The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Cake Flour

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xaipete's picture
xaipete

Cake Flour

Occasionally I bake something that calls for cake flour. Until recently I never thought about the fact that Softasilk Cake flour is bleached. The box says it is 3% protein. I looked in the bulk foods section of the market and found Guisto's Baker's Choice unbleached flour at 5% protein. Now I'm curious what others on this forum use when a recipe specifies cake flour.


--Pamela

baltochef's picture
baltochef

Cake flour is arguably the most highly processed and refined form of flour available for sale to the general public..Most of the protein has been removed so that gluten development is minimal..Thus, it has acquired a very bad reputation..I know many cooks that speak of cake flour with the same derision that they speak of tobacco products and smoking..


Many traditional desserts simply cannot be duplicated without the use of cake flour in the ingredient list..The use of stronger flours will result in a much tougher crumb, which in reality means that the cook / baker is not really making the dessert in question..


Similar substitutions are made every day all over the world as chefs try to duplicate recipes, both sweet and savory, with local ingredients..An example is bouillabaisse..Without the exact seafood ingredients that are available in the markets of Marseille, one is not truly making bouillabaisse..Substitutions by a competant cook for the locally available Mediterranean seafood components that are an integral part of the bouillabaisse recipe will almost always result in a very tasty rendition of bouillabaisse..But, in truth it is not bouillabaisse, but simply an excellent tasting Mediterranean-style seafood stew..


The same applies to cakes that call for cake flour in their recipes..Substituting all-purpose flour for cake flour may result in a very tasty cake, but I will state unequivocally that it WILL NOT be as tender as the originator of the recipe intended for the cake to be..Period..If a cooks decides that not using cake flour is the way that they must bake, then so be it..I encourage anyone doing this to make the recipe first using the cake flour, then with A-P flour; so that you are aware of what you are sacrificing by making such substitutions..


I know that bleached flours are a concern for many modern families..My personal opinion is that the regular consumption of highly-refined granulated beet sugars in desserts has a far more deleterious effect on one's body than the occasional consumption of a dessert containing cake flour..


Bruce

xaipete's picture
xaipete

Thanks, Bruce, for replying to my question. I'm not concerned about any potential health risk concerning using bleached cake flour. My question is centered on the final outcome of the product, e.g., cake, crackers, etc. It is better to use the boxed, bleached stuff from the grocery store or obtain an unbleached product from some other source, e.g., KA. Does it make any difference which type I use? How does the protein content affect what I'm making?


I noticed that Softasilk is 10% protein, Giusto's pastry/cake unbleached is 9% protein, KA Mellow is 10%, KA Guinevere is 8%, KA pastry is 8%, Bob's Red Mill pastry is 6% ....


It doesn't seem like there is any standard for cake or pastry flour with respect to protein content. So, does it matter which product (cake or pastry) or brand I use?


--Pamela

baltochef's picture
baltochef

Pamela


Cake flour is almost always specified in a recipe in order to make a finished baked product more tender..Various cake flours will have differing protein contents, differing starch contents, and will develop differing amounts of gluten strands when mixed for X amount of time in the same recipe..


Pastry flour is usually less strong than all-purpose flours, but stronger than cake flours..Most pastry flours that I have seen are darker in color than cake flours, which typically are bleached to a dead white color..


The best thing for you to do is to purchase a variety of pastry and cake flours, and to make a dessert recipe with which you are familiar out of each flour..Keep notes, and make every attempt to duplicate the temperature of the ingredients, the times spent on mixing, etc. for each batch using a different flour as closely as possible so as to eliminate as many variables as possible..Weighing the ingredients instead of using volumetric measurements would be best for consistency..


Then you will have some benchmarks with which to judge the different flours against whatever flour that you had previously been using in that recipe..


Bruce

xaipete's picture
xaipete

I think there are only a couple of things I make with cake flour. What a lot of work, though, to try them with different flours! I think I'm going to switch to unbleached white pastry flour and just see how things go for a while. I hate the idea of having to stock a lot of different kinds of flours that get used only infrequently. I also hate being out of stuff and having to make a trip to a certain grocery store to get "x" because, since you are also a chef, I'm sure you are experiencing the same thing that I am experiencing unless you live in NYC. I have to go to this market for these things and another for other things and a third for additional things and so forth. And it seems like it's getting worse every year. And, if I try something that one market has and like it, you can bet that they'll probably discontinue it as soon as I count on that store carrying it. It's maddening to me.


