February 11, 2022 5 min read

All about cake flour answers the much asked question : So, what is cake flourCake flour is a flour that in many cases will help you to cake perfection  every time.
There are many types of flour and if used correctly delivering incredibly different baking results. Cake flour is a lower protein flour that produces a lighter, softer cake crumb texture. In addition to it's composition being lower in protein it is also often ground to a finer more powdery finish. The result using cake flour is a tender, more delicate cake texture.
In many cake recipes a simple Plain or Self Raising flour will suffice. However for any cake where you are looking for a lighter, more tender result try cake flour next time.

What is the protein content of cake flour?

Made from wheat the protein content of cake flour in Australia is around 7-9 %.
Wheat in a field
Wheat

Where can I buy Cake Flour

For our own home cooking, we buy cake flour at the supermarket. We find Lighhouse Cake & Pastry Flour to be an excellent flour for use in cake baking. 
Besides delivering great cake flour we are inspired by the LIghthouse foundation story. As a small pioneering family business we related to the story. We also found inspiration in the business having survived 150 years of world change! Gave us a bit of power actually to keep fighting the current challenge of COVID to the market and small business.

How does cake flour protein compare to other flours ?

Cake flour has a lower protein level than other flours. Here is a general guide as to protein percentages of Australian flour:
Cake Flour Protein  7-9%
Plain Flour 10%
Self Raising Flour 10%
Bread Flour 11-13%
 
Although the percentage of protein seems small they do in fact significantly impact the final texture of baked products. 

What does protein in flour do in a cake?

More protein in flour means more gluten. With an increase in gluten the baked good structure is stronger and more chewy. Bread for example is made with high protein flour because it needs the gluten to form a structure that is that strong and chewy type. High protein bread flour stretches more with the gluten but also holds shape as it is formed into baked goods. The stronger texture created by the higher protein also allows for the bubbles of carbon dioxide formed during baking to be held within the bread structure.
Softer or weaker flours like cake flour form softer structures that tear more easily are less tough, softer to chew and more tender. This is the desirable texture for cake baking.

What is gluten and what does it do in baking?

Gluten is the structural protein found in wheat. Well technically wheat has the two components that can form gluten (see below) . These two proteins mixed with water and worked by mechanical action form gluten and in turn this gives the baked good it's structure. This structure depending on the amount of gluten varies from soft (cake ) to more elastic and firm (bread).

Word Gluten under a magnifying glass

Gluten 

There are two types of naturally occurring protein in wheat - glutenin and gliadin. When these proteins come in contact with water a chemical process commences. Basically the addition of water allows for bonds to form between the proteins glutenin and gliadin and this in turn forms gluten. Mixing, kneading or beating significantly affect the formation of gluten as these processes literally push the proteins together forcing more bonds. 

whisking flour into batter

Whisking flour into batter

Critical in the strength of gluten formation is the amount of water, the protein and fat in the recipe. Fats can form a coating around the proteins preventing bonds from forming.

When heat is applied in the baking process the gluten coagulates and forms a semirigid structure. Wheat also contains starch. When the starch is heated it gelatinizes. The combination of both processes ( gluten formation and starch gelatinization ) is what creates the final cake baked texture.

I hope from this brief chemistry discussion you can see the role cake flour and therefore protein plays in a cake recipe. 

What can be substituted for cake flour?

Yes, if your pantry is short you can substitute cake flour by making your own using plain flour. Add cornstarch using this or a similar recipe. Adding the corn starch reduces the bonds forming that would otherwise produce gluten.

Although your using plain flour instead of cake flour by adding the corn flour you have slightly weakened the formation of gluten and your cake should be softer and more tender. 

Do I have to use cake flour in recipes?

No, many cakes, cookies and muffins can easily be baked using standard plain or self raising flour. However if you're looking for a slightly more tender cake then we'd recommend giving cake flour a go.

How can I substitute cake flour for regular flour?

As you can see from the chemistry above, depending on the recipe the substitution may not be so simple. Some recipes of course probably wont be impacted but generally speaking if the cake recipe calls for regular flour and you want to use cake flour, then you probably will want to add a little more. The recipe will have been developed with slightly more gluten expected from the plain flour so by using cake flour one for one you may reduce the batter structure. 

I guess with these types of kitchen conundrums the best thing to do is try. I mean I wouldn't try on a special cake but if you've time then try one for one cake flour substitution and see what happens. Usually from my experience in product development, the best thing to do is go extreme variations in recipe ingredients and see where your boundaries lie. I always start experimentation with a big jump and see what happens. It is then a matter of going back and trying small variations.

Can you make cakes with bread flour?

So you only have bread flour and you want to make a cake? Ha my first reaction is to say - bake bread! That said from time to time our panty is caught short and there may be a time when you need a cake but only have bread flour available. 

You can bake a cake with bread flour. Depending on the cake recipe this may work. It may also be worth trying the corn starch trick mentioned above. If the recipe does result in a cake with bread flour chances are you'll still have a very tough chewy cake! But then some cake is always better than none!

Does cake flour go bad?

Flour has a long shelf life - usually around 12 months if it has been stored correctly. It can go bad though and of course given baking a cake is a sensitive exercise you'll want to make sure you've got the best ingredients to get the best result.

Fresh flour usually is odourless or slightly earthy. Flour that has gone bad will have a definite odour - usually sour. 

How do I store cake flour?

Store cake flour in cool dry pantry or cupboard, Importantly make sure that is tightly sealed and safe from pests and moisture. Storing cake flour is no different to storing other flours. 

What else can I make with cake flour?

You can use cake flour in muffins, cookies, waffles and many other products

I hope this article has helped understand a little about the chemistry of cake making and especially around the use of cake flour. If you have a question about cake flour or cake baking in general drop me a note in the comments section.

 


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