With so many choices available, I keep a wide selection of flours in my kitchen. Unbleached all-purpose white, whole wheat, cake flour, and even gluten-free. And then there’s pastry flour.
But just what is pastry flour? And when should you use it instead of reaching for one of the other flours?
Pastry flour has a finer texture than other flours and falls right into the middle when it comes to protein content. All-purpose flour has about 11% protein, cake flour has 7 to 8%, and pastry flour comes in with 9% protein.
Because of the lower protein, pastry flour is used by bakers to create a tender and light baked good.
But how do you know when to use pastry flour? Is it okay to use in all baking or just when baking specific items? Here’s everything you need to know about baking with pastry flour.
Types of Flour
Before you start baking with pastry flour, here’s a quick run down on the other different types of flours:
Whenever a recipe calls for “flour”, it’s most likely asking for all-purpose flour. Milled from a blend of hard and soft wheat, this is the most versatile of all flours, used in all kinds of baking, including pies, cookies, cakes, and savory baking.
Cake flour has the lowest protein count of all flours, making it almost gluten-free. To weaken the gluten protein even more, cake flour typically goes through a bleaching process, which also changes the starch in the flour so that it can absorb more liquid.
Pastry chefs often use cake flour to bake lighter pastries.
Bread flour has a high protein count, making it a good choice for yeasted breads which need a lot of gluten so they can rise before they can be baked.
Flour that’s self-rising has salt and baking powder added to it during the milling process. It’s a common staple in kitchens that bake a lot of muffins, biscuits, and pancakes.
Whole Wheat Flour
After milling, whole wheat flour has some of the bran and germ added back into it. These two ingredients give whole wheat flour its great gluten-forming quality, which is why it’s used to make breads and other baked goods that are dense and heavy.
Pastry flour is a good balance between all the flours, producing baked products that are flakey and tender.
What Does Protein Have to Do With Flour?
The amount of protein in a flour determines how much gluten there is. The more protein in a flour, the more gluten there will be. And more gluten means that the dough will be denser and thicker than dough made with all-purpose flour.
When you mix and work with dough, the gluten within the flour will bind together, making the dough tighter and denser. This is why over-worked dough produces baked goods that are chewy and tough.
Pastry flour has less gluten, which means you can bake lighter baked goods and pastries.
Flour that has a higher percentage of protein is good for yeast-risen baked goods and crusty breads – a lower percentage of protein is best for lighter baking such as biscuits, cakes, cookies, and pastries.
Substituting for Pastry Flour
If a recipe calls for pastry flour and you don’t have any in your pantry, you can make your own like I often do.
Mix together 14 tablespoons of all-purpose flour with 2 tablespoons of cornstarch. Use it in any recipe that uses pastry flour, getting the same results.
Another combination of flours to substitute for pastry flour is a ½ cup of cake flour and a ½ cup of all-purpose flour. This ratio will get you just the right amount of protein in the flour mix – the cake flour with it’s 7% and all-purpose with 11% will produce baking results similar to those using pastry flour.
Is Whole Wheat Pastry Flour Different?
I often use whole wheat pastry flour when I want to add a few more nutrients to my baking. Made from the entire wheat kernel, whole wheat pastry flour has more nutrition and is less processed than bleached and enriched white pastry flour, adding more density to pastries.
The nutritional value of whole wheat pastry flour is higher due to more fiber content and the addition of additives such as folic acid, iron, niacin, and riboflavin.
Like white enriched pastry flour, whole wheat also has a low protein count so you can use either one interchangeably.
Potential Uses for Pastry Flour
Muffins are a great breakfast food and they’re also perfect for a snack any time of the day. For the most part, muffins are easy to make. They’re also very versatile – sweet, savory, or healthy.
When I want some of my muffins to be light and fluffy, I reach for the pastry flour. This way I can get that lightness, even when I bake a denser healthy breakfast muffin such as Banana Nut Oat Muffins.
The pastry flour gives them a fluffy, soft texture that no one can resist.
Soft, Pillowy Cookies
Cookie recipes typically use all-purpose flour, which works well when you want a heavier, flatter cookie. But what about when you want a cookie that’s soft and fluffy in the middle and melts in your mouth? This is when I use pastry flour.
My classic chocolate chip cookie recipe makes wonderful, crisp cookies that have a little crunch to them. Sometimes I modify my recipe and use pastry flour, which results in a cookie that’s soft and tender.
You can substitute pastry flour for all-purpose in equal amounts.
Another way I use pastry flour is when I’m baking a buttery, tender tart. Using pastry flour instead of all-purpose brings a different texture to the tart, making it light and soft with the rich taste of butter. Pastry flour also results in a crust that’s less likely to be chewy and tough.
Don’t just limit pastry flour to sweet tarts. You can make a savory tart, that’s usually dense and heavy, taste much lighter when you substitute some or all of the all-purpose flour with pastry flour.
One thing to keep is mind is that you may have to chill the dough for a few more minutes – the softer dough will take longer to chill.
Moist, Delicious Cakes
Perhaps the baked good that benefits the most from pastry flour is the humble cake. I have a vanilla cake recipe that, once they taste it, everyone is always asking for.
Soft, cloud-like, and with amazing flavor…what’s my secret ingredient for this one? You guessed it, it’s pastry flour.
With less protein and gluten, pastry flour lets cakes rise well when baking while keeping the cake tender without being crumbly.
The next time you’re baking your favorite cake, experiment with using pastry flour – you’ll be surprised at how this flour puts a new twist on a cake that you’ve been baking for years.
Scones and Biscuits
Other baked delights that benefit from using pastry flour are scones and biscuits. In fact, the best buttery scones absolutely need pastry flour – no substituting with all-purpose flour when I’m baking these treats.
Why use pastry flour for scones and biscuits? The low-protein, low gluten in the flour is ideal for making a dough that’s very light, resulting in a biscuit or scone that’s fluffy without being crumbly.
Baking with pastry flour is easy – don’t be afraid to use this flour in your favorite baking recipes and to try new recipes that you’ve never made before.
I promise you’ll be pleased with the baking you pull out of the oven…and so will your family and friends.
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.