--Pamela

baltochef's picture
baltochef

Most of my life (and my mother's and grandmother's lives) I have just used everyday all-purpose flour purchased in any grocery store to make the vast majority of the cakes that I make at home..Nothing special, certainly not King Arthur quality..For most people this will be sufficient..However, I know from my early experiences in bakeries and pastry shops during the first 3 years of my culinary career, that there are definitely recipes for which there is no substiture for cake flour..Sponge cakes, chiffon cakes, ribbon cakes, angel food cakes, a portion of the flour in my Danish dough recipe, certain very tender cookies; these all call for cake flour, and substituting all-purpose flour for the cake flour always results in a less tender final product..

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

I've noticed that the cake flour recipes do not ask for the eggs to be separated. 


I believe this to be the major difference.  When AP flour is used, the eggs are usually separated beating the whites until stiff and folding them into the batter.  Not just dropped in.   If I did that with my AP flour recipes, I surely would have heavier cakes.


I believe cake flour was developed for that reason, so eggs could simply be dropped into the batter....a step saving industrial age technique. 


Mini

tjkoko's picture
tjkoko

When it comes to flour, there is an inverse relationship between starch and protein content.  The flour is either high starch/low protein as in cake flour; or, it's low starch/high protein as in bagel flour.  AP flour is midway between those TWO extremes.


So cake flour is high starch/low protein and therefore it gives a crumbly texture; no gluten strands.  BTW for use as a sauce thickener, use a high starch flour such as cake or pastry flour and you'll get a smoother texture.


As I faintly recall, I think I got that information from ARTISAN BAKING ACROSS AMERICA by Glezer.  That book is a good read IMHO.

xaipete's picture
xaipete

I ordered that book over a month ago and Amazon still hasn't shipped it to me. --Pamela

tjkoko's picture
tjkoko

Also when it comes to thickeners, gluten will give a really gummy feel to the sauce; not unpleasant but it's a different mouthfeel compared to a sauce thickened with starch.


I get a lot of used books from Abebooks.com.  They have great prices.

xaipete's picture
xaipete

I use bookfinder.com for used (or Amazon sometimes--love the one-click option). Usually Amazon comes in for me, but this time it has just been a long wait.


--Pamela

niagaragirl's picture
niagaragirl

There are a few things where I find it it is a must for me to use cake flour. One is my choux paste for cream puffs. Even though I did not state it in the recipe as my blog is geared more for new people, I pull back about a Tbsp regular flour and add about 2 Tbsp cake flour. It lightens the puffs just a little. Almost indecernible to most new bakers, but there's a difference to me. Either way, the puffs are still good.


Another is a simple hot milk sponge cake I do. To lighten the sponge, there is just no substitute for cake flour.I pull back the regular flour in the original old recipe and do my own substitution.


When people REALLY used to bake and develop their own things, like in the 1940s, if that old recipe calls for cake flour, you really need to use it. Not using it will make or break your cake.


For any yeast raised dough, never use it because it offers no advantage. One exception is on the topping for that tiger bread, or alligator bread that calls for a rice flour mix.You can try some cake flour as a sub and get sme interesting results.


Cake flour does have its place. I keep a box around, and because of the almost nonexistent protein, it keeps a long time.

xaipete's picture
xaipete

It is easy for me to stock pastry flour. Do you think that makes an even better universal substitute?


--Pamela

Wild-Yeast's picture
Wild-Yeast

Pamela,


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flour


I've been thinking that a tabular reference of all or most commercial flours would be a nice addition to this site.  The wikipedia reference on flour has a rudimentary beginning. . . ,


+Wild-Yeast

xaipete's picture
xaipete

Yes, such a tabular reference would be helpful. The thing I've now noticed about both cake and pastry flour is that there seems to be no standard with respect to protein content. I guess that is why one person would swear by Swans Down, another by Softasilk, and a third by White Lily.


The only thing that is really clear is that cake flour has the lowest protein content, followed by pastry, followed by AP, followed by bread. But there is overlap between these categories depending on the brand.


