Picking Flour for Better Bread and Pasta

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Did you know that all flours are not alike? In the baking classes at the South Bay School of Cooking, we hear many questions: When should I use unbleached vs. bleached, whole wheat, self-rising or bread flour? What about wheat substitutions?

Wheat Basics

Without getting overly technical, all flour is derived from wheat grain. Different varieties produce varying degrees of protein. It is the protein (gluten) in wheat that interacts with water to make a strong bread loaf or good pasta.

Picking Flour: Bleached, Unbleached, Whole Wheat and Semolina

For most recipes, all-purpose is fine, but I strongly suggest using unbleached. Flour naturally lightens over time as it ‘cures’. This process takes time—several months—and for the food industry, time is money. Bleached flour is chemically altered to become white faster—within 48 hours—so it can be on the shelf much faster and usually at a lower price, especially for commercial use. The chemicals used in the bleaching process are benzoyl peroxide or chlorine gases that strip the tan coloring, as well as the nutrients and life force from them. I only use unbleached flour for everyday baking and most yeast breads.

Occasionally I will use heirloom stone ground wheat for hearty whole wheat loaves and sometimes add semolina. For pasta, hard ‘durum’ semolina is key.

Baking Mistakes: Preparation & Measurement

Why don’t my baked recipes turn out? Why is it that when I make the same recipe it comes out differently?

Probably the most common mistake in baking is measuring. Are you using a liquid measuring cup instead of a dry measuring cup? The measurement is not different, but you’re unable to measure flour correctly using a liquid measuring cup. Are you just dipping your measuring cup into the bin? A cup of flour should weigh 4.4 oz. Prior to measuring, it should be sifted, whisked or fluffed to aerate and lighten it. Start by gently spooning flour over the top of the cup. Then use a flat edge to scrape across the top of the cup and removing any excess. Some students go through all the fluffing and spooning but then tap the cup on the table to pack it back down. Then they add more flour, which nullifies the aerating.


Pick the right flour, prepare it, measure carefully. Then you’ll be well on your way to a great baking season. Check the class schedule for upcoming baking and pasta classes too!



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