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).
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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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