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pastry flour vs cake flour? [moved from General Chowhounding topics]

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  • jennp Dec 13, 2007 10:47 AM
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Hello everyone :)

Just wondering if there's a difference between cake flour and pastry flour... I wanted to bake my friend a cake for her birthday and found a chocolate cake recipe that asked for cake flour. Well I went to Whole Foods to buy some of the ingredients and they had pastry flour but no cake flour. Well I made the cake (first time baking a cake!), and it uhh.... tasted like chocolate cornbread. My friend graciously ate it (though I did notice some hesitation after the first bite), but I'm wondering if it was due to my substitution that caused the corn bread like consistency (and taste).

But since it was my first time baking a cake... it could've been a LOT of other factors. So I was just wondering what pastry flour actually is... and how it is different from cake flour.

Thanks!

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  1. I use ww pastry flour from Whole Foods for my cakes and they do not come out tasting like cornbread. While not light as air, they hold together well and are very tasty. I don't use cake flour but I think it is a finer flour so would give a less dense and crumbly consistency.

    1. cake flour is made from soft wheat and has less protein and less gluten than pastry flour. when making a recipe calling for cake flour but you don't have any, sub 1 cup minus 2 tbsp all-purpose flour for every cup of sifted cake flour in the recipe. cake flour is very soft and makes very tender, "cakelike"-- uh, cakes and other baked goods, but has so little gluten it would be useless or really weird if you tried to use it to bake bread.

      a common brand of cake flour is "soft as silk." many southern u.s. brands of flour are made from soft wheat and are close to the consistency of cake flour. i've seen organic and "natural" pastry flour but not cake flour, you probably won't find it in WF if you look there, have to go to a (larger) grocery store (not a lot of people bake from scratch anymore). i think this is because of the bleaching process that almost all cake flour goes thru which also chemically helps it interact with lots of sugar. if anyone knows a source for sun-bleached, natural cake flour though, holler at me! cake flour is usually sold in smaller boxes in conventional grocery stores, rather than 5# and 10# bags.

      don't give up on baking cakes. really fun once you get the hang of it and people will think you're a rockstar. whatever flour you end up using, don't forget to aerate it (sift) to get it fluffy and avoid the "cornbread" heavy-cake syndrome. rather than standing there with an old fashioned sifter, just measure the flour (scoop & level off) into a very large mixing bowl, and then whisk all the flour for a little bit with your whisk. really easy.

      2 Replies
      1. re: soupkitten

        wow thanks soupkitten! you know... i didn't have a sifter so i sat there for like, thirty minutes, "sifting" (or my idea of sifting anyway) the flour through a tea strainer.... it took, forever. haha. thanks for the tip!

        1. re: soupkitten

          If you use AP instead of cake flour remove 2 T of the AP and REPLACE it with cornstarch.

          Pastry four and cake flour are actually pretty similar, gluten-wise, though that always depends on the brand. I suspect it was some other problem with the recipe or how you made it that is the problem.

        2. Sifting through a tea strainer is pretty funny. Whisking works, but I also keep a small cheap-as-chips mesh strainer (for sifting flour and esp. cocoa powder if more chocolate cakes are in your future; obv'ly also good for draining small quantities of other things). I'd urge using something a little more precise than a whisk for cocoa powder, because it is very hard to get the clumps out. But your tea strainer might work for that quantity.

          Anyway, what i meant to say initially is that I think I've seen cake flour (presumably organic) in the bulk section at Whole Foods. They have a lot of different flours and sugars in that section, and you can buy only what you need (if you don't plan on baking more cakes in the future).

          Bulk department is a baker's friend (see also chocolate chips and nuts).

          1. Out of curiosity, what was the recipe? Because, as you mentioned, it might not have been the flour. Pastry flour is low gluten like cake flour and closer to cake flour than all-purpose flour is, so theoretically it shouldn't have caused that much of a difference.

            Here's a site that compares different flours (warning: quality of page design not nearly equal to the content)
            http://baking911.com/pantry/flour,gra...:

            5 Replies
            1. re: renz

              This was the recipe I used:
              http://www.foodnetwork.com/food/recip...
              (if the link doesn't work, search for "featherlight chocolate cake" on the food network website).

              One of the many factors that probably led to the cornbread like cake: instead of using a tube pan or bundt cake pan like it says to, I uh... used two pie tins and made it into a two-layer sort of cake. It all made sense in my head... but the results... not so much. Other possibilities - I cooked it too long. I didn't whisk the butter until "light and fluffy".... haha. Okay. So these probably had more to do with the cornbread-like cake then the pastry flour. I should have titled this topic: which of the many things I did wrong created chocolate cornbread cake? :)

              1. re: jennp

                I'm not a baker, but one thing I did learn along the way was not to use unbleached flour in cakes. If you do, other things equal, you'll get a heavier, coarser cake. Use bleached flour. The bleaching agents help in the rising and fluffiness (texture) of the cake. Since you mentioned you bought your flour at WF, one might wonder that it was unbleached. Unbleached pastry flour does exist, while unbleached cake flour would be a rare bird indeed. All that said, the flour may or may not be all or partly responsible for your outcome; cakes are very fussy things, and respond to just about any variation in what you put in or do, usually negatively (which is why I'm not a baker).

