The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Differences in flour?

  • Pin It
butterflygrooves's picture

Differences in flour?

I'm a cake/pie baker and I always use AP flour but I've come across some new recipes that call for Cake Flour.

What's the difference between the two flours?  Is there anything i can substitute for the CF?  Can I make my own CF?

Rosalie's picture

That's what All Purpose flour is.  Jack of all trades, master of none.  Bread flour is better for bread because it has more protein and can develop more gluten.  Cake flour has less protein than AP, and produces tenderer cakes and flours.  You can usually use AP flour in its stead, but be careful not to develop the gluten.

Cake flour is something you buy in the store.  You'll probably find it in a box.  I would make it and pastry flour by milling soft wheat grains, but then I don't use refined flours.


proth5's picture

and dinosaurs roamed the earth, we used to triple sift AP flour and then put two tablespoons of cornstarch in a cup measure, fill it with the triple sifted flour, and level off the top.

Also see this advice from for cake flour:

3/4 cup (105 grams) all purpose flour plus 2 tablespoons (30 grams) cornstarch

It isn't exactly the same as real cake flour, but it gets the job done.

Hope this helps

suave's picture

Check if your local stores carry White Lily flour - it slowly but surely becomes a national brand.  It would make a reasonable substutute for CF.

xaipete's picture

You can substitute pastry flour for cake flour. Pastry flour usually has a little more gluten than cake, but less than AP. Pastry flour is often available in the bulk foods section.


vdarmon's picture

A recent series of blogs written by Joe Pastry has been about flour.

This is what he has to say about Cake Flour:

Cake flour isn't just a very low-protein (gluten) version of all-purpose flour, it's actually made from a completely different species of wheat known as club wheat. The wheat is cracked, sifted and very finely milled to an almost talcum powder-like consistency, making it quite light by volume (about half an ounce less per cup than all-purpose flour).

Of course cake flour is usually quite heavily bleached. That obviously what's responsible for the whiteness of cake flour, though the bleaching also imparts some other very important characteristics. For one, it helps make the starch granules more absorbent (especially in very sugary batters), increasing their ability to form the gels that hold a cake layer up. Bleaching also helps fat molecules adhere more readily to starch granule surfaces, resulting in better fat distribution. The cumulative effect is lightness, sweetness, richness and tenderness...all the attributes one seeks in a good cake.

One side effect of the heavy bleaching that some people notice is a slightly acrid smell or sour taste. The reason for that is a trace amount of hydrochloric acid that the processing leaves behind.

Given what cake flour is made from and how it's treated, a concocted equivalent is by no means ideal. However you can approximate one cup of cake flour in the following way: start with one cup of all purpose flour, subtract two tablespoons, and replace them with corn starch (corn flour).

Hope this helps!

foolishpoolish's picture

Not my idea nor have I tried it but apparently this is one way to treat flour to act like cake flour. Sounds cool to me:



SusanWozniak's picture

When I began baking more than 30 years ago, stores carried AP, whole wheat and cake flour.  I used all three, depending on my need at the time.  I generally blended AP and whole wheat for both yeast and quick breads as well as for cookies.  I bought AP flour from KA in 25 pound bags at the supermarket when my kids were young, along with 10 pound bags of whole wheat.

I have ordered flour from KA for several years, more so now that I live in Western MA.  Now that the kids are grown and out of the house,  I can not use 25 bags of flour.  I have a little more room to explore different flours.

I began with KA Mellow Blend Pastry flour.  I first made a pie for myself and could not believe how easy the dough was to work or how delicious the raw dough tasted.  Then, I made a cherry pie for Christmas dinner and watched the faces of my kids as they bit into it.  They could not believe the difference.

I have since tried KA's straight pastry flour (mellow blend mixes AP and what I have called straight pastry flour) and have found it too soft although I have noticed that less fat is needed to produce a pie crust.  

I have always used cake flour when a recipe specified cake flour.

