What is the difference between all-purpose flour and plain? They are both just different names, for one thing. All-purpose is widely used in America, while plain has a primary role in UK and Australia; it doesn't contain any rising agent as self-rising does!
It is not a secret that several different ingredients can sometimes be challenging to identify. Not only might the name sound unfamiliar, but also what it is used for and where you would find this particular flour in your grocery store may not even exist.
The recipe could call for something as seemingly basic as all-purpose flour, but being in a different country, you might be surprised with finding it.
All-purpose flour is plain flour in the UK and Australia.
American self-rising is called self-raising in the UK.
Indian plain flour called Maida is quite different from its British and American cousins.
A matter of protein
The protein content is what distinguishes most of the flours. Also, the presence or absence of bran and specific additives differentiates flours.
The uniqueness of proteins naturally present in wheat is that when the flour is mixed with a liquid, a sticky and elastic network called "gluten" forms.
The more protein flour contains, the greater its ability to form gluten.
It provides structure and elasticity to bread; however, it makes cakes and muffins rubbery and shortcrust pastry hard.
So, what makes a recipe successful is the choice of flour and also baking technique.
Common types of flour
There are different types of flour you use depending on what you make. They have different levels of coarseness, different amounts of gluten content, and some contain leavening agents.
For example, the flour you would use to make cookies differs from the one used to make bread.
So let's discover the most common different types of flour and the differences between them.
All purpose flour vs plain flour
All-purpose flour or plain flour (both known as white flour) is one of the most generally used types of flour in baking.
So, is all-purpose flour the same as plain flour? The answer to this question is yes. There is no difference!
What is all-purpose flour?
All-purpose flour is a medium-gluten flour that falls between the two extremes of bread and pastry flour.
The term "all-purpose" means that it can be used for all purposes, so you can also call it multi-purpose flour. However, it doesn’t work for baking all things.
This is why "plain flour," as flour suitable for general use, seems a better name to clarify what kind of purposes it is used for.
The most versatile flour is perfect for making pie crusts, biscuits, quick breads, including soda bread, different types of pastry, crepes, pancakes, etc.
If a recipe calls for “flour,” it likely means all-purpose flour. Of course, if you don’t have specific flour on your hands, you can substitute it for all-purpose (aka plain flour), but the finished product won’t be the same.
All-purpose flour is usually made from hard red winter wheat and has low gluten and protein contents. It contains around 8 to 13% protein, depending on the brand.
Some flour manufacturers mix in soft wheat to meet protein specifications, decreasing the plain flour protein content to 8 to 10%.
Be aware that APF (abbreviation for all-purpose flour) contains different amounts of protein in different countries.
For example, Canadian all-purpose flour (King Arthur, Pillsbury, or Gold Medal brands) has 11-12% protein, while Southern American flour (White Lily, Martha White, etc.) only contains 9% protein.
Here is a table that demonstrates some all-purpose flours and their protein content:
|All-purpose flours||Protein content|
|King Arthur Unbleached Enriched All-Purpose Flour||11.7%|
|Heckers/Ceresota Unbleached Enriched Pre sifted All-Purpose Flour||11.4-11.8%|
|Gold Medal Unbleached All-Purpose Flour||10.5%|
|Gold Medal Bleached All-Purpose Flour||10.5%|
|Pillsbury Unbleached Enriched All-Purpose Flour||10 -11%|
|Pillsbury Bleached Enriched All-Purpose Flour||10-11%|
|Hodgson Mill Unbleached All-Purpose Flour||9.5-10.5%|
|Martha White Enriched Bleached Pre-Sifted All-Purpose Flour||9-11.25%|
|White Lily Enriched Bleached Plain All-Purpose Flour||7-8.5%|
Interestingly, in some countries, for example, Canada, it is mandatory to fortify white flour with folic acid, iron, and vitamin B, making the flour enriched.
Note: American all-purpose flour is equivalent to French T55 flour, type 0 Italian flour, and Euro 550 flour.
Looking for plain flour recipes? Here're cake recipes made with plain flour.
Self-rising flour (known as self-raising flour in the UK) is flour that has been mixed with a raising agent so that the flour comes with its own leavening.
Some recipes specifically call for self-rising flour, and they don’t require any additional leavening agent like baking powder or baking soda.
It is milled from hard and soft types of wheat and is generally lower in protein than other types of flour. It has about 8.5% protein, depending on the brand.
That is why bakes such as scones, cookies, cakes, sponges, brownies, and various desserts made with this type of flour tend to be lighter, fluffier, and more crumbly.
This can be a drawback for breads, depending on the type of bread you are trying to make.
If you have a recipe that calls for self-rising flour, and you don't have any, you can easily make your own self-raising flour.
You will need to add one to two teaspoons of baking powder for every 100g of plain flour. It is a general rule.
But different websites provide different baking powder and all-purpose flour rations.
Nigella Lawson's recipes use self-rising flour, where two teaspoons of baking powder are added to each cup (150g) of all-purpose flour.
