Flour is one of the essential ingredients in the baking world. Cakes, muffins, cupcakes, cookies – whatever you are making – the chances are they all have one thing in common: flour.
When it comes to cookies, all-purpose flour (also known simply as plain flour) is almost always the most popular flour of choice. Regardless of which recipe you are following, I am willing to bet that the vast majority will ask for all-purpose flour.
That said, if you have run out of plain flour or simply want to try something different, it is certainly possible to use other types of flour too. Subbing in different types of flour is not only a fun experiment but it might just result in the best cookie you’ve ever had.
So, what flour should you use? And what flour is best for cookies? Let’s find out!
First things first, I think we need to talk about the role flour plays in the cookie-making process.
Think of flour as the building block for cookies, it’s what gives the cookie its structure and texture. The flour you use will ultimately determine whether your cookies come out chewy, crispy, soft, or cakey.
What differentiates different types of flour from one another is the amount of protein that it contains and therefore how much gluten it can produce. The more protein in the flour, the more gluten it will produce and the chewier your cookie will be.
On the other hand, flour that has low protein content will produce less amount of gluten and will make for a softer and more delicate cookie.
Because of this, it can sometimes feel like cookies have a mind of their own and can come out of the oven completely different from what you envisioned. Baking the perfect batch of cookies involves a bit of science and a little baking knowledge. It’s not as easy as just following a recipe and hoping for the best.
Over the years, I have followed cookie recipes to the T and, most of the time, my cookies would come out too thin, too crispy, and far too spread out. I love chunky, soft in the middle, crispy on the edges cookie, so you can imagine my disappointment when I am met with a thin, ugly cookie.
Because of this, I started playing around with different ingredients, and I realized how much of a difference flour can make.
The best flour for cookies depends on the kind of texture you are going for and the gluten content of each type of flour. If you want a chewy cookie, you will probably use a different type of flour for those bakers who enjoy a crispy cookie.
Let’s begin with the type of flour most of us are probably most familiar with. All-purpose flour (plain flour) is probably the most widely used flour and one that I make sure I have a constant supply of. Plain flour is usually the top choice when it comes to cookies.
Plain flour is milled from a combination of hard and soft wheat where the bran and germs have been removed. It has a protein level between 10%-12%, although this really depends on which brand you buy. This puts plain flour in the mid-range gluten content category, meaning it’s perfect for cakes, cookies, muffins, and all our favorite baked desserts.
All-purpose flour can be found as bleached, where it is bleached by a chemical process, or unbleached, where it is still technically bleached but naturally, as it ages. You can find both types in most stores and can be used interchangeably.
Plain flour is the most versatile out of all the different types and is a pretty safe option when it comes to making cookies with it. As you would expect, all-purpose flour makes a cookie with a soft, slightly chewy interior and a crispy exterior.
TOP TIP: If you do want to have a more chewy texture to your cookie, try using a mix of both plain flour and bread flour. This should create the right texture without being ridiculously chewy that it sticks to your teeth.
Behind plain flour, self-rising flour is also up there as one of the most popular flours used by bakers. It is perfect for making fluffy pancakes, cakes, and muffins as the presence of baking powder make the batter rise in the oven.
This type of flour is basically all-purpose flour mixed with baking powder, which is a leavening agent. It has a low protein content, ranging between 8%-11%, depending on the brand. The lower protein content means that self-raising flour has a lower gluten creation.
Self-rising flour is probably not what you would instantly reach for when making cookies. Cookies are known to be relatively flat, so surely self-rising flour would make cookies rise too much in the oven, right?
Yes and no. If you use 100% self-raising flour, this will result in a taller and more cakier cookie that is too soft. If the recipe already has baking powder in it and you add self-raising flour, it can also end up being too flat or too fluffy, depending on the amount of baking powder present.
The triple chocolate cookies I make use of a combination of plain flour, self-raising flour, baking powder, and baking soda. This might sound like a lot of different raising agents, but the presence of plain flour balances everything out.
