2 Likes Save    
Browse Gardening and Landscaping Stories on Houzz See all Stories
Life 12 Very Useful Things I've Learned From Designers
These simple ideas can make life at home more efficient and enjoyable
Full Story
Kitchen Design 9 Ways to Save Money on Kitchen Cabinets
Hold on to more dough without sacrificing style with these cost-saving tips
Full Story
Kitchen Layouts 7 Ways to Design Your Kitchen to Help You Lose Weight
In his new book, Slim by Design, eating-behavior expert Brian Wansink shows us how to get our kitchens working better
Full Story