The Ultimate Guide to Flour: How to Swap, Substitute and Supplement Your Favorite Flours

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With baking ingredients in short supply let this guide to flour help you use and swap standard flours like all purpose, bread flour and cake flour, but also whole wheat, ancient grain, and gluten-free flour options.

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Photography Credit: Summer Miller

All purpose flour has been a kitchen staple for ages and for good reason. It’s versatile, readily available, and yields consistent results in baked goods from cakes to cookies. But don’t let comfort hinder your creativity!

Alternative flours, from whole wheat, rye and spelt to teff, brown rice, and hazelnut can pack both flavor and nutritional benefits into your favorite baked goods.

Below you can find tips on working with different varieties of flour and suggestions for swapping one for another.

Scoops of flour on a black background and labeled for the ultimate guide to flour.

WHITE FLOUR

Your basic, everyday white flour is made from wheat that’s been stripped of its bran and germ, resulting in a pale, fluffy flour with lots of flexibility for baking. Several varieties fall into this category:

  • All-Purpose Flour: AP Flour is the workhorse for everyday baking. It’s sold both bleached (a chemical process to whiten the flour) and unbleached. It’s what you likely stock in your pantry and what the great majority of baking recipes on the internet call for. You can use bleached and unbleached flour interchangeably.
  • Bread flour: This flour has a slightly higher protein content than all-purpose, which is what gives yeast bread and pizza dough that appealing “chew.” The high protein creates a stronger gluten network, which helps create structure for loaves of bread. You can use bread and all-purpose flour interchangeably in a 1-to-1 ratio but know that it will impact the texture. Breads won’t be quite as chewy with all-purpose flour and I wouldn’t recommend using bread flour for delicate baked goods, such as celebration cakes and pastries. It could make them dense. However, some pound cake recipes like this Lemon Pound Cake use bread flour.
  • Cake Flour: Flour specifically intended for cakes has less protein than all-purpose and is ideal for baked goods with a light, delicate crumb. You can replace 1 cup of cake flour with a scant cup of all-purpose flour plus 2 tablespoons cornstarch. Conversely, use 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons cake flour in place of 1 cup all-purpose flour.
  • Self-Rising Flour: Self-rising flour is a combination of flour, baking powder, and salt. It’s traditionally lower in protein than all-purpose flour and common in southern cooking. You can make your own by whisking 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder and 1/4 teaspoon salt to every cup of all-purpose flour
  • Pastry Flour: Pastry flour has less protein than all-purpose flour but isn’t quite as low in protein as cake flour. It’s useful for pie dough and other pastries and can be swapped for all-purpose in a 1-to-1 ratio, though I’d avoid using it for yeast breads and pizza dough.

Scoops of flour on a black background to show how to substitute one flour for another.

WHOLE WHEAT FLOURS

Relative to white flour, whole-wheat flour is less processed, with the bran and germ of the grain still intact. That means it’s more nutritious than white flour — higher in fiber, vitamins, and minerals. It’s also got a heartier taste and coarser texture.

In my own kitchen, I routinely swap it for all-purpose in a wide variety of baking recipes, from cookies to quick breads. Start by replacing 1/3 of the flour called for in a recipe with whole wheat flour and see how it goes. If the result is pleasing, try 50 percent and continue to scale up from there. Within the whole-wheat category, you’ll find a few variations:

  • White whole-wheat flour is a whole-grain flour, even though the name implies otherwise. It’s just a different type of wheat with a paler color and mild flavor. As such, it has all the nutritional benefits of conventional whole-wheat and works for a variety of baked goods in a 1 to 1 swap. I often see it at Trader Joe’s.
  • Whole-wheat pastry flour is lower in protein than standard whole-wheat. It’s my “go-to” for much of my baking, particularly for more tender baked goods, such as cupcakes and quick breads. I use it as a 1 to 1 replacement for standard whole-wheat flour and often in place of 1/2 (and sometimes more) of all-purpose flour. That said, it’s not good for yeast breads and pizza, which benefit from more protein.
  • Ancient varieties of whole-wheat, such as spelt, kamut, and barley, as well as rye (which is not a type of wheat). These all deliver good nutrition, distinct flavor, and can reliably be used in place of 25 percent (or more) of white or whole-wheat flour in pancakes, muffins, cookies, and quick breads. They tend to be heavier and more full-flavored, but that often results in more interesting baked goods. You may need to bump up the liquid just a touch in recipes using heavier, ancient grains.

GLUTEN-FREE FLOURS

Replacing any type of wheat flour with gluten-free flour is a science unto itself. The gluten in wheat plays an important role in creating structure in baked goods. Without it, things can flop, literally. Breads may not rise so well, cookies can be crumbly.

A number of brands, such as Pamela’s, King Arthur, and Cup-4-Cup sell a gluten-free flour blend that combines gluten-free grains, such as rice flour, with other ingredients, like xanthan gum and cornstarch.

Gluten-free flours are ideally used with recipes developed for gluten-free baking. That said, I routinely work moderate amounts of gluten-free flour into my recipes. I have the best success with pancakes, cookies, brownies and even muffins that don’t need a lot of structure. I’m partial to nut and whole-grain flours over gluten-free baking mixes, because they’re nourishing and each has a unique flavor profile.

Start by replacing 25 percent of white or whole-wheat flour with a gluten-free flour and see how it goes. Here are a few favorite varieties to consider adding to your repertoire:

Flex Your Flour Power!

Below you’ll find a whole line-up of tasty recipes to help you flex your flour power:

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Katie Morford

Katie Morford is the Nutrition Editor for Simply Recipes. She is a writer, registered dietitian, and author of three cookbooks: PREP: The Essential College Cookbook, Rise & Shine: Better Breakfasts for Busy Mornings and Best Lunch Box Ever, which was nominated for an IACP award. Her work has been featured in Family Circle, Better Homes and Gardens, Health, Real Simple, Oprah, Parents, Self, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the New York Times, among others. Katie lives in San Francisco with her husband and three daughters.

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12 Comments

No ImageThe Ultimate Guide to Flour: How to Swap, Substitute and Supplement Your Favorite Flours

  1. jjmcgaffey

    A question, that keeps coming up as I use your recipes – how much (wheat) flour is a cup, for you? King Arthur Flour recipes set it at 4.25 ounces. Cook’s Illustrated/ATK says 5 ounces. I have to adjust my assumptions as I use their recipes (I weigh most of my ingredients). You’re my third primary source, and mostly you don’t give weights only measures – so can you tell me either how much a cup of flour weighs, our how you fill a cup so I can approximate? Spoon it in, scoop and sweep, ? Thank you!

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  2. Jennifer

    I have a ton of high gluten flour. Is there any way to make it lighter and more suitable for baked goods ( cookies, pie dough etc.)?

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  3. La

    this article did not have any pertinent information for using rice flour
    the article avoided any mention of how to use rice flour.

  4. Ethel

    Excellent! Thanks for this information.

  5. Pam

    PLEASE PLEASE Reconsider suggesting that folks should swap some of these flours!!! Some of these flours have disappeared off the shelves and are needed by individuals with gluten or food allergies. I have a family member with MULTIPLE FOOD ALLERGIES so I only make bread in the bread maker that we can all eat. BUT I AM DESPERATELY seeking to buy key alternate flours such as GF brown rice flour. At least one key company in your photo is currently not producing these flours. Multiple store shelves are bare . PLEASE research your alternate flour choices and limit your suggestions to those NOT required by those of medical needs.

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Scoops of flour on a black background and labeled for the ultimate guide to flour.The Ultimate Guide to Flour: How to Swap, Substitute and Supplement Your Favorite Flours