Here’s the video recipe for these cookies, I highly suggest giving them a try, they are DELICIOUS!
It sounds a bit ridiculous using bread flour as this is most usually used for, well, bread! You wouldn’t really use it for anything else. Bread has a protein content of 12%-14%. This type of flour has one of the highest amounts of protein and creates the most gluten. Gluten is what makes bread chewy and soft.
The protein in the flour along with the eggs and butter creates a cookie with a texture that is like no other. If you substitute your usual flour for 100% bread flour for cookies, you will find that your cookies will come out incredibly chewy and not at all crisp. These are comparable to the cookies you get from the grocery store that are really soft and never seem to dry out or go out of date.
Cookies with bread flour will keep their structure more in the oven and won’t spread out much, meaning you’ll have quite a chunky cookie in your hands. I personally like a chunky, chewy, soft cookie, so bread flour is something I will use quite often in my cookies.
But, for others, these cookies might be too soft and too pliable, especially if you tend to reach out for a crispy, thin cookie.
If you like a cookie with a good balance of chewy and crips, try using 50% all-purpose flour and 50% bread flour. This combination will create a cookie that is a good level of chewy with nice crispy edges and a soft center.
Cake flour has a very low protein level of around 7%-8%. This means that it doesn’t produce a lot of gluten.
Cake flour is mainly used when baking cakes as it yields a very light, soft, and fluffy sponge. Cake flour works well with cake sponges as you want your cake to be super soft, but would it work with cookies?
This type of flour is heavily bleached to weaken the gluten content. Due to the lack of gluten, the flour absorbs more liquid and holds onto a lot of moisture.
A cookie needs to have a strong structure so it doesn’t fall apart and with cake flour, you won’t get the sturdiness you are looking for in a cookie. A cookie with 100% cake flour will turn out too cakey and too soft to keep its structure.
If you do want a soft, cakey, cookie then your best thing to do would be to combine both cake flour and plain flour.
By using 50% plain flour and 50% cake flour, you should get a cookie that is sturdy, yet soft without breaking apart. The cookie will come out paler and won’t be very chewy.
Using wheat flour for cookies is probably not the first type of flour that springs to mind when making cookies. Whole wheat flour is used to make delicious brown bread packed with fiber.
Whole wheat flour is made using the whole kernel and has a distinctively darker color compared to white flour.
Like bread flour, whole wheat flour has a high protein content of around 11%-15%. This is quite high and gives the impression that it will create lots of gluten, making for a very chewy and soft loaf of bread.
Despite the high protein content, whole wheat flour makes quite a dense loaf. This is because the gluten structure is much weaker due to the presence of bran in the flour.
If you were to use whole wheat flour in cookies, your cookie will be denser and have a darker color. It also doesn’t spread the cookie out as much and maintains quite a tight structure.
Having said that, if you are looking to make a ‘healthy’ cookie (if there is such a thing) with more nutrients then using whole wheat flour is definitely worth a try. It will give your cookie a stronger flavor and can turn out a little gritty, so that’s something to keep in mind if you choose whole wheat flour.
What we’ve learned is that flour has a huge impact on how cookies turn out. Flour doesn’t just affect the structure, but it has an impact on the flavor, color, and texture.
So, what is the best flour for cookies? Every flour is different and will yield a completely different cookie, which ultimately comes down to personal preference. My favorite cookie recipes use a combination of self-raising and plain flour and I think this creates the perfect balance between a chewy center and crispy exterior.
At the end of the day, the flour you use really comes down to what texture you want your cookie to be. Using cake flour for cookies is probably not the best, especially if you are planning on using 100% cake flour. If you like a soft cookie, try a 50-50 cake flour and plain flour mix.
If you are looking to get a chewy cookie, give bread flour a try. If you find it’s too chewy, subbing in some plain flour will balance out the texture.