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I'm a bread-baking novice and have acquired a vast quantity of all-purpose flour.

If I follow a typical bread recipe, for example one of these, but use all-purpose flour instead of the recommended variety, what will happen? Will the bread be edible?

[How] could I modify such a recipe to work with all-purpose flour?

update

Used Canadian all-purpose flour with this recipe, unmodified; results were delicious.

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Note that country and region both matter here. Canadian AP flour is generally higher gluten content than American AP flour. And in the US, they vary north-to-south as well. Just something else to take into account. –  sdg Jan 1 '11 at 20:54
    
@sdg: thanks, eh –  intuited Jan 1 '11 at 21:02

4 Answers 4

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Bread is basically just flour, water, and yeast, so it's pretty hard to make it inedible unless you burn it to a crisp in the oven.

The difference between all-purpose flour and bread flour is gluten strength; if you substitute all-purpose flour then your bread won't rise as high or be as strong; this is a desirable quality in, say, cake, but not bread.

However, AP flour isn't that far off from bread flour in terms of gluten; while cake flour may be as low as 6% and bread flour can be as high as 14%, AP flour tends to weigh in at around 10% or more, which is why it's called "all-purpose". As Michael says, yeast bread is actually not as sensitive to the exact quantities as (for example) most pastries, but it's still better to use a recipe that was actually built around AP flour instead of just trying to substitute it for bread flour.

If you are determined to make the substitution, then I would suggest you try to find some wheat gluten and add a small amount of that to the AP flour. Mathematically, if you assume that you're lacking some 3% protein, then you'd want to add about 1 tbsp of gluten for every 2 cups of flour. It's really not much, though, and if you don't have or can't find wheat gluten then your bread would probably survive anyway with AP flour, it just might be a little denser than you expect.

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Any other alternatives to adding gluten? What about more yeast/less salt/more sugary stuff? –  intuited Jan 1 '11 at 20:57
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@intuited: No, that won't help. Reducing salt will just take away the flavour. Adding more sugar will cause less gluten to form, making the bread more cake-like. And adding more yeast won't help much because its main role is to produce carbon dioxide which gets trapped by