If you bake in a small space, storing multiple types of flour isn't feasible. Instead, you can stock up on all-purpose flour and a small bag of vital wheat gluten. With this, you can make a bread flour substitute that will get you the same results without cramping your style.
All-Purpose vs. Bread Flour
As if the science of baking weren't confusing enough, it turns out you often need different flours to bake cakes, breads, biscuits and cookies. All of these are variations of all-purpose flour tailored to the specific needs of each type of baked good.
Bread flour ingredients include a higher protein and gluten content than all-purpose flour. Gluten provides elasticity to bread, which gives it the sought-after chewy texture. When you knead the dough, a network of gluten develops that collects air in pockets and creates the holes visible in the bread when sliced. This makes the bread light and airy.
While you can use plain, old all-purpose flour to make bread, it's not ideal and will result in a denser texture. Some breads are meant to have a denser texture, and some recipes specifically call for all-purpose flour. So don't automatically assume that you need a bread flour substitute just because you're making bread. Check your recipe first to be sure.
Read more: Healthy Baking Tips For More Flavorful Food
Making the Conversion
If you've confirmed that you do need a bread flour substitute, you simply need to increase the protein content. You can do this by adding vital wheat gluten, which you can find prepackaged at your local market or online.
If you do a browser search for this topic, you'll find a lot of different recommendations for how much vital wheat gluten to add — for example, 1 teaspoon according to Red Star, or 1 to 3 tablespoons, as recommended by Better Homes & Gardens. The problem is that all-purpose flours vary in their protein contents, typically containing 10 to 13 percent protein, reports Cook's Illustrated.
So you may need to experiment a little to find the right amount for your recipe. Start with 1 teaspoon and add more on your next batch if your bread was too dense. A lot of baking is trial and error, especially when you're making substitutions and straying from a recipe. Since your bread will be perfectly delicious even if you add no wheat gluten at all, you won't be wasting anything in the experimentation.
However much you add, sift the all-purpose flour and wheat gluten together so it is well mixed; then add it to your recipe as needed.
Read more: 13 Powerful Grains and Seeds
Substituting Whole-Grain Flour
If you're using whole-grain flour to replace some or all of the all-purpose white flour, you may need to add extra vital wheat gluten, according to Epicurious. Because whole-wheat flour isn't refined, it retains its fiber-rich outer covering, or bran, which weakens the structure of gluten.
Epicurious suggests 2 tablespoons per cup of whole-wheat flour, but again, it may depend on the specific flour you're using. It's also recommended to include a little extra water in your recipe. According to the Whole Grains Council, whole grains absorb more moisture than refined grains, and adding more gluten increases the absorption rate even more.
Replacing some of the refined flour in your recipe with whole-grain flour offers measurable health benefits. Unprocessed whole-wheat flour provides 3 grams of dietary fiber, and all-purpose flour has no fiber, according to the USDA. Dietary fiber is improves digestion and can lower cholesterol, reports the U.S. National Library of Medicine. It can also aid weight management.
- Cook's Illustrated: "A Guide to All-Purpose Flour: Shopping Tips, the Best Brands, and More"
- Epicurious: "The Best Flour for Baking Bread—and How to Use It"
- Oldways Whole Grains Council: "Expert Shares Tips for Baking With Whole Grains"
- Better Homes & Gardens: "How to Convert Recipes for Bread Machines"
- Red Star: "Baking Tips: Common Problems with Possible Solutions"
- USDA: "Whole Wheat Flour"
- USDA: "All Purpose Flour"
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: "Fiber"