Epicurious suggests adding ½ teaspoons/6 grams of baking powder to 1 cup/125g of plain flour.
When Nigella Lawson talks about British self-raising flour, she points out that the UK version doesn't contain salt while the US counterpart does.
So if you are looking to replace self-rising flour in a US recipe then you need to add 2 teaspoons of baking powder and ½ teaspoon salt to every cup of all-purpose flour.Nigella Lawson
While using self-rising flour, one thing to know is that the baking powder is activated as soon as it is exposed to liquid.
This means that you should bring your baked goods to the oven as soon as possible after mixing the wet and dry ingredients.
Otherwise, the food will rise out of the oven and fall apart when it enters it.
This is why if you have trouble with flattened cookies or sagging cakes, that may explain your problem.
Cake flour (soft flour in the UK) is made from exceptionally finely milled soft wheat. It results in its silky-like texture and creates the best flour for making delicate bakes such as cakes.
It contains the lowest protein content among all flours and thus forms minimal gluten when mixing.
The exact amount of protein varies between brands; it is usually around 9%.
Cake flour contains more starch, and as the name suggests, is used to make cakes, cupcakes, muffins, etc.
One thing that makes cake flour the best for making cakes is that the flour itself is bleached.
This unique bleaching process increases the flour's acidity and changes its starches and fats. This results in the cake's ability to rise rather than collapse while baking.
Note: American cake flour is equivalent to French T45 flour, type 00 Italian flour, and Euro 450 flour.
Pastry flour comes from soft wheat but sometimes is milled from durum wheat.
As for protein content, this flour falls between cake flour and all-purpose/plain flour.
Low in gluten, the pastry flour is a very fine powder without getting the lightness of cake flour. It is used to make pastries, cookies, or tender cakes.
It also contains some amount of baking powder and salt, which saves time and gives you the best results in baking.
Have you ever heard about prepared flour? It is a cake and pastry flour that contains 1 ½ teaspoon of baking powder and¼ teaspoon of salt per 1 cup/125 g.
Bread flour, also known as strong flour or hard flour in the UK, contains one of the highest gluten contents than the other types of flour.
It is milled entirely from durum wheat. Durum wheat provides a higher proportion of gluten and protein (11 – 14% protein depending on the brand), which helps the bread rise.
Bread flour requires a lot of kneading to make good bread dough. The more you knead, the more the flour rises, which allows you to make good bread.
Bread flour is used to make yeast breads, bagels, etc.
Note: American high gluten bread flour is equivalent to French T65 flour, type 1 Italian flour, and Euro 650 flour.
Whole wheat flour
Whole wheat flour (wholemeal flour in the UK) is made by milling whole wheat and contains bran flakes. Wheat germ is often removed from this type of flour to prevent rancidity.
Although some stone-ground flours may still contain the germ, so read the package information.
Depending on the brand, it contained 9-10% protein, sometimes even 14% protein.
You can use whole wheat flour instead of a white flour cup for a cup in almost any recipe. But you should expect a darker crumb and a slightly heavier texture.
To obtain lighter baked goods, it is recommended to sift the whole-wheat flour a few times before using it, not forgetting to reintegrate the bran collected in the sieve into the flour.
Whole-wheat flour is mainly used to make brown bread, wholemeal bread, shortbread, cookies, etc.
Note: wholemeal bread flour is equivalent to French T150 flour, type 2 Italian flour, and Euro 1150 flour.
Type 00 (also called pizza flour) is a staple of Italian baking used to make pizzas and pasta. It is made from very hard wheat and has a protein content ranging between 11-12.5%, depending on the brand.
00 flour is very refined flour, milled to the most delicate texture possible. As a result, it lends itself to doughs leavened quickly but naturally, especially in making pizza dough and fresh pasta.
Note: type 00 Italian flour is equivalent to Swiss-bake pizza flour and other imported pizza flour.
Semolina flour is a coarse flour made from very hard durum wheat. This flour is darker and more golden than all-purpose flour. It has a sweet and earthy aroma.
It can be fortified when food manufacturers add back nutrients lost during the processing of durum wheat grain.
Enriched semolina flour contains higher levels of vitamins and minerals than unenriched alternatives.
As for protein content, semolina flour contains 13% protein, depending on the brand. It is mainly used to make bread, pasta, focaccia, and porridge.
This type of flour is made with durum wheat, rye, corn, barley, millet, and brown rice.
It enriches the taste and nutritional value of bread, muffins, and pancakes.
Gluten-free flour (often written as GF flour) is flour without gluten.
Since it is missing gluten, you will need to add other thickeners such as xanthan gum or guar gum while baking.
These gluten substitutes are available online and in the baking aisle of your favorite grocery store.
Oat flour is a nutrient-dense, protein-rich flour made by grinding rolled oats or old-fashioned oats.
It contained about 17% protein, depending on the brand.
Using a food processor, you can easily make oat flour yourself. But since it is gluten-free, baked goods do not rise in the way you desire, so it is better to mix it with another flour.
