Though the term refers to the ground meal of various edible grains, flour is most commonly made from wheat. There are several styles of wheat flour, which vary mainly in the nature of the gluten-forming proteins in each particular style. When water is mixed with flour, these proteins join to make strong elastic sheets of gluten. High-protein flour makes for dense, sturdy breads and pasta. Low-protein flour makes tender cakes, quick breads, and pastries.
Storing all-purpose, pastry, or bread flour
Transfer the flour to airtight containers and store at room temperature for up to 6 months. If the temperature rises above 75F, transfer the flour to the refrigerator or freezer. Bugs and mold are more likely to infest flour at warm temperatures.
Storing whole wheat and other whole grain flours
Whole grains flours contain more of the natural oils found in the germ and bran. Since these oils can turn rancid quickly, warp whole grain flours airtight and refrigerate for up to 6 months or freeze for up to 1 year (double-wrap if freezing). Bring to room temperature before using.
To tell whether whole grain flour is rancid
Smell it. Rancid flour is immediately recognizable by its unpleasant odor.
If a recipe calls for "1 cup sifted flour", sift the flour first, and then measure. If the recipe says "1 cup flour, sifted", that means you should measure 1 cup and then sift. If the recipe uses weight instead of volume, it doesn't matter what you do first; 1/4 pound of flour will weigh the same amount whether it's aerated by sifting or not. If the recipe doesn't specify sifting, stir the flour with a spoon, then spoon it into a measuring cup. Level off the cup with the edge of a knife or another straight edge. Avoid scooping flour directly into a cup, which compacts the flour so that you might end up with too much. Keep a straight edge readily on hand by storing a chopstick or a tongue depressor (clean, please) in with your flour.
To substitute all-purpose flour for cake flour
For each cup of all-purpose flour used, remove 2 tablespoons and replace it with 2 tablespoons cornstarch. Sift before using.
To substitute cake flour for all-purpose flour
Use 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons cake flour for each cup of all-purpose flour.
To substitute all-purpose flour for self-rising flour
Replace each cup of self-rising flour called for with 1 scant cup all-purpose flour mixed with 1.5 teaspoons baking powder and 1 teaspoon salt.
To substitute flour for cornstarch as a thickener
Use 2 tablespoons flour for each tablespoon cornstarch.
Getting consistent results with baked goods
Use the same brand of flour every time. Brands vary in protein content, which means that your favorite cookie recipe can turn out tender one time, tough another, cakey a third time, and thinner a fourth time.
Sifting flour without a sifter
Place flour in a mesh strainer and gently tap the edges of the strainer over a bowl or sheet of parchment. This is also a good technique for lightly dusting a work space or a cake pan with flour.
To remove lumps of flour in a sauce
Beat vigorously with a whisk. If that doesn't work, try pressing the sauce through a wire sieve.
Avoiding bugs in your flour
Place a couple of bay leaves in your flour and store it in a dry, cool cupboard. If you don't use much flour, or if you have particular problems with bugs in your flour, double-wrap it and store in the freezer.
To replace all-purpose flour with whole wheat flour
Replace up to 50 percent of the white flour in recipes with whole wheat flour. Or try white whole wheat flour, made from white wheat berries. It is lighter in color and flavor and slightly sweeter than regular whole wheat flour.
To get tender results when replacing all-purpose flour with whole wheat flour
Fold batters very gently, particularly when mixing quick bread batters. It's especially important to avoid overmixing because whole wheat flour contains additional gluten, which will make baked goods tough if the batter is overmixed. For even more tender results, use whole wheat pastry flour. Made from soft wheat berries with less gluten content, whole wheat pastry flour is a perfect substitute for white flour when making desserts and quick breads. The end results will yield a softer, lighter texture, as well as a milder wheat flavor, then that of regular whole wheat.