Choosing the Right Wheat Flour for the Job - Modernist Cuisine

Choosing the Right Wheat Flour for the Job

MB, MBAH, MC, MPMarch 10, 2024

Flour is the fundamental building block of bread and pizza dough. At its most basic, flour is just pulverized grain. Recent research suggests that it may have been used for food since the Paleolithic Period! Flour is an ingredient far more complex than it may appear, made up of starch, protein, water, fats, and enzymes. There are many kinds of flour, made from wheat, almond, and other ingredients.

In terms of all-around performance, wheat is the best flour for bread and pizza dough. Its high-gluten content gives the dough structure; it has a distinctive flavor profile and the right starch for active fermentation. Wheat grain is made of three main parts: germ, bran, and endosperm. The vast majority of flour on the market is made from the endosperm, which is softer and whiter than the other two parts. Whole-grain flour is made with bran and germ as well.

The label on a bag of flour can include a lot of terms. Flour type (think bread flour, all-purpose flour, etc.) is most common among those terms, which may also include added ingredients and marketing buzzwords. The type of flour on the label will give you a rough approximation of a flour’s protein count—and we do mean rough. The protein content can vary wildly from brand to brand, so be sure to check the label.

Here’s a breakdown of some of the most common flour types to help you decide which is right for the type of dough that you’re making.

00 flour: Using 00 flour for pizza is popular, and we recommend it for our Neapolitan pizza. This Italian classification system establishes a minimum protein content for each grade: Tipo 00: ≥9%, Tipo 0: ≥11%, Tipo 1: ≥12%, Tipo 2: ≥12%, Integral: ≥12%

High-gluten bread flour: With 13% protein or more, this will make an even stronger dough than bread flour. It’s particularly good for breads and doughs mostly leavened with commercial yeast—like pizza dough, French Lean Bread, and bagels—as well as breads that require structure (such as enriched doughs, like Sablée Brioche).

Bread flour: The bread flours we typically use have 11%–13% protein, which develops a good structure and produces volume in finished breads and pizzas. It forms strong dough, making it useful for many varieties of bread. Our recipes for challah, Deep-dish pizza dough, direct thin crust pizza dough, Detroit-style pizza, and Portuguese sweet bread recommend bread flour.

AP flour: The protein content of all-purpose flour can vary from brand to brand; generally it’s 10%–11%. It’s not necessarily good for all purposes. In France, the classic baguette is traditionally made with all-purpose types of flours, and we like it for our thin-crust and deep-dish pizza doughs. Because protein content can vary wildly, we recommend making sure you know the protein content of your AP flour before making bread or pizza dough with it.

Pastry flour: As its name states, this flour is intended for pastry preparations, in which a low-gluten percentage is desired—for example, cookies, muffins, and pound cakes in which a short crumb versus a chewy crumb is the goal. We use it in combination with strong flours to make dough softer and easier to use (for stretching and shaping). We also use it in our pork cheek hum bao recipe. Its protein content is around 9%.

Cake flour: Typically under 9% protein, cake flour is most commonly used in very delicate baked-good preparations, such as sponge cakes, because it produces a crumbly texture that is uniform and fine. We found blending cake flour with bread flour works well for some of our thin-crust pizza doughs, such as the Brazilian Thin Crust.

Self-rising flour: This type of flour is not meant for yeast-raised breads or pizza doughs. You can make your own self-rising flour by combining any flour with 3% of its weight in baking powder. The protein content is usually around 8.5%.

You can learn much more about flour in Modernist Bread at Home, Modernist Bread, and Modernist Pizza. Subscribe to our newsletter and follow us on social media for more Modernist Cuisine techniques, recipes, and announcements.