Flour is a powdery ingredient usually made from grinding wheat, maize, rye, barley or rice. As the main ingredient in bread, it is one of the most common and sought-after ingredients in the world.
Wheat flour is the most popular and versatile flour and there are many different varieties:
White flour, otherwise known as plain flour, contains about 75 per cent of the wheat grain, with most of the bran and wheat germ taken out. It is commonly used for cakes, pastries and biscuits. When used in cakes it is combined with a raising agent such as baking powder or bicarbonate of soda. It is also used in quick breads like soda bread, producing a more densely textured loaf. White flour is usually artificially whitened but you can buy an unbleached variety if you prefer which is an off-white colour.
Self-raising flour is plain flour mixed with a small amount of baking powder. When making cakes or bread, it is essential you use plain or self-raising flour as stated in the recipe for successful results.
Wholemeal or wholewheat flour is made from the whole of the wheat grain. If the flour is steel-crushed the wheat-germ is separated from the white part of the grain and returned to the white flour at the end of the grinding process. Wholemeal flour produces heavier results than white flour so is often used in combination.
Strong flour is made from 'hard' wheat varieties which are high in gluten. This makes it ideal for bread-making where dough needs to expand and rise well in order to produce a light loaf. Strong flour is not suitable for cake recipes.
Some cake recipes replace part or all of the wheat flour component with rice, cornmeal, chestnut or other wheat-free flours, ground almonds or ground polenta. This provides a wealth of different textures and flavours but as baking is an exact science you cannot simply swap one for another, look for specific recipes containing these ingredients.
In an airtight container in a cool, dry place.