Saucyman, this new recipe I’m trying calls for cake flour. Why? And since I don’t have any, what is a good substitute? New Cake Baker
Cake flour is lower in protein, low levels of protein in flour means less gluten, less gluten means baked goods will lack that bread like toothy texture. Expressed at its simplest, gluten adds chewiness while low gluten is bad for bread, it is good for muffins, cookies, biscuits and eponymously - cake.
Gluten is a combination of two proteins – glutenin and gliadin - when mixed with water they form an elastic matrix responsible for the texture and structure of baked goods. Despite that bag sitting on the shelf labeled ‘all-purpose’, flour isn’t one universal product. The variety of wheat planted, where the wheat was grown, how the flour was milled all play a part the final result but the biggest factor in how the flour is packaged is the level of protein in the wheat.
Flour is akin to milk – whole, 2%, skim. Bread and pasta’s semolina flour are the ‘fattest’ – about 13% protein. All-purpose flour is roughly 11% protein and cake flour is 8%. Big dif - 11 minus 8 is 3, how much difference can 3% make? That is actually good math but the wrong equation - all-purpose flour actually has about 25% more protein than cake flour. That 25% is enough to give pancakes the texture of pizza dough.
You can make good bread or at the other end of the spectrum, good cookies with all-purpose flour but odds are you can bake better by using the different kinds of flour for each. The occasional cook would do better to keep cake flour around rather than all-purpose- cake flour improves the results of the things most people make/bake most often –cookies, quick-breads a.k.a banana bread, muffins, and pancakes.
As far as substituting goes, generally substitutions allow you to cook, really cook as opposed to assembling a recipe. With baking, it is a little more different. Cooking is literature – there are lots of different ways to beautifully express yourself. Baking is math – in the everyday world no one wants experimental math, they want valid addition and subtraction, solid formulas and no creativity when cooking the books or baking the goods.
Odds are you know you are going to bake before you do it check your cupboard against the recipe – flour, eggs, sugar, vanilla, cake flour. Households average 3+ trips to the grocery store per week, just try to pick up what you need for baking on one of those trips, not make an extra special trip. If you are in a pinch and need to substitute – add one level cup of all-purpose flour in a mixing bowl, remove 3 level tablespoons of flour and replace those 3 tablespoons with 2 tablespoons cornstarch. Better still, keep cake flour in the kitchen.