--Pamela

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

According to CookWise by Shirely Corriher:



It is chlorinated, which means that it is bleached with cholrine gas and deliberately left slightly acidic. This gives cake flour several advantages over nonchlorinated flour:



  • The acidity causes cakes made with cake flour to set slightly sooner, producing cakes with a finer texture. Rose Levy Beranbaum points out that lower-pH (more acidic) batters produce a sweeter, more aromatic quality in cakes.

  • Chlorination enhances the starch's ability to absorb water.

  • Fat sticks to chlorinated starch but not to starch from the same wheat that has not been chlorinated. Since all the air bublbles are in the fat, this leads to a more even distribution of the bubbles. which produces a finer texture.



Personally, I prefer bleached flour for my cakes, especially white and yellow cakes. I don't like the taste unbleached flour gives them---kinda "muffin-y." The floury taste isn't noticeable in chocolate cake, or spicy cakes like carrot or gingerbread. But for those who are just opposed to using bleached flour, here is an ingenious fix:


Kate Flour « A Merrier World


I've never tried it, but if anyone does, please report back :-)
dw

xaipete's picture
xaipete

I just got myself talked into storing only pastry flour and you came up with THE reason why I need cake flour too. I don't want risk ruining my grand-mother's buttermilk chocolate cake, hot milk cake, or angel food cake. I'm putting Swans Down back on my grocery list.


--Pamela

baltochef's picture
baltochef

My grandmother's Devil's food cake recipe, known fondly within my family as Mom's Devil's Food Cake is one of those recipes that most assuredly benifits from the use of cake flour..It is a recipe that dates roughly from late in the second decade of the 20th Century..


Most of my grandmother's decendents elect to use all-purpose flour rather than cake flour..Women baking during the early part of the 20th Century almost always used cake flours in their better recipes..Ordinary flour was usually more suited for making breads as opposed to cakes, and when so used turned out a heavier cake..


Even though this Devil's food cake is made with cocoa, as opposed to chocolate, it is very rich, and keeps its moistness due to the strong black coffee that is the primary liquid ingredient in the cake..


I post this recipe In Merorium for my grandmother, Loretta Myerly, who passed away this past November 2008, just a week shy of her 105th birthday..I rank this cake as one of the better chocolate cakes that I have ever eaten that is made with cocoa..In the tradition of my grandmother, and everyone in my family that makes this cake, it MUST be iced with vanilla buttercream frosting, and not a chocolate frosting..The vanilla buttercream is a perfect foil for the Devil's food cake..I post the recipe as it was originally written..The instructions are my words as the original recipe as dictated to my mother by my grandmother was fairly simplistic..


 


Mom's Devil's Food Cake                                                 350F


8 tablespoons butter, room temperature


1 cup granulated sugar


2 large eggs, room temperature


1 cup hot, strong coffee


1 teaspoon baking soda


1 1/2 cups cake flour


1/2 cup cocoa


1 teaspoon baking powder


Notes: Sift flour, cocoa, and baking powder together until cocoa is incorporated into the flour evenly..Cream the butter and sugar until light..Add the eggs, and beat until light and lemony..Add the baking soda to the coffee, takling care that it does not overflow when it foams up (you are adding a base to an acid)..Add 1/3 of the coffee, and beat until well incorporated..Add 1/3 of the sifted dry ingredients, and beat until just incorporated..Alternate the remaining coffee and dry ingredients in thirds, beating until incorporated, making sure to end with the dry ingredients..Divide the batter evenly between two greased 8" x 1.5" round cake pans that have had their bottoms lined with a circle of waxed (parchment) paper..Bake at 350F until the centers stick clean with a cake tester, toothpick, broom straw, etc..Approximately 20-25 minutes..Cool for 1-2 minutes in the pans before turning the layers out of the pans onto a wire rack..Peel off the waxed or parchment paper..Cool completely, ice with vanilla buttercream frosting, slice, and ENJOY!!!..This recipe makes excellent cupcakes..


Bruce

xaipete's picture
xaipete

 


Buttermilk Chocolate Ckae


Gramma always served this cake on her round pink depression cake plate, which is in a waffle pattern.