I have tried White Lily for southern beaten biscuits.  Like almost any composed dish (have followed every recipe for popovers and have never produced a suitable batch!), there are as many recipes for beaten biscuits as there are bakers!  I have seen recipes requiring bakers to whack the dough with the rolling pin, to knead it and not to knead it!  The recipe that banned kneading had an elaborate explanation for why beaten biscuits are called beaten biscuits.

 My only caution about White Lily is that it is highly perishable.  I would buy it again but would store it in the freezer.


(A footnote: a former boyfriend who lived mainly in Georgia and a bit in Alabama for two years claimed to have never heard of beaten biscuits.  To me, beaten biscuits are a hallmark of southern cooking.  I had them in Virginia nearly 50 years ago when my family visited Wiliamsburg, Mt. Vernon, Madison's homestead and Monticello.  They were as memorable as all of those beautiful colonial era landmarks. I still remember how those biscuits looked when the waitress put the napkin lined basket on our table and how they tasted.  We asked for a second basket!)

dghdctr's picture

The general hierarchy of white flours marketed in North America, from the strongest to the weakest is as follows:

  • High Gluten Flour

  • Bread Flour

  • All-Purpose Flour

  • Pastry Flour

  • Cake Flour

Cake and Pastry flours are milled entirely from soft wheat, which is fairly low in protein.  High Gluten and Bread flours are milled from hard wheat (where soft wheat has less gluten-forming proteins, and hard has more of them).  Even within those categories, though, there is room for a miller's interpretation since there are no federal laws that define these marketing designations.  HG, Bread, Pastry and Cake flours are the ones you'll usually find in bakeries.

All Purpose is the one where you can see huge variance in baking characteristics from brand to brand.  The reason that White Lily's AP is so popular with biscuit makers is that it is milled entirely from soft wheat (though they may not know this).  King Arthur's AP is milled entirely from hard winter wheat, which is usually a bit lower protein than hard spring wheat, but still much stronger than any soft wheat out there.  Most other brands of AP are made from a blend of soft and hard wheats.

The All-Purpose category evolved to meet the needs of home bakers and restaurants that didn't have enough storage space to keep three or four different flours around.  In my experience, the AP used in most restaurants (sometimes called "H&R", for "hotels and restaurants") is often stronger than most of the grocery-store bags of AP -- maybe about the same as the strength of King Arthur's AP.  I'm not sure why that is so.

Anyway, most cake flours are extremely low in gluten -- 5 or 6% is common -- and the gluten that they do have seems to be very fragile.  In most layer cake baking, that's precisely what you want.  Layer cakes get their height and lightness from egg whites in the batter and, usually, from lots of air bubbles that have been incorporated either during the creaming stage or, with leaner cakes, during the foaming stage.  It's really the starch that seems to play more of a role in cake structure than the gluten, which, ideally, isn't developed at all.  And it is difficult to find cake flour that isn't bleached.  In the case of cake flour (as I believe was alluded to in a different response), the bleach actually does seem to perform more than just a cosmetic function -- it changes something in the starches that allows for a more stable cake structure.

I don't think I would want to substitute AP for cake flour on a regular basis when making layer cakes.  Even in the case of the White Lily AP, which is fairly weak, there'd be significantly more gluten than with a cake flour, and you'd see a significant difference in texture, especially with leaner cake batters.  I've never had trouble finding "Swan's Down" cake flour in boxes of the supermarket baking aisle.

In high-fat cakes it would be perhaps less of a problem.  Coffee cakes and muffins can do well with AP flour because the crumb can be a bit coarser than with a layer cake anyway.

Of course, as always, there's no reason to be doctrinaire about which flour you use if the differences aren't that important to you, or it is impractical to obtain and keep cake flour.  But there are usually significant differences in baking characteristics between most AP flours and most cake flours.  It's good to know what they are.

