If you are a regular baker, you will probably have a constant supply of flour in your pantry.
Flour is such an important ingredient that can be used for literally everything you bake. Cake, cookies, cupcakes, pastry, you name it, flour is the basis for everything we love to bake!
Flour is also a very important, if not the most important, ingredient in bread. Without flour, there is no bread really.
But, with so many different types of flour, how do we know which one is the best for bread? And can we substitute one flour for another
I usually have both bread flour and plain flour (all-purpose flour) stocked in my pantry and opt to use bread flour when I make bread. But, there are times where I run out of bread flour, leaving me with just plain flour.
I took this as an opportunity to show you how your bread will turn out depending on what type of flour you use.
Well, to be totally honest, I took this as an excuse to spend a whole week eating nothing other than bread! Someone has to eat it, all, right?
Regardless of whether you are making bread by hand or using your bread maker, all these tips will help you with all your bread making adventures.
Can you make bread without bread flour?
The short answer is yes, you can definitely make bread without bread flour and it comes out equally as delicious, depending on the type of flour you use of course.
The most common and well known flours are plain flour, self-rising flour, cake flour and bread flour.
What makes all these flours different to one another is the protein content.
Depending on the level of protein in each type of flour, they could either be deemed suitable or unsuitable for making bread.
Why is flour important?
The main reason why flour is used in bread is to create a structure.
When flour is mixed with water, it starts to hydrate the proteins found in the flour and gluten begins to form.
The higher the protein content, the more gluten will be created.
So, when you are kneading your dough, you are essentially working the gluten and making it more elastic.
This is why many professional bread makers use the windowpane test to check if the gluten has been developed properly.
When you let the dough proof (rise), the starch from the flour starts to break down and the dough begins to ferment. During fermentation, the yeast produces carbon dioxide gas and expands the gluten.
Next time you make homemade bread, proof your bread in a clear bowl so you can see all the bubbles that form.
The quality of the flour and the amount of protein it contains are both very important elements which determine how well your dough rises and how well it bakes in the oven.
Bread flour is called bread flour for a reason! It is the most suitable for bread making.
Bread flour is made entirely from hard wheat, making it the strongest of all the flours out there.
It has a very high protein content of around 12%-14%. The protein level will depend on the brand and the quality of the flour.
Since bread flour has a higher protein level, the gluten developed is very strong, making the dough rise well. You will find that using bread flour will make for a chewier bread with a closed textured crumb.
Bread flour isn’t as versatile as all-purpose flour and is best used for yeasted doughs, like bagels, enriched doughs, pizza and pretzels.
Do we need to mention it can be used for bread? It’s obvious, right?
Plain Flour (all-purpose flour)
When you don’t have bread flour at your disposal, the best alternative is using plain flour instead.
This is what I reach for when I don’t have bread flour and it works just as well with a few slight differences.
Plain flour is milled with both soft and hard wheat, making the protein content around 10%-12%.
This is considered to be around the mid-range levels of proteins making it quite a sturdy flour for bread.
The higher the protein level, the more the water will be absorbed during the rising process.
Since plain flour is mid-range, you might find that the dough will be wetter, but not too wet that you won’t be able to knead your dough.
Plain flour is the most versatile out of all the flours as it can be used for anything, from pastries, pancakes, cakes, cookies and of course, bread.
So, it doesn’t really matter if you don’t have bread flour in your pantry. As long as you have plain flour, you will still be able to make a delicious loaf of bread.
Whole Wheat Flour
Whole wheat flour (also known as whole meal flour) is a great healthy alternative to using white bread flour as it is packed with fibre.
Whole wheat flour is milled from the whole wheat grain and includes all three components of a grain kernel. These are the bran, germ and endosperm.
Whole wheat flour is also distinctly darker than normal white bread flour. The wheat berry has a dark red colour to it and this is what gives whole wheat bread a dark brownish colour when baked.
Whole wheat flour has a protein content of around 11%-15%, which seems like a lot, giving the impression that it will create a strong gluten structure.
Whole wheat flour is actually quite a hard flour to work with. The gluten structure is much weaker than white bread flour due to the presence of the bran in the flour.
Whole wheat bread also has a much stronger flavour and coarse texture and will create a denser loaf since not a lot of gluten structure will be produced.
Since whole wheat flour is very nutritional, it is often used in combination with white flour.
If you want to start adding whole wheat flour to your bread, try subtracting 2 tablespoons of white flour with whole wheat flour for every cup of white flour you use.
Whole wheat flour is best used for whole grain breads or for adding a small portion of it to your white flour. Whole wheat flour isn’t suitable for anything other than bread.
Can you make bread with self-rising flour? Yes, you can, but self-rising flour is mainly used for making cake, muffins, scones and pancakes rather than bread.
Self-rising flour is essentially white flour (plain flour) mixed with baking powder. If you don’t have self-rising flour at home, it is super easy to make at home. All you need to do is add baking powder to it.
