Plain and self-raising
A mix of hard and soft wheat, these flours are used when you need a short, crumbly texture for biscuits and shortcrust pastry, and for thickening sauces and gravies. Sodium bicarbonate and calcium phosphate, or baking powder, added to plain flour makes self-raising flour. Make your own with 1 teaspoon baking powder to 200g plain flour. The word ‘superfine’ has no meaning – it just makes flour sound better.
Also called bread flour, this is milled from hard wheat with a high gluten content, so it works really well mixed with tastier low-gluten flours to make rye or barley breads. It also makes surprisingly good choux pastry, filo, puff and flaky pastry.
Wholemeal or wholewheat
Everything in the grain is used to make these flours, including the germ and bran. But the bran stops the gluten working as well as it should and it absorbs more liquid, so you’ll need to add some more. You’ll find that half-and-half with white flour works best. You can now get wholemeal flour in strong, plain and self-raising varieties, too.
Brown and wheatmeal These flours are finer and paler than wholemeal, as 10-20% of the bran is sieved off. In an ideal world, brown flour will have had just some of the bran removed, but do read the label – some of the inferior brands colour white flour with caramel.
Some varieties of wheat contain natural sugar, or maltose, and are germinated by soaking in water then drying to become malted wheat grains. Depending on who makes it, the flour can be called Granary, country grain, malthouse flour, malted wheat grain, malted brown Granary etc, but essentially it is a mixture of wholemeal, white and rye flours and the nutty malted grains. Great for bread mixed with strong white flour.
This flour is made from high-gluten hard durum wheat, ground twice so it’s very fine. It makes a really tough dough that won’t fall apart, perfect for pasta and gnocchi. It’s also sometimes called semolina, and there is a coarse version that is used to make couscous. But don’t confuse it with UK semolina, made from a soft wheat, which we use for semolina pudding and add to biscuits and cakes; this is nearer to soft wheat 0 flour, or grano tenero, which Italians use to make cakes and biscuits.
Spelt This is an ancient wheat variety, recorded in the Bible, with an intense, nutty flavour and more protein, fat and fibre than our modern wheat. Its gluten is a lot more volatile than ordinary wheat gluten, which makes it easier to digest, so anyone with a gluten allergy should give it a go. Breads made with it rise quickly, so to even things out, mix half-and-half with strong flour. Look for spelt pasta, too.
This grey-brown flour produces a dense, tangy, nutty loaf. It does have some gluten, but it’s a different type from wheat gluten, so mix half-and-half with wheat flour. Light rye flour is made from the endosperm (the starchy part of the grain), and dark rye flour from the whole grain. Traditionally it was sown with wheat to make a mixed crop called maslin.
Another greyish-brown flour best blended with wheat flours, barley gives a sweet, earthy flavour to a loaf. Once the bran is removed, it becomes pearl barley which you can add to stews and soups, and it’s at this stage that flour is made from it.
A delicate, sweetish, pale-yellow flour, which is rich in protein.
Made from corn in coarse, medium and fine mills, and used to make polenta, it also adds its sunny yellow colour to quick breads raised with bicarbonate of soda or baking powder. Another one to mix with wheat flours for yeasted breads. Coarse yellow-brown Mexican masa harina for tortillas is made from corn, too.
Cornflour and arrowroot
Cornflour is finely ground flour from corn, and arrowroot is from the root of the arrowroot plant. Both are used for thickening rather than baking, but arrowroot has the advantage in that it doesn’t cloud the sauce.
Sounds like a grain, but there’s no wheat here, just seeds. The roasted seeds can be served like rice and the grey-brown, rather bitter and earthy flour made into spaghetti, blinis
The wheat stuff
Different wheat varieties produce soft or hard flour. Wheat is made up of the outer bran, the starchy endosperm (white flour is made from this), and the germ, which is where all the proteins, vitamins and oils are found.
A lot of flour is ground on roller mills that separate the flour from the germ and bran, which are put back afterwards. Stoneground means the wheat is ground between two millstones or querns and remains intact. Wholemeal flour keeps everything in, brown flours have 10-20% of the bran taken away, and white flours have had the bran and most of the germ removed.
I hope you have found this useful. if there is anything else you would like adding, don’t forget to drop us a line!
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