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Coronovirus Quarantine: The Best Flour Substitutes

Among the many challenges of the coronavirus (covid-19) pandemic of 2020 has been the challenge households have encountered getting basic supplies. Most of us had to make life changes, like buying flour online, but shortages and shipping delays mean our eating has had to change a well.

If you can’t get your hands on the baking flour you want, there are still ways to make what you’d like. Here are some flour substitutes that might help you out.

Why Flour Requires Some Thinking

Basically, different flours, even different wheat flours are not interchangeable because they have different protein content. More protein means stretchy doughs (bread) while lower means crumby dough (like cake). If you are making most breads, you’ll want bread flour, not pastry flour. If you try to substitute them one-for-one the results are going to be disappointing.

Bread flour: This is “strong” flour, with a high gluten content. It’s sometimes called a “hard” flour

Cake flour: This is a “soft” flour, with less gluten.

And by “protein” we always mean the protein in wheat, which is gluten! This can’t be substituted by the protein found in something gluten-free, like what is in almond flour.

Flour Substitution 101

Knowing that the most important part of flour is the protein content then the obvious thing to do is to use the closest possible flour to what you are in need of. So what’s that mean in practice?

Here are common household flours in order of protein (least to most by protein amount):

  1. Cake flour (6%)
  2. Pastry flour (8-9%)
  3. White self-rising flour (8.5%)
  4. 00 Flour (8.5%)
  5. Whole wheat pastry flour (9.0%)
  6. French-style flour (11.5%)
  7. All-purpose flour (11.7%)
  8. Spelt flour (12%)
  9. White bread flour (12.7%)
  10. White whole wheat flour (13%)
  11. Whole wheat flour (14%)
  12. Sprouted whole wheat flour (14%)

Note: The numbers are based on King Arthur flour, who not only makes the data easily available, but is also incredibly consistent.

So if you are missing a flour, try to use the one adjacent to the one you need! Or mix the one above and the one below to get as close as you can.

Higher protein flours will need more water so add about a tablespoon of water if you go up by 1-2% of protein.

All-purpose Flour

The most common flour to run out of is AP, or all-purpose flour, since it’s the workhorse of most recipes. If you need this middle-of-the road flour than mix a high protein flour with a low protein one.

For example, you an add 50% whole wheat to 50% cake flour and get pretty close to the AP flour you are lacking. This isn’t going to be the perfectly exact, “baking is a science” solution that some people would like, but this it’s a good way to work around the flour shortage.

Self-rising Flour

Self-rising flour is something that is common to run out of, but easy to replace. Essentially it’s all-purpose flour with some sort of rising agent. This is something that you can put together yourself without huge trade-offs. The mains rising agents are baking soda and baking powder, but how they are used will differ.

Baking soda needs an acid to cause a reaction, which creates lift in your cakes and bread. You can use…

  • Baking soda and buttermilk
  • Baking soda and yogurt
  • Baking soda and vinegar
  • Baking soda and cream of tartar

…but the problem with this method is figuring out how much of your homebrew mixing agent to add to your bake. This is especially tough if you are using liquid since now multiple variables are in play. A better method is to use baking powder.

You can make your own self-rising flour by mixing:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/8 tsp salt (some people add a bit more)