When it comes to making cookies, it can go without saying that there are countless different methods. From the flavor of the dough itself to the items that you can put inside the cookies, the possibilities are practically endless.
With as many different ways to customize cookies to your liking as there are, you might begin to wonder if you could change even more fundamental aspects of the cookie.
For example, most people know that you can change the flavor of the cookie dough to chocolate or a similar, simple flavor, but what if you changed something before that? What if you change the type of flour you used for baking the cookies?
It’s something that can definitely be done, as gluten-free variants of cookies exist. If cookies can be made with flours other than wheat, then it stands to reason that cookies could be made with other flours too, right?
If you are interested in experimenting with your cookies and what you use to make them out of, you may not have a good idea on where to start. The first place you should start, when doing this, is going to be with using cake flour.
Cake flour is surprisingly versatile, as it can be used in a number of baked goods that are not meant to turn out as cake.
When you choose to utilize cake flour in your cookies, you might be surprised at how much of a difference it can make. But, before you can begin your substitutions, you will first want to have a good understanding of what makes cake flour so different from your standard wheat flour that you would use in cookies.
The Unique Properties of Cake Flour
At their core, cake flour is the same base as all-purpose flour. They are both wheat flours, but the difference is how they are milled. All-purpose flour is exactly what the name implies.
It is flour that is milled in a way that it can be used for just about all purposes, whether that is cakes, cookies, donuts, breads, pastas, pizzas, or anything that requires flour as a base ingredient. Cake flour, by comparison, is milled specifically for the purposes of making an optimal cake.
To be more specific, while cake flour is still made from wheat, it is an extremely finely milled flour that is made from soft winter wheat in particular. This winter wheat will have different nutrients in it, giving it different properties compared to your standard flours.
Although cake flour can be used in other baked goods, these properties make it optimal for baking the perfect cake without having to fine-tune it.
An instance of this is the fact that winter wheat flour has less protein than your standard all-purpose flour. Because there is less protein from the wheat in the flour, there is naturally going to be less gluten.
When there is less gluten in a recipe for baked goods, this will mean that the texture of the baked goods will be lighter, softer, and more tender compared to the chewy, almost elastic-like texture that comes from baked goods with a higher gluten content.
Therefore, cake flour is made with a specific variant of wheat that allows for the flour to have a lower gluten content, meaning that whatever food you are creating with the cake flour is going to be lighter, more tender, and softer in terms of texture.
This is exactly what you will want in a cake, but what happens when you begin using cake flour for other foods?
Making Cake-Like Cookies with Cake Flour
Because the flour that you will be using for your cookies is going to have different properties compared to standard all-purpose flour, you may not know what to expect when you bring that flour into a baked good such as the cookie.
Just as the low gluten content will provide that pillowy, delicate texture in cakes, it will do much the same with cookies.
This will leave you with cookies that are soft, delicate, but fluffier and almost pillowy to the texture. An easy comparison that you can make is to the extra-soft sugar cookies with pastel frosting and rainbow sprinkles that most grocery stores will have in their bakery section.
While the taste will be completely up to you, as you can add more flavor to your own cookies than a set of store bought ones, the soft and delicate texture of the cookies will be much the same.
One problem with this, however, is that gluten does more for baked goods than provide texture. Gluten is a necessary protein to help bind dough together.
Without enough gluten in your cookie dough, your cookies are going to end up crumbling and falling apart when they come out of the oven, no matter how perfectly you have timed them to cook.
For some people, a crumbly texture is not going to be a problem and may even be what you are looking for. However, people who are used to typical cookies made with all-purpose flour may not be too fond of this change.
Thankfully, there are ways to help your cookie dough stick together so that you can still have the cookies you want with a more solid texture.
The trick to this is going to be to add a bit of cornstarch to your cookie dough. If you have a passion for cooking, you may be aware of the fact that cornstarch is commonly used to thicken liquids in all areas of cooking and not just baking.
The same concept applies here, although you will not be thickening a soup or cream, but instead you will be making the cookie dough a bit thicker so that it can hold its shape when you take it out of the oven.
Using cornstarch in particular is important, as it will provide the necessary changes to the texture of the cookie without affecting that soft and pillowy texture that you are aiming for by using cake flour.
It may take a little bit of practice to get the amount of cornstarch needed correct, but it will be well worth it in the end when you do.
What About Other Flours?
Okay, so now that you have created your first batch of cookies with cake flour as the main flour in the recipe rather than all-purpose flour, you might begin to wonder if you can create different kinds of cookies by using other flours as well.
The answer is that you absolutely can, but some of the results may be underwhelming or unappealing, and possibly a combination of the two.
When you are researching different flours to use for your cookies, there are two things you will want to keep in mind. The first is that you will need to be precise in the amount of flour you use, as baking tends to be a finicky process to begin with, and you should try to find a reliable recipe to ensure you are using the proper amounts of flour.
The second thing that you will want to keep in mind is that, as a rule of thumb, the more gluten a particular type of flour possesses, the more chew you will have.
This then leads to the question of how many different types of flours there are. There are a lot of specific types of flour that are made to cook one particular food very well.
There are even more types of flours to consider if you want to work with non-wheat flour, but this will be discussed later. To begin with, you should consider the most popular types of flours that you can easily purchase.
Naturally, there is already all-purpose flour. As a reference point, all-purpose flour will usually have between 10% to 12% protein content in it. Cake flour, again as a reference point, sits at about 5% to 8% protein content.
Whole wheat flour tends to be a fair bit denser and heavier than your standard all-purpose flour because of the fact that it uses the whole kernel of the wheat rather than just a portion.
This will be noticeable in a cookie and you typically use half of the amount of flour called for when using whole-wheat flours. Its protein content tends to sit around the 13.5% mark.
What About Gluten-Free Flours?
There is a plethora of gluten-free flours out there, but they all come with the same caveat: no gluten.
This means that although there is a considerable amount of variety between the flours and their attributes, the general texture of the resulting cookie will be the same because you will be using the same binding agents to replace gluten’s purpose in most recipes. These binding agents can be cornstarch, xanthan gum, and similar.
As for what types of gluten-free flour there are, the range is endless. There is buckwheat flour, which despite its name has no gluten, tapioca flour, potato flour, arrowroot powder, corn flour, nut flours, and so on.
Chances are that if you can grind it down into a fine powder, someone will have turned it into a gluten-free flour mix that you can try out.
Sarah is the founder of Baking Kneads, LLC, a blog sharing guides, tips, and recipes for those learning how to bake. Growing up as the daughter of a baker, she spent much of her childhood learning the basics in a local bakery.