--Dan DiMuzio


SylviaH's picture

Hi, Dan!  Which flour would you use to make pound cake that has milk used in the recipe.  Unbleached AP, Bleached AP, or Cake Flour?  Some pound cake recipes I have made the crust becomes very crispy and tasty..but does seem to just crumble off the cake it's so crunchy!


dghdctr's picture

Hi Sylvia,

As a category, I suppose pound cakes can be made successfully with either AP (bleached or unbleached) or cake flour, but cake flour will give you a more tender result.  Also, I'm not sure about this, but I think most pound cake formulas I've seen are designed to work with cake flour. 

If you wanted to substitute AP flour (which is a significant change in absorption and strength), maybe you can do so, but you'd better adjust the liquid upward somewhat, and I think that the sugar and butter present in that formula might not then tenderize the cake enough to compensate for the increased gluten structure.  The formula then might be out-of-balance.

Tweaking cake formulas is more challenging than most bread formulas, I think, because the proportion of flour in a cake batter is so much less.  Some cakes actually have more sugar than flour in their makeup.  So while it is true that changing the percentages in bread formulas can produce noticeable changes in the dough, changing them in cake formulas seems to create changes that are gigantic by comparison.

Incidentally, any miller I've ever spoken with insists that bleaching either Pastry flour, AP flour, bread flour, or High Gluten flour is done purely for cosmetic reasons.  It has no effect on baking performance within the functions that they have.  Only the practice of bleaching cake flour has any "benefit" in baking performance, and I think even then that many bakers might still prefer that it not be bleached.  Good luck finding unbleached cake flour.  Even King Arthur, which brags about most of its  flours being "never bleached -- never bromated", still bleaches its "Queen Guenevere" cake flour. 

--Dan DiMuzio

xaipete's picture

Debbie Wink posted this a while back.


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.


SylviaH's picture

Thank you, Dan!  Very helpful information.  I have been making a pound cake..same recipe now for about 40yrs.  It is an old recipe that came to me from a relative in Georgia.  I wouldn't call it a true pound cake recipe because it does have a lot of milk in it...even a little oil and a small of amount of baking powder,salt,vanilla and all the rest is plenty of butter and sugar.  But Iam assuming the orginal recipe probably used regular store bought brands of all-purpose flour.  It says to sift flour three times!  It's the best pound cake I've ever tasted and everyone that gets one never complains.  It has a very creamy butter flavor perfect pound cake crumb.  The problem I have is it does have a wonderful want to eat it all by I have heard that this is what some want...!! but it sure is crunchy and tends to crackle off the cake..I guess this is okay and your supposed to enjoy that part...but I don't understand what change would make this a little less crunchy on the crust.  I've tried, KAAP flour, Queen Guenevere, regular store brand all purpose flours and unbleached store flour.  The QG was pretty good and store brand cake flour..but all give the same crust!


dghdctr's picture

Just a pure guess Sylvia, but there might be some separation occuring between some of the sugar and the rest of the batter.  Does the batter look foamy on top when you pour it into the pan?  If sugar is not completely creamed into the emulsion of butter, sugar and eggs, or if the capacity of the emulsion to hold sugar has been exceeded, that might create a sort of sugary crust that can  separate from the crumb during baking.

Sometimes a crust forms on a cake before the cake has finished rising in the pan.  Then, as the cake continues to rise, that early crust can break open in places.  I've seen that usually with cakes and quick breads where the batter on the outside of the pan crusts way early in the bake and the center of the cake seems to dome up excessively.  If that's happening, then reducing the temp a bit and extending the bake a few minutes lets the cake rise and crust over a bit more slowly and evenly.

Without seeing the whole recipe and procedure, though, I can only guess.  A picture of the final product is always helpful, or course.

Sounds like a good excuse to make a poundcake.  If you do, try serving slices with either strawberries and sugar (like with shortcake) or really ripe sliced peaches and sugar.  The poundcake slices absorb most of that fruity, sugary syrup that results.  Add whipped cream and, well . . . how bad could that be?  Nice, simple summer dessert.  I used to work with a caterer who'd make that about a day ahead of time, layering the pound cake and fruit in a hotel pan to sit covered overnight in the cooler before service.

--Dan DiMuzio