If you’ve started your baking journey making bread, then you’ve probably got plenty of flour lying around your kitchen.
And this probably makes you wonder if and how you can substitute bread flour for all-purpose flour for things like cookies or other sweet pastries.
After all, it’s still flour so it shouldn’t make a big difference, right? While that’s technically true, there are few things you should consider before you head out to your kitchen.
Even though they’re both fine textured flours, bread flour and all-purpose flour aren’t the same.
The most notable difference between the two is that bread flour has a higher protein content.
In this article, I’ll explain how this impacts the texture of baked goods. This way, you’ll be able to tell if and when you can use bread flour instead of all-purpose flour for your pastries.
Can you substitute bread flour for all-purpose flour?
Most baking recipes you’ll find online are usually made with all-purpose flour in mind.
All-purpose flour is so versatile that it’s used for anything from cookies, brownies, and pizza to cake batter.
However, if you’re just dipping your toes into the pastry world, then you’re probably more accustomed to bread flour.
Unfortunately, bread flour has a more limited use than all-purpose flour so it’s not always a good idea to use it as a substitute.
Bread flour has a high protein content which leads to the development of more gluten. This makes pastries chewier and gives them a denser structure. As a result, you can substitute bread flour for all-purpose flour in baked goods with a similar texture such as pizza, flatbread and bagels.
With that said, bread flour can also be used for sweet pastries like cookies, cinnamon rolls, and banana bread.
In fact, I often use it for my chocolate chip cookies since I prefer the chew that it gives them.
How to substitute bread flour for all-purpose flour and vice versa?
If you decide to ditch all-purpose flour for bread flour, you’ll be glad to know it’s used as a 1:1 substitute.
This means you’ll need 1 cup of bread flour to substitute 1 cup of all-purpose flour.
The only thing you should keep in mind is that bread flour absorbs more water, so you’ll need to adjust the amount of liquid your recipe calls for.
In most cases, you’ll need to add about 10% more water to hydrate the dough and offset the difference.
If, however, you want to use all-purpose flour instead of bread flour, you’ll have to use vital wheat gluten to achieve the same rise.
For this purpose, you can use the following all-purpose flour to bread flour conversion:
- Measure 1 cup of all-purpose flour.
- Remove 1 1/2 teaspoons of the flour.
- Add 1 1/2 teaspoons of vital wheat gluten.
- Whisk the mixture until it’s well combined.
Vital wheat gluten is powdered flour that’s been hydrated to activate the gluten and remove any starches.
Using it improves the elasticity of dough and gives baked goods a better rise.
Bread flour VS all-purpose flour in baking
In order to understand the differences between bread flour and all-purpose flour, we’ll need to look at the type of wheat they’re made of.
Wheats can be classified into two types depending on the texture of their endosperm: soft and hard.
Hard wheats have a tougher grain and are gathered during the spring and winter. They contain a high amount of proteins and some starch.
Soft wheats, on the other hand, are gathered during the fall when they’re grain is still tender. As a result they contain less protein and more starches.
Since bread flour is made from hard spring wheat it’s rich in proteins. Most bread flours typically have a protein content of 12 – 14%.
Meanwhile, all-purpose flour is made from a blend of both soft and hard wheat. Due to this, it has less proteins than bread flour. In most cases, all-purpose flours contain about 9 – 12% proteins.
Even though this might seem like a marginal difference, the amount of protein in flour affects the strength and elasticity of dough.
Wheat flour contains two types of proteins: glutenin and gliadin. When these proteins interact with water, they unfold and bond together to form gluten.
During kneading, the gluten gets broken down into glutenin and gliadin, which then bond with other protein molecules.
This process happens repeatedly and leads to the formation of a gluten network. And the strength of the network is determined by the protein content of the flour.
Since bread flour is rich in proteins, it forms a strong gluten network which provides structure to baked goods. At the same time, however, it also makes their overall texture more dense and chewy.
This makes bread flour quite useful for baking sourdoughs, pizza doughs and yeast breads, but not as much for making cakes and brownies.
Another benefit to bread flour is that it provides a slightly better rise to baked goods than all-purpose flour. This is thanks to the better stretch and elasticity that keep the structure of the dough intact. It’s not uncommon for non-elastic dough to ruin a batch of Spritz cookies.
The moderate protein content in all-purpose flour on the other hand, makes it well suited for most types of pastries. With the exception of cakes, it can be used for pretty much anything from bread to cookies.
After all, it’s called “all-purpose” flour for a reason.
Can you use bread flour in place of pastry flour or cake flour too?
While bread flour can be used in place of all-purpose flour, the same cannot be said when it comes to pastry flour or cake flour.
Both of these flours contain roughly 8% of proteins, which is nearly twice as less as bread flour. Due to this, they tend to develop a really weak gluten network which falls apart during baking.
As a result, baked goods made with cake flour or pastry flour have a light texture and a tender crumb.
In fact, many baking recipes use fats to “shorten” gluten strands and further weaken the gluten network.
Therefore, it’s not a good idea to substitute cake or pastry flour with bread flour since it will ruin the texture of the final product.
This means you should forget about bread flour if you’re making cakes, brownies or pie crust. That’s unless you want to experiment and turn them into chewing gum.
Anyways, the video below is a great example of how gluten in cake flour compares to gluten in bread flour.
As you’ll notice, there’s a dramatic difference in the volume and strength of both gluten balls.
The one made with bread flour holds its shape well and has a bigger volume, while the one made with low protein cake flour can be pulled apart easily.
My short recap
The high protein content in bread flour provides structure, elasticity and volume to baked goods. This makes it a perfect substitute for all-purpose flour in breads, pizza dough and bagels.
It can also be used for cookies, muffins or cinnamon rolls as long as you’re willing to accept their chewiness.
The only times you should avoid using it is when you’re making something with a light and fluffy texture like desserts or in recipes like steamed pork buns.
Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments down below. I’ll be glad to hear your opinion and answer any questions you might have.