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What is all-purpose flour in Australia?
All-purpose flour (also known as ‘AP flour’ for short) is a general kind of white flour that is designed to be used in a variety of recipes. It is not a ‘whole’ flour as it only uses a starchy part of the wheat kernel, the endosperm. Because it doesn’t include the oil-contributing wheat germ, AP flour generally has a long shelf life.
All-purpose flour is actually a combination of hard flours (which have a high gluten content) and soft flours (with a low gluten content). Most AP flour has a rough protein/gluten content of about 8-11%, depending on the mix.
Of course, if you want the best possible results, it’s still recommended to use the right kind of flour – harder gluten-rich bread flour for making structured and chewy breads, softer low-gluten cake flour for dense cakes and pastries. But if you don’t have access to specialty flours, or if you’re just a home cook who wants an all-around flour for most baking needs, then all-purpose flour can still yield satisfactory results.
All-purpose flour is also called ‘plain flour’ in the UK and Australia. As flour has a natural yellowish hue, some brands age or bleach their plain flour to get that bright white colour you’re most familiar with. Most white flours are also fortified with iron, riboflavin, folic acid, niacin, and vitamin B to replace the nutrients that are stripped during the bleaching process.
All-purpose flour vs cake flour vs other types of flour
Plain flour has a medium level of protein/gluten, which is what makes it ‘all-purpose’. It won’t give you the same chewiness as high-protein strong white flour (a.k.a. bread flour or baker’s flour), and it will produce tougher cakes than if you use low-protein cake or pastry flour. But if you only have room in your cupboard for one type of flour, it produces decent results no matter what you’re trying to make.
Bread flour is made of ‘hard’ wheat that has more gluten, the compound responsible for creating that nice stretchy structure you see in bread. Higher gluten levels result in chewier breads. If you use cake flour in a bread recipe, your bread will be much too flimsy.
Cake flour has a much finer feel than bread flour’s crumbly texture. It has a lower protein content, which produces that soft, light, and delicate quality that you want in your sponge cakes or pastries. If you use bread flour in a cake recipe, you’ll get tough and chewy cakes – not the best texture.
Then there’s 00 flour. The number refers to how finely ground it is - 00 flour has the smallest particles. This is often used to create homemade pastas and noodles. You can still make pasta with plain flour, although it’s a bit more challenging to work with.
You may also be able to find something called ‘self-raising flour’ at the grocery. These flours have a leavener in them that helps create height and tenderness. Only use self-raising flour if the recipe calls for it. While it might be easy and convenient for a busy home cook, you don’t necessarily need to buy self-raising flour. You can ‘make’ self-raising flour at home by adding 1 ½ teaspoons of baking powder (and a pinch of salt) to a cup of all-purpose flour, or keep some yeast in your cupboard.
All-purpose flour substitutes
If you’re gluten-sensitive or just want to try something new, there are several alternatives to all-purpose flour. This includes:
- Almond flour: best for baked goods that are dense, like cakes or brownies
- Coconut flour: high in protein and fat, won’t give a fluffy or light texture, cut down on oil or eggs if using
- Brown rice flour: easy to work with, mild flavour, use in baked goods
- Chickpea flour: has a strong nutty taste, high in protein, best for breads and baked goods
- Quinoa flour: high in protein, use in baked goods and breads, combine with other flours
If you have bread flour and cake flour at home, you can also combine the two to create all-purpose flour. Experiment with the ratio; some people prefer a more-or-less even 50/50 split, but you might want to try other combinations out depending on the level of protein you’re aiming for.
Recipes that use all-purpose flour
- Blueberry buttermilk pancakes with Nutella and seasonal fruits
- The perfect schnitzel
- Homemade egg pasta
- Pita bread
- Scottish shortbread
- Slow-cooked herb bread
- Popcorn biscuits