How to Substitute Flours

Erin Jeanne McDowel wrote . . . . . . . . .

Baking is a science, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to make substitutions. With some guidance, you’ll be able to substitute different flours into a single recipe. But you’ll just want to keep a few things in mind, notably protein content and the moisture. This guide is by no means comprehensive — it may not answer your questions about oat flour — but consider it a starting off point to help you understand what you’re working with.

Tips for Successful Substitutions

Use a flour with a similar protein content. Protein content affects a baked good’s final texture and crumb: Treats made with higher-protein flours tend to be denser, while those made with lower-protein flours are lighter and softer.

Here are some common flours and their protein contents:

Whole-wheat: 14 percent

White whole-wheat: 13 percent

Bread: 12 to 13 percent

Spelt: 12 to 13 percent

All-purpose: 11 to 12 percent

Whole-wheat pastry: 9 to 11 percent

Pastry: 8 to 9 percent

Cake: 6 to 8 percent

Substitute by weight whenever possible. If measuring by volume, carefully scooping the flour into the measuring cup, overfilling it, then leveling it off will yield a more accurate measure.

If substituting a flour with a higher protein content (a “stronger” flour) or lower protein content (a “softer” flour), know that the moisture of the dough or batter will most likely be affected. When a stronger flour is substituted in, it’s at risk of being too dry. Similarly, if a softer flour is used, it’s at risk of being slightly too wet. If it’s dry, add 1 teaspoon water at a time and combine. If it’s too wet, add 1 to 2 teaspoons of flour at a time until you reach your desired texture.

Substitutions by Flour Type

Whole-Wheat Flour

Whole-wheat flour has the highest protein content on our list. For that reason, when substituting it for all-purpose, use 50 percent whole-wheat, and 50 percent of another flour, preferably all-purpose, pastry flour or spelt, to avoid a dense result. If you want to use only whole wheat, you’ll need to add more water.

Bread Flour

At 12- to 13-percent protein content, bread flour is stronger than all-purpose flour, but it can generally be substituted for all-purpose, and vice versa. However, it’s important to remember that bread flour’s increased protein could result in a dough or batter that’s dry, so you may need to add water. Make sure not to overmix: Its higher protein content can also lead to a tougher result if not mixed in gently.

All-Purpose Flour

You can use all-purpose flour in place of bread flour, but all-purpose’s lower protein content means it may yield a slightly wetter dough or batter. Use all-purpose in conjunction with whole-grain flours to help reduce the overall protein content in the recipe — for example, a half whole-wheat and half all-purpose mix to avoid dense muffins. And a note: Gluten-free all-purpose flour blends perform similarly to regular all-purpose, and can generally be substituted one-to-one. These blends are great in everything from cookies to quick breads to scones, so if you can’t get all-purpose flour, it’s worth picking up a bag of a gluten-free blend, if it’s available.

Spelt Flour

With a protein content of 12- to 13-percent, spelt is closest to all-purpose in protein content, making it a delicious (and whole grain!) substitute that can easily be swapped cup for cup. Keep an eye on the consistency of the final dough or batter: It may be dry and need more moisture.

Pastry Flour

Pastry flour is a softer flour that substitutes well for all-purpose in any recipe where tenderness is the goal, like muffins, quick breads and cakes. If you can find it, whole-wheat pastry flour is an even better swap for all-purpose. Similarly, you can also use all-purpose flour in a recipe that calls for pastry flour.

Cake Flour

With the lowest protein content of this group, cake flour is best used for cakes. However, it can also be used successfully in other soft baked goods, like biscuits, scones or even cookies. For every 1 cup/130 grams of all-purpose flour, substitute 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons/145 grams cake flour. To make your own cake flour substitute, sift together 3/4 cup/95 grams all-purpose flour with 3 tablespoons cornstarch. This is equivalent to 1 cup/115 grams cake flour.

Source: The New York Times