Flour is the essential ingredient for making yeast breads and quick breads as well as cakes and pastries. Flour is made by grinding cereal grains to a fine powder. The term "meal" means that the grain has been less finely ground. Wheat is the preferred grain for flour. It contains the proteins gliadin and glutenin which when combined with liquid form gluten, an elastic part of the dough that lets the dough expand as yeast or other leaven releases gasses. When the dough is baked, the gluten coagulates and gives structure to the finished bread. For home baking we can get many other kinds of flour, including those made from potatoes, chestnuts and soybeans, as well as buckwheat, rye, corn, rice and millet.
Unbleached flour is similar to all-purpose flour but it has not been bleached. It is a little more nutritious than bleached flour, since bleaching removes part of the nutrients. You can sometimes find this flour with added wheat germ, which makes it especially healthful. It is somewhat heavier than all-purpose flour.
Cake flour is made from soft wheat and is very finely ground and always bleached. Do not use this for bread because it will not develop enough gluten for proper rising.
Whole-wheat flour is the whole grain, with nothing removed and no bleaching. Often this is ground between stones in the old-fashioned way, which makes it especially nutritious.
Rye flour is darker than wheat. The gluten properties are similar, but in different proportions so the gluten lacks stability. Rye flour is often used, therefor, in combination with wheat flour. An all-rye bread will have a very dense texture because the dough will not rise as much.
This flour has been ground much finer than all-purpose flour, and is so soft and silky it needs no sifting. While it is possible to use it for bread, it is more successful in such cooking procedures as sauce making, where it dissolves smoothly without lumping. Do not use this very soft flour for cookies that are shaped in a cookie press or for foods that must hold their shape without a mold or pan.
All flours can become unfit for use if not stored properly. Keep them in a cool, dry place free of insects. Whole-grain flours, which contain the fatty germ, can become rancid if stored too long, or at too high temperatures. It is best to buy them only is small amounts and store them in airtight containers in your refrigerator. Buy only from dealers whose stocks are fresh and properly stored.
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