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How to Substitute Flours
Did you ever find you need to know how to substitute flours in a recipe? Maybe you are trying to boost nutrition in your baked goods. Perhaps you prefer the fuller flavors of whole wheat.
Baking is a science, but even exacting chemistry allows for some substitutions. With a bit of understanding of flour types, using different types of flours becomes possible..
However, keep a few things in mind. Yes, we must watch the protein content and the moisture. These affect the finished product, hence substitutions need to consider them closely.
This post won’t attempt to each question about all types of flour. However, consider it a starting off point, a help for you to understand what you’re working with.
Look for more information on other types in future posts!
Tips for Successful Substitutions
- Use flour with similar protein content when possible. Protein content affects the texture and crumb in your baked goods. Consider that higher protein flour tends to create a denser final product, whereas lower protein flour creates a lighter, softer baked good. With that in mind, consider the common flours and protein contents:
- Whole wheat: 14%
- White whole wheat 13%
- Bread flour: 12 to 13%
- Spelt: 12 to 13%
- All-Purpose: 11 to 12%
- Whole wheat pastry: 9 to 11%
- Pastry flour: 8 to 9%
- Cake flour: 6 to 8%
- Substitute by weight whenever possible. Your kitchen scale may become your best friend when substituting flour. However, if you choose to measure by volume, use the scoop method. This means that you use a spoon to carefully scoop the flour into the measuring cup. Scoop more than the cup holds (overfill it slightly) then use the backside of a knife or other straightedge to level it off. This should yield a more accurate measure. Why not just scoop from the flour container? Flour packs tightly when scooped directly. Thus, you end up with more flour than a true cupful.
- If substituting flour with a different protein content (ie: higher protein to lower or lower to higher), you need to consider the moisture content. When substituting a flour that has a higher protein content, also known as a stronger flour, you will need to add some moisture. If not, your final product may be too dry. Add 1 teaspoon of water at a time until you reach the desired consistency.
- Conversely, using a softer flour than the original recipe may cause a need for more added flour. Add 1-2 teaspoons of flour at a time until you reach the texture you need.
Substitutions by Flour Type
Whole-wheat flour has the highest protein content of those on our list. For that reason, if you choose to use whole wheat instead of all-purpose, you might use 50 percent whole-wheat, and 50 percent of another flour. For the other flour, consider using all-purpose, pastry flour, or spelt, to avoid a dense result.
However, using all whole wheat is possible; you just need to increase your moisture content by adding water.
At 12- to 13% protein content, bread flour is stronger than all-purpose flour. However, it usually substitutes in equal amounts for all-purpose flour. The reverse is also true; all-purpose replaces bread flour in equal amounts. Remember, that the bread flour’s increased protein could result in a dough or batter that’s drier. If needed, add water. Also, the higher protein content often leads to a tougher result if not mixed in gently. Make sure not to over-mix when using higher protein flours.
All-Purpose Flour, know how to substitute flours with whole grains
You can use all-purpose flour in place of bread flour. However, all-purpose’s lower protein content may produce a slightly wetter dough or batter. Alternatively, use all-purpose in conjunction with whole-grain flours to help reduce the overall protein content in the recipe. For example, use a mix of half whole-wheat and half all-purpose to avoid dense muffins.
Note: Gluten-free all-purpose flour blends perform similarly to regular all-purpose. They generally substituted for equal amounts. These blends perform well in everything from cookies to quick bread to scones. Therefore, so if you can’t get all-purpose flour, consider picking up a bag of a gluten-free blend, if it’s available. You might enjoy the slight flavor change!
With a protein content of 12- to 13%, spelt resembles all-purpose in protein content, making it a delicious, whole grain substitute. Use it in place of all-purpose in equal amounts (one cup all-purpose equals one cup spelt.) However, check the consistency of the final dough or batter. It may be dry and need more moisture.
Pastry flour is a softer flour (lower protein). Use it to substitute for all-purpose in any recipe where tenderness is the goal. In fact, it produces excellent results in baked goods like muffins, quick bread, and cakes. If you can find it, whole-wheat pastry flour is an even better swap for all-purpose. Similarly, all-purpose flour replaces pastry flour in your recipes.
Cake Flour – how to substitute flours with low protein
With the lowest protein content of this group, cake flour performs best when used for cakes. However, it can also be used successfully in many soft baked goods. Try it when baking biscuits, scones, or even cookies. For every 1 cup/130 gram of all-purpose flour, substitute 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons/145 grams cake flour.
Need a cake flour substitute? Sift together 3/4 cup all-purpose flour with 3 tablespoons cornstarch. This creates the equivalent of 1 cup of cake flour.
How to substitute flours when using gluten-free
Many people choose gluten-free flours only to need good recipes. Indeed, replacing gluten flours with gluten-free versions offers another chance at science!
Gluten performs a very important role in creating the structure of our baked goods. Without it, the finished product may fail. Cookies may crumble easily, breads may fail to rise properly.
With the concern for gluten-free diets, several brands began creating gluten-free flour replacements. Many of these blend gluten-free grains, such as rice, with binders such as xanathan gum or cornstarch. These perform best in gluten-free recipes but can be used as substitutes in others. Many people prefer the nut and whole-grain flours instead of gluten-free mixes. They provide more nutrition and offer unique flavors that enhance your baked goods.
For those seeking to just add a bit more flavors and experiment with gluten-free, I recommend you start with a partial amount. for instance, replace 25% of your white or whole-wheat flour with gluten-free flour. When you see the results, you can choose to add a bit more. Or maybe you prefer to change to another type.
Some favorite types of gluten-free flours are:
- nut flours such as almond, hazelnut, coconut
- grain flours such as oat, buckwheat, teff, millet, quinoa, amaranth, and brown rice
- Others include chickpea, soy, and mesquite.
With so many types of flour, choose a few to experiment with. You may find new favorites that provide more nutrition, better flavors, and great texture. Invite your family and friends to help decide which flours become your favorites!
Which flour will you use when baking soft pretzels?