One ingredient that is almost always present when we bake is flour. This white powdery substance is the backbone of most recipes and comes in many different forms. In this post I will list the most prominently used flours used for baking as well as some wheat-free alternatives.
Usually, the word "flour" used alone refers to wheat flour, which is one of the most important foods in European and American culture. Wheat flour is the main ingredient in most types of breads and pastries. Wheat is so widely used because of an important property: when wheat flour is mixed with water, a complex protein called gluten develops. The gluten development is what gives wheat dough an elastic structure that allows it to be worked in a variety of ways, and which allows the retention of gas bubbles in an intact structure, resulting in a sponge-like texture to the final product. This is highly desired for breads, cakes and other baked products.
Bread Flour - This type of flour is also known as hard wheat flour. It has a high-gluten content and when water is added to the flour, the gluten causes it to become elastic and stretchy. This is desirable because yeast needs elasticity to help the bread rise.
Cake and Pastry Flour - This flour has a low-gluten content and produces delicate and tender baked goods. It is milled from soft wheat.
All Purpose Flour - This type of flour is a mix of both high-gluten and low-gluten flour. It is ideal for making pastry. There are two kinds: bleached and unbleached. Bleached flour has been chemically bleached to make the flour whiter and easier to blend with ingredients with higher percentages of fat and sugar. Both flours are virtually indistinguishable in baking.
Whole Wheat Flour - This flour is milled from whole wheat kernels and is ususally used in conbination with other flours to a nutty flavour and texture to finished baked goods. It contains more protein than cake flour.
Pastry Flour - This type of flour is made from soft wheat but not as finely ground as cake flour.
Self-Rising Flour - This is all purpose flour with baking powder (calcium acid phosphate and baking soda) and salt added.
Some alternative flours that can be used for baking are listed below.
Gluten Flour - This is a high-protein flour that is relatively starch free. It is primarily used for people on special diets.
Graham Flour - Is the same as whole wheat flour but more finely ground.
Rye Flour - This flour comes as light, medium or dark. It is sticky and tacky when mixed with liquids. It is high in protein and has limited gluten potential so it results in a dense loaf when it is used alone.
Semolina Flour - This is a yellow granular flour made from the endosperm of durum wheat. It is usually used to make pasta.
Soya/Soy Flour - Is a high-protein flour milled from soy beans. It doesn not develop the gluten necessary for making bread so it had to be combined with a bread-making flour.
Buckwheat Flour - Is milled from buckwheat seeds. Its claylike taste gives baked goods a unique flavour.
Corn Flour - This flour is prepared by milling and sifting yellow or white corn. It should not be confused with cornmeal. It is good for adding texture and colour to baked goods.
Rice Flour - This flour is made by grinding either brown or white rice.
Barley Flour - Is finely ground flour made from hulled barley grains. It is low in protein and high in minerals.
Potato Flour - This flour is made from cooked potatoes that are dried and then ground. It has a high-starch content that contributes to a quick rise in yeast doughs.
This was just a quick overview of flour in its many incarnations. To read more, check out my sources listed below!
The Fannie Farmer Baking Book - Marion Cunningham
Wanda's Pie in the Sky - Wanda Beaver
The Good Cookie - Tish Boyle
and finally Wikipedia where there is a wealth of information for your perusal.