                1. re: johnb

                  WF also sells whole wheat pastry flour-- i like it for quiche & savory tart crusts-- but if the op bought & used ww pastry flour instead of bleached, white pastry flour in a cake, it would also affect the consistency of the final baked product. this flour was what i had a mental image of when i was first reading the op. . .

                  to Jennp-- bundt pans & tube pans are super cheap at thrift stores & yard sales, they take up a little space but you can put a nail in a wall & hang it up high. hang up an arrangement of 3 or more for culinary art if you're a little silly, like me. . .

                  1. re: soupkitten

                    Soupkitten, That is a great point that I missed. I have only ever been to a Whole Foods twice and I didn't remember that they stocked a WW pastry flour. If the recipe wasn't written for whole wheat and she used it, it would have been a entirely different product.

                    I am slowly trying to convert a few of my recipes for the use of whole wheat, and I have found that they require more moisture, and can be over-mixed easier.

                    The KA whole wheat cookbook has proven quite helpful in this endeavor.

                2. re: jennp

                  I'm not an expert but I've had a lot of experience (successes and failure) over the past year with different chocolate cakes, at least, enough to emphasize a few points (some are generally, but some are chocolate-specific. most were brought up by others below):
                  - sift, then measure flour for a cake. you should be able to do this well enough without buying a scale: sift the flour, the spoon it into your cup and level with the edge of a knife.
                  - sift cocoa powder whenever you use it in a cake. it clumps terribly and those clumps won't break up on their own
                  - cream the butter well and make sure your butter and sugar is "light and fluffy" before proceeding: this process is key to a good structure
                  - barely mix in the dry ingredients: you want them evenly mixed but you don't want to mix for more than a moment, or else the cake will get denser and tougher
                  - choose the appropriate pan for your recipe (or vice versa): rising agents are related to the pan, and while it's possible for some few recipes to switch, not all will.
                  - do not over bake. with chocolate cakes, more than with other cakes, it is very easy to overcook and burn them. you will see this when the top of the cake starts to get dark in spots: that's a burnt cake. you want just a few moist crumbs on the toothpick, not a totally clean toothpick. yesterday i baked a 9-inch chocolate cake for 29 minutes at 350.

                  anyway, i hope you are not discouraged from baking more in the future, cake pans can be found fairly inexpensively and are worth having around, if you have a few bucks to spare. don't buy dark coated ones, though, esp with chocolate cakes, because they tend to burn the edges.

              2. Jenn, pastry flour is quite similar to cake flour, so the recipe should worked almost as well with low protein pastry flour as it would with cake flour.

                I am wondering if you measured the flour before or after you measured it? I am thinking that you possibly used too much flour. A scale can be very important for baking, and they don't have to be expensive. I have a Salter that I purchased for less then $30.00. http://www.homeclick.com/web/catalog/...

                The flour in cakes should be mixed until it is just barely incorporated with the rest of the batter. I actually under-mix it, and then give it a few folds with a spatula before pouring it into the baking pans, just to guarantee that it isn't over-mixed.

                2 Replies
                1. re: Kelli2006

                  That's a good point. A cup of flour, sifted weighs a lot more than a cup of sifted flour.

                  1. re: JockY

                    I think you mean that a cup of unsifted flour weighs a lot more than a cup of sifted flour. "A cup of flour, sifted" in a recipe means measure then sift, but taken out of context the same phrase means that the flour in the cup has been sifted.

                    Do what the recipe says. Yours calls for X cups of sifted flour, which means sift first then measure. But not all recipe call for this. Some worded in discussion above.

                    What kind of chocolate did you use? Chocolate has acid in it and unless you used dutch-processed cocoa powder the added acid might have affected the leavening power of the baking powder.

                2. Stuff that has been said or alluded to:
                  1) Weigh your flour
                  2) Beat the butter, then the butter and sugar, then the butter-sugar and eggs A LOT.
                  3) Once you add the dry ingredients, mix gently and as little as possible.

                  1. Thanks for all the tips!! I think everything that I could've done wrong, I did wrong. haha. I sifted the flour after measuring it out (2 cups i think). And it was probably unbleached pastry flour. I remember sifting it through the tea strainer (...) and being left with all this really coarse bits, I just stuck it all in there anyway. Plus I probably overcooked it... and the butter+sugar was definitely not "light and fluffy". More just....creamy/pasty? Haha. Terrible... I know.
                    Anyway...Thanks! I'll try it again sometime. My friend DID enjoy the cake though... this chocolate ganache recipe i tried actually turned out really well, and made the cake edible... although odd with its cornbread like taste and consistency.

                    1. In my cooking class in college they taught us if we didn't sift the flour to stir it before measuring the flour and gentle scope spoonfuls of flour into the measuring cup then level with straight edge knife or other utensil. If you scoop the flour up into the measuring cup you are compacting the flour even futher. If you scoop into cup then you should take 2 tablespoons out before adding to recipe.