Don't Make Santa Angry: Use the Right Cookie Flour

the ultimate baker's guide to cookie floursWhen it comes to baking pleasure, size doesn't matter -- flour does.

Maybe you've seen recipes that call for pastry flour or cake flour and wondered, Do I really need a special flour for this? What about whole wheat flour? What's the big deal with flours?

The short story is that if you're new to baking and don't want to invest in 7 different kinds of flour, you can use all-purpose flour. It's a good-enough flour. But if you want to step up your baking game for the holidays, here's the DL on why you should consider special flours.

After all, you don't want to make Santa angry with tough or crumbly cookies, do you?


All-Purpose Flour -- Combination of soft and hard wheat, medium-low in protein/gluten, may be bleached or unbleached, unbleached has more protein/gluten.

Effects: Works moderately well for everything; unbleached works better for yeast goods like bread.

Use for: Pancakes, any everyday baked goods for your family, brownies.

Pastry Flour -- Soft wheat, medium-low protein/gluten.

Effects: Light, flaky crusts, delicate texture.

Use for: Pie crust, croissants, holiday cookies.

Cake Flour -- Finer-grained, soft wheat, high in starch, lower in protein/gluten, bleached.

Effects: Distributes fats more evenly, slightly acidic, cake sets faster, less likely to fall.

Use for: Cake! Also cupcakes and muffins for gifts.

Bread Flour -- Hard wheat, higher in protein/gluten, unbleached.

Effects: Works well with yeast, improves texture of bread.

Use for: Bread and rolls, especially holiday breads for gifts.

Self-Rising Flour -- Low-protein flour with added salt and baking powder.

Effects -- Good for anything you bake with baking powder; just don't actually add more baking powder or salt. Doesn't work well with yeast.

Use for: Muffins and biscuits if you're in a hurry and when you're not aiming for perfection.

Whole-Wheat Flour -- Uses the entire wheat kernel, higher in fiber and nutrients, lower in protein.

Effects -- More nutritious, dense, hearty texture.

Use for: Everyday whole wheat sandwich breads, pumpkin or zucchini bread or muffins.

And now a rant: King Arthur makes a "white" whole-wheat flour that's finer-textured than ordinary flour. I've tried it and like it. But when it comes to making dessert, I'm talking pie, cookies, brownies, I go with the white stuff. I mean, it's DESSERT. You were thinking you could sneak in a little nutrition by using whole wheat? Does this mean you'll be justifying eating more dessert then? Don't kid yourself! Dessert is dessert, period. It's a "sometimes" treat, so might as well go all the way and make it truly decadent. Whole wheat brownies are just sad.

Organic Flour -- Just about all of these flours can be found organic. The main difference will be the absence of trace amounts of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

Effects: Same as other flours.

Have you used specialty flours?

Image via Jeanne Sager

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