Now, for bread, self-rising flour isn’t the flour you would reach for. Not straight away anyway. Especially if you are looking to make a whole loaf.
Self-rising flour can be used if you are making bread with just flour and water or quick breads like naan bread and mini individual bread loaves.
Self-rising flour has very low protein content of around 8%-11%, depending on the brand. The low protein content means that there won’t be a good gluten structure created if you use it to make bread.
Something to keep in mind is that since self-rising flour already has a leavening agent in it; baking powder, it won’t work well with yeast.
As soon as you add water to self-rising flour, the baking powder starts to react, creating air bubbles and air.
Yeast, on the other hand, needs time to activate, hence why yeasted dough needs a few hours to rise.
Using both self-rising flour and yeast will over proof the dough and will probably collapse in the oven.
But, there are ways around this problem! Beer! You might be thinking beer, seriously? Take a look at this recipe!
Cake flour is a very fine milled flour made from very soft white flour and is mainly used for, you guessed it, cake!
I don’t use cake flour, mainly because it isn’t as much of an option here in the UK but also because it is very heavily bleached.
Cake flour has the lowest amount of protein, at around 7%-9%, depending on the brand.
Now that we know the importance of protein in flour, we can all guess that cake flour is definitely not the best for making bread.
Do you know how difficult it is not to be able to eat freshly made bread as soon as it’s ready?
It really tested my patience, and especially my partner’s patience… But, after 2 days of constantly having the bread machine working it’s magic, it was finally time for the taste test!
I made 4 loaves with 4 different types of flour; bread flour, plain flour, whole wheat flour and self-rising flour. (I couldn’t find any cake flour as it is not readily available here in the UK).
The first 3 loaves were made with the exact same quantities; 400 grams flour, 280ml water, ¾ teaspoon yeast, 1 teaspoon of salt, 1 teaspoon sugar and 15ml of olive oil.
The loaf made with self-rising flour, I used the recipe that I mentioned above.
I made my partner do a blind taste test where I gave him a piece from each bread and asked him to compare each one in taste and texture.
The differences are actually quite surprising!
Bread Flour Loaf
Bread flour was definitely the favourite out of all the taste tests. Because of the high protein content, the bread was extra chewy and fluffy.
Although you can see some huge air pockets, it has a strong, tight crumb which didn’t crumble at all when cutting. It was very closed textured compared to the plain flour loaf.
But, because it was very chewy, it was a bit of a nightmare to slice. Let’s just blame my lack of a good knife on that though!
In terms of taste… it was just delicious!! Soft, super fluffy and so chewy. It literally melted in the mouth and didn’t scrape down your throat which I find a lot of breads do.
Plain Flour Loaf
The loaf made with plain flour was definitely the closest comparison to the one made with bread flour. But, there were a few obvious differences.
The first observation my partner made was that that piece of bread made from plain flour was much heavier when he held it than the one made with bread flour.
He was totally right! The bread made with plain flour did feel denser than the one with bread flour and much heavier.
You can see from the photo it has so many more holes which means it is more open textured.
I also found that it was much more crumbly when I cut into it. There were crumbs everywhere!
Having said that though, the loaf was still quite light and tasty. When I tried it though, I did feel like it was drier.
Whole Wheat Loaf
The whole wheat bread loaf was completely different to the one made with bread flour.
Aside from the colour which is much darker, it also had a very distinctive taste. You have definitely tasted the wheat! But that is not a bad thing at all!
I would say it’s the tastiest out of all of the bread loaves because it actually had flavour coming from the wheat.
In terms of texture, it is a very dense loaf. It is quite heavy and it is quite closed textured. It’s definitely not fluffy and light like the bread flour or plain flour one.
Personally, this comes second after the loaf made with bread flour because it’s super tasty and very nutritious.
Loaf with Self-Rising Flour
I made the self-rising flour loaf using a recipe I found online. This recipe used beer as the raising agent.
You can really tell there is no yeast in this loaf as it has hardly risen. The texture and overall appearance reminds me of soda bread.
This bread was extremely dry, extremely dense and not very tasty.
Perhaps I did something wrong. I follows the recipe to the tee, yet it didn’t turn out like the picture in the recipe. The recipe showed it to come out super fluffy but my loaf is very far from being fluffy.
Definitely my least favourite won’t be making it again that’s for sure!
Bread flour is the most ideal flour you can use and is the one that will give you the best structure to your bread.
But, it is not the end of the world if you don’t have bread flour at hand. You can make bread without bread flour as long as you have any of the other flours we talked about.
Plain flour will give you the closest taste and texture to bread flour. So if you find yourself running out of bread flour, reach for the plain flour.
After spending a few days baking and really getting to know each flour, I have discovered a new found love for whole wheat bread.
If you can get your hands on it, it’s a fantastic flour that yields tasty and nutritious bread.