Last year, I started baking again. It’d been years since I baked, even then it was mostly with cake mixes. But over the holidays, I decided to try my hand at baking from scratch. Baking is an exact science, one that requires every ingredient measured exactly as the recipe calls for it. Otherwise you’ll have a minor disaster on your hands. So the first experiments in the kitchen didn’t turn out as great as I hoped. When I was baking a birthday cake for my father it turned out to be a crumbly mess. And subsequent experimentation ended up tasting too doughy.
For a while, I was puzzled over why my cakes weren’t coming out well or were tasting like dough. No matter what little variation I made to the recipes, they always came out tasting the same. Then I discovered a little secret. It turns out there’s a huge difference in the texture of flour you use for your cakes.
After doing a little online research, I learned there’s a difference between cake flour and all-purpose flour. The differences are all in the texture, and this texture can add or detract from your cake crumbs. There is also a difference in the amount of starch in either cake or all-purpose flour, and how much their particles are grounded in each. For instance, cake flour is milled from soft wheat, while all-purpose flour is a mixture of hard and soft wheat. Hard wheat tends to have more protein (which is why whole wheat flour, to which hard wheat is often added, is considered healthier than white) and, when baked, produces a more porous texture.
Gluten, a protein found in flour, also affects the texture of baked goods. The high-concentration of gluten found in bread flour, for instance, helps create an elasticity that is not found in cake flour, and is ideal for baking breads. Cake flour, on the other hand, has the weakest gluten and a high starch content, making it ideal for light and tender cakes. All-purpose flour falls somewhere in between.
This was the reason why so many of my cakes did not turn out well. When I used All-Purpose flour, the cakes tasted doughy, but the consistency was also dense. The texture didn’t have the lightness of cakes and were actually quite heavy. After switching to cake flour, I noticed an immediate difference. The crumbs were much lighter, delicate, and less dense, and the cakes didn’t have that doughy flavor to them. The richness in the flavors were much more apparent.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that All-Purpose flour can’t be used for baking cakes or pastries. Most bakers have a general rule when substituting Cake flour with All-purpose. Use 1 cup of all-purpose flour, but subtract 2 tablespoons. This is the equivalent of a cup of cake flour. So for every cup, 2 tablespoons should be subtracted. If a recipe calls for all-purpose, but you prefer to use cake flour, then simply add 2 tablespoons to the amount of flour used. The differences in these measurements become apparent when looking at the amount of grams that are in each cup for different types of flour. For instance, 1 cup of All-Purpose Flour holds 140 grams (115 for sifted flour), while 1 cup of Cake flour holds 130 grams (100 grams for sifted). That’s a difference of 10 grams for sifted and 15 for unsifted. That’s an enormous difference in terms of density and texture.
But from now on, I’ll prefer using cake flour. My cakes turn out better and lighter.
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