Flour 101

When first I started really getting into cooking, I had a lot of questions regarding flour.... why are there so many kinds? When do I use which one? But, above all, I wanted to know without a doubt, which was the best flour for making pasta with. This was the ruler with which I would begin to explore the world of flour.

Now I am no flour expert, but I have learned quite a bit about flour in the past year as I have been working with many different types. Between baking bread, making cakes, and making my own pasta dough, I quickly learned which ones I liked more than others and when the switch-out matters. I felt it at least worthy of sharing with everyone on my blog, in case you, too, are curious about flour!

 All Purpose Flour
This is probably the most widely used flour as well as the cheapest. More often than not, it’s bleached. I once heard a chef refer to all purpose as the “bastard” of the flour world... and it is. But it’s also one that comes in handy. So when to use all purpose? I’m glad you asked!

Anytime you want to thicken something, all purpose is the man. A soup didn’t turn out as thick as you pleased? add a couple tablespoons of all purpose flour to some water, stir with a fork and add to your soup, sauce, or whatever to thicken. Also great for pie crusts. This flour will also come in handy when you need to dust your work surface. Some flours, as you know, can be expensive, and you don’t have blow your wad--just use the all purpose flour!

In a pinch, you can use this flour to bake a cake, but I wouldn't recommend it. If you have to, though, you want to make sure to sift it several times to let it get all fluffy and stuff.

Bread Flour 
What is good for? Bread, duh! And Pizza dough. I have a bread maker and the bread flour is essential if you want that heady bread. It’s finer than all purpose, which is what makes it all awesome. If you are making rolls, breads, or pizza dough of any kind, you want that bread flour!

Once I even used it to make pasta, but I didn’t quite like it... I will say that in a pinch, it’s a better pasta flour than all purpose is, but it’s not the best.

Whole Wheat Flour
Look, there are no misconceptions here, I am not the healthiest Sally that ever wrote a cooking blog, and I don’t pretend to be, either. So I don’t bake whole wheat bread--so sue me. But I always have whole wheat flour on hand, you know why? Pizza dough.

I have made pizza dough with bread flour alone, and it’s okay. But add a little bit of whole wheat flour and it’s perfect in my opinion. So I always have it. Do I make pasta from it? Nah... I don’t like it like that.

Cake Flour 
I was resistant to the cake flour, I have to tell you. I didn’t want to pay all that money and besides, I had like a million flours in my cabinet. Once I baked my first batch of cupcakes with it, though, my life was changed. Cupcakes or cakes, even brownies, and you want cake flour. It’s the bee’s knees for these.

It’s about 25 times more fine than the all purpose flour, which is what makes your cakes fluffy and your desserts dreamy. If you are going to bother making a cake from scratch, which I see as no small feat, then why not just go for the gold? You will be pleased with yourself, trust me!

Fancy Durum and Semolina Flour AKA Pasta Flour 
You may have seen it in the store. It can be called pasta flour, but it’s true name is fancy durum and semolina flour, and it’s a blend. It has a slightly yellow color, and it’s a bit coarse. This flour is better than all purpose by far for pasta. It’s better still than bread flour for pasta.... but it still isn’t the best.

However, in some areas of the country, this is as good a pasta flour as you can get because not all flours are available in all places. I know... frustrating. If you are making pasta with this flour, you ARE ahead of the pasta curve, though, so fear not. To extend the life of the flour (because it’s a little bit pricey) you can also mix this with the bread flour or the all purpose flour.

“00” Flour (pronounced Double “oh”) 
This is an Italian flour which is (obviously) imported from Italy. This is my favorite flour for making pasta, and though I haven’t tried it for making pizza yet, I am sure it’s going to win for that too. It’s called the baker’s flour, and it’s not without reason.

It makes the most pillowy pasta you will ever hope to taste. It works like a dream. I am in love with this flour, and I was over the moon when I found out an Italian market had it locally. Over. The. Moon. If you try it, I know you will feel the same way.

It’s very fine, sort of like the cake flour, so I have found that you need to use a bit more to get the same yield of pasta. Nevertheless, this flour is the absolute wonder of the pasta world.

Happy flouring!


  1. I've never heard of OO flour! Interesting. Have you ever tried any flours made of other grains such as spelt or barley?

  2. No, alas, I have not... I plan on delving more into the flour such as Rye or Barley, but I just haven't had a chance yet. The world of flour is indeed a vast one! :)