The most popular products are oatmeal pancakes, oatmeal muffins, cookies, and oatmeal bread.
Buckwheat flour is ground from buckwheat and has a very pronounced rustic and nutty flavor and taste. It has an excellent nutritional profile and many health benefits.
It is also a gluten-free flour that makes pancakes, crumbles, biscuits, pasta, and famous Breton crêpes (aka galettes).
Buckwheat flour is challenging to work to get a homogeneous and light preparation. Therefore it is hard to replace wheat flour with buckwheat flour, but rather combine it with other types of flour.
White and brown rice can be used to make a variety of flours. Rice flour is the most common gluten-free option.
It is relatively inexpensive and neutral in flavor compared with other grains like wheat or rye - which many people who suffer from allergies may find themselves sensitive, too.
Rice flour is low in protein, which means it won't hold structure and shape in your baked goods in the way all-purpose flour would.
You should combine rice flour with other gluten-free flour for better baking results.
Corn flour is made by grinding dried corn kernels. Since the grains are ground entirely (with starch, germ, and envelope), this flour retains all its nutritional properties, unlike white flours.
Corn flour is one of the most used gluten-free flours, especially in pastry recipes.
It should not be confused with cornstarch which does not have the exact composition and the same use.
Likewise, corn flour is not the same as masa harina, a certain type of quick-cooking corn flour. Masa harina is used to make corn tortillas, crisps, bread, and other Latin American dishes.
Due to low protein content, you cannot use corn flour as a substitute for all-purpose flour. However, you can combine it with all-purpose flour for better results.
Almond flour is made after having blanched and dried the almonds and then ground into flour.
It has a sweet and nutty flavor and is considered a versatile flour among gluten-free flours. You can buy it online or make it yourself.
Although there are many delicious recipes, for example, French macarons, explicitly designed for almond flour, most plain flour recipes can be adjusted with a few substitution tricks.
Almond flour doesn't contain gluten, so it will not work the same way for bread recipes, for example, even if you use yeast.
Working with this flour, you may have to add ingredients to help absorb liquid, for example, flax eggs for vegans.
Still, if you want to adapt a recipe based on all-purpose flour, you will have to do some baking testing.
Coconut flour is made by grinding the flesh of the coconut, previously dried and degreased by pressing.
Coconut flour is also used for making shakes and smoothies. Very delicate and soft, this flour is ideal for gluten-free baking, but it isn't easy to work with due to its high protein content.
There are recipes specifically designed to use coconut flour, like this Coconut Dacquoise Cake.
If you want to substitute it for all-purpose flour, the amount of this flour is significant.
Being very absorbent, only ¼ quantity of coconut flour is acceptable to replace one quantity of all-purpose flour.
But you can easily replace ground almonds or oat bran with coconut flour in certain gluten-free preparations.
Always measure the flour!
One of the best and precisest methods of weighing the flour is using a kitchen scale.
Also read: Cups to Grams Conversions
If you are used to measuring your flour with the spoon and level method, please, make sure to aerate your flour first, then spoon it into a measuring cup and level with a butter knife.
Please, avoid sinking the cup directly into the bag of flour, shaking it, or pressing it down.
Otherwise, you risk adding up to 1 oz./30 g per cup. And it is enough to ruin any recipe!
Also read: Grams To Cups Conversions
Frequently asked questions
AP flour means all-purpose flour and is used among some bakers.
APF is the abbreviation for all-purpose flour.
Cream flour is plain flour produced by the Irish brand Odlums. It contains a low level of additional raising agents and is used for home baking to make different pastries and biscuits.
Maida is refined wheat flour, and it is not the same as plain flour. Finely milled with less protein content than all-purpose four, Maida is identical to cake flour sold in the US. It is used to make bread, cakes, chapatis, parathas, and puris.
All-purpose flour and self-rising flour are not the same, although they have similar properties. For example, all-purpose flour only contains ground endosperm, while self-rising flour contains all-purpose flour, baking powder, and salt (American version).
Yes, you can use all-purpose flour to make the pizza dough, but you will end up with a crispier crust. Since the flour's protein content falls in the middle of all flour types, all-purpose flour can be used for many purposes, including pizza making.
Yes, you can use all-purpose flour instead of bread flour. All-purpose flour has lower protein content compared to bread flour. That is why the bread won't rise as much, and the bread's texture won't be as chewy as if you used bread flour.
Yes, you can use all-purpose flour to make pasta. Also, semolina flour and "00" flour are used for pasta making.
One of the best flours to make biscuits is all-purpose flour with low protein content, for example, White Lily All-Purpose Flour. Other types of all-purpose flour with a bit higher protein and gluten percentage work too.
Yes, all-purpose flour (aka plain flour) is perfect for cookie-making. To make your cookies a bit chewier, mix plain and bread flour.
Yes, you can make pancakes using common flours, including all-purpose flour.
While most cornbread recipes rely on cornmeal, some are made by adding all-purpose flour. It brings gluten to hold the bread together and makes it less crumbly.