Sometimes, you start making a recipe only to get halfway through and realize that you are missing an ingredient. Cake flour is definitely one of those ingredients that many people don’t always have on hand. However, lots of recipes, baked good especially, call for cake flour.
So what should you do when you don’t have cake flour but you really want to keep baking? These simple substitutes will help!
Why Use Cake Flour
Before talking about how to substitute cake flour, it’s good to know why you would be using cake flour in the first place. Cake flour has a lot less protein than a regular all purpose flour and significantly less protein than bread flour.
This reduced protein also means that cake flour has less gluten. With less gluten, cake flour is lighter and fluffier than other flours which translates to softer, fluffier pastries.
When you are baking something like a cake, muffins or soft cookies, you want them to be nice and tender. Using cake flour is an easy way to get these results.
A chewy, firm texture may be good when you are baking bread but when it comes to cake, lighter is better!
Why Substitute Cake Flour
The most common reason to need a substitute for cake flour is that you simply don’t have it on hand. While some people may just reach for the all purpose flour, which is more common in people’s homes, this decision will affect your baking.
If you want that perfect, soft texture, use a cake flour substitute instead of just replacing it with all purpose flour. You will be glad you did!
You may also want to use a substitute for cake flour to try to improve your cake recipe. For example, you may want to try to make your cake a little more moist.
In this case, you could give the arrowroot substitute a try that you will read about below. It is always good to try to perfect your recipes and testing out cake flour alternatives may be a good way to make your favorite cake even better!
Cake Flour vs. Self Rising Flour
Since cake flour makes soft, fluffy baked goods, many people think that this is due to a leavening agent added to the flour. However, this is not true.
Cake flour is simply made from a softer type of wheat flour. Baked goods that are made with cake flour are softer and rise easily because the flour is so light, allowing the steam in the cake and the leavening agents added in to push the cake upward easily. Cake flour does not have anything added to the mix but is just naturally soft!
Self rising flour, however does have leavening agents in the mix. Typically, self rising flours contain baking powder which makes it great to use when baking quick breads, pancakes or even muffins. Your baked goods will get a little extra boost but it is thanks to the chemical leavener, not the flour itself.
Cake flour and self rising flour shouldn’t be used interchangeably. Even though self rising flour does make soft baked goods, there is still a good amount of gluten in the flour itself and that is something you want to avoid when baking cakes.
Don’t worry, there are other ways to substitute cake flour!
1 – Cake Flour Substitute with Cornstarch
If you do have all purpose flour on hand, you are halfway to having a perfect cake flour substitute. All you need now is corn starch! Adding cornstarch to all purpose flour will help keep your baked goods soft by inhibiting the formation of gluten during baking.
Remember, gluten in cake means a tougher, chewier cake- you want light and fluffy! Cornstarch will also help give your cake structure as it bakes and adds a nice sponginess that is also indicative of cake flour.
To make a cake flour substitute using all purpose flour and cornstarch, sift together 1 ¾ cup all purpose flour with ¼ cup cornstarch. Make sure they are mixed well! Then, use this mix just as you would use cake flour.
If you need one cup, just scoop one cup of the mix and proceed with your recipe. Simple as that!
2 – Arrowroot for Cake Flour
Just as you used cornstarch combined with all purpose flour to make a cake flour substitute, you can also use arrowroot in the same manner.
Rather than using ¼ cup cornstarch with 1 ¾ cup all purpose flour, use ¼ cup arrowroot powder instead. The arrowroot powder will also prevent gluten from forming as the cake bakes and will help your baked goods stay soft.
When using arrowroot powder, your cakes may bake a little faster so check for doneness a few minutes sooner than if you were using regular cake flour.
One benefit of using arrowroot combined with all purpose flour is that the arrowroot powder tends to lock in moisture meaning your baked goods will be even more tender than usual.
If you love soft, moist cake, arrowroot is the way to go!
3 – Pastry Flour Substitute
If you do not have al purpose flour, cornstarch or arrowroot to use in place of cake flour, pastry flour is the next best option. Pastry flour does have less gluten than a straight all purpose flour but still has about 11% protein while cake flour only has 8% protein.
Pastry flour will keep your cakes pretty soft but you will notice they are a little more firm. Pastry flour also has less starch than cake flour which means your cakes may have a slightly gummier texture. However, when you are in a jam, pastry flour will suffice and it will not ruin your cake!
Measure and use pastry flour in place of cake flour as the recipe directs. No need to alter it at all!
While baking with cake flour will give you perfect cake results with little effort, you can substitute the cake flour as needed. Always opt to use the cornstarch and all purpose flour combination first as this is the best way to replicate cake flour.
However, give all the substitutes a try- you never know when you may stumble upon something that makes your recipes even more spectacular!
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.