4 squares Baker's unsweetened chocolate


1 cube butter


1 cup boiling water


2 cups sifted Swans Down cake flour


2 cups sugar


1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda


1/2 teaspoon salt


1/2 teaspoon vanilla


1/2 cup buttermilk


2 eggs, beaten lightly


 


Pour boiling water over butter and chocolate - in large bowl - dissolve well. Sift flour and then measure - add sugar, baking soda, and salt. Sift dry ingredients into chocolate-butter mix, then add buttermilk and, lastly, eggs and vanilla.


 


Pour batter into an 9-inch greased, floured and lined square pan. Bake for 1 hour at 325º.


 


Frost with buttercream frosting (1 egg yolk, about 1/2 cup melted butter, and enough powdered sugar to make a frosting consistency--mix it together with a fork not a whisk) or bake in 3 layers and frost with whipped cream.


 


Notes: An 8-inch pan is too small--if you use it, your cake will overflow in the oven. I have had the best luck with an 9-inch aluminum pan. Don't mix the cake in a mixer because you will incorporate too much air if you do. This is a very simple cake to make: all you need is a bowl and a spatula. Put the butter and chocolate in the bowl. Make sure you use Baker's chocolate; your cake will not have the same flavor if you use another brand. Also, you need to use cake not regular flour. Pour in the hot water and let it melt. Meanwhile sift and measure the flour (make sure your cake flour is not "expired"), then measure out two cups of flour and re-sift with sugar, baking soda, and salt (I sift it onto a piece of parchment paper like Gramma did). Once the chocolate mixture is melted, just pour the flour-sugar mixture into the bowl and stir well to incorporate everything. Then, stir in the buttermilk and incorporate again, and lastly the eggs and vanilla. Grease your pan really well; line it with parchment paper that extends a little up the sides of the pan, and grease and flour the parchment paper really well or your cake will stick to the pan. You may have to bake it for an hour and 5 minutes. It is done when it is set in the middle and has pulled away from the sides of the pan slightly. Also, don't open the oven. This is a very dense cake that has the tendency to fall if moved or disturbed while baking. Let cool in pan for 15 minutes before turning it out to cool. I turn it out on a dish towel (what Gramma did) which allows me to rotate it from one side to the other until it is cool enough to plate. You frost it on the bottom side of the cake. --PKS


 


 

SylviaH's picture
SylviaH

Pam, Thank you for your Gramma's recipe..it's a real keeper...yummm with Buttermilk!  I like the idea about turning it out onto a dish towel.  Your plate is lovely and makes a nice tradition and memories with the cake...I have a collection of some depression dishes.  I don't collect anymore.


Sylvia

xaipete's picture
xaipete

probably for the same reason I don't collect anymore: we both already collected too much!!!


--Pamela

SylviaH's picture
SylviaH

Thank you for this recipe...family recipes are a real find...and should never be lost!  I have a new bag of KA Cake Flour I have never tried...now I have no excuses not to make cakes!!  Just don't tell my waistline!


Sylvia

jemar's picture
jemar

Someone above mentioned Kate Flour- A merrier world blog. I have tried her method of converting Plain flour to Cake flour and it does work, although it is not too straightforward, IMO anyway, because of the stages involved. Anyone interested can find out how to do it on her blog. The only reason I was interested was because I had purchased Rose Levy Berenbaum's Cake Bible in which most of the recipes use cake flour. Kate had also got the same book and being of a scientific mind she decided to experiment after reading lots about the make-up of various flours. Since trying out her method I have now managed to get some cake flour, the Swans Down brand, which my daughter brought back for me from her last years holiday! I have now got a comparison, and although Kate's four works quite well with the recipes, there is a better outcome with the genuine commodity. But if you live in the UK, as I do, or anywhere else that doesn't sell cake flour, Kate's is the way to go! By the way . I will be meeting her at the begginning of May , she lives in Devon near to my daughter so I will pass on the news that she is mentioned on TFL!

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

It does sound like a tricky process, but if I could no longer get my beloved Softasilk, I would definitely have a go at it.


Happy baking :-)
dw

xaipete's picture
xaipete

I'll have to check out my other cake flour recipes to see if they separate the eggs or not.


--Pamela

jbaudo's picture
jbaudo

I have Mark Bittman's "How to Cook Everything" and he has a good tip for this.  He suggests if you only have all purpose flour on hand to mix seven eights cup of AP flour with one eigth cup cornstarch to lighten the flour.  I have tried this and it makes a world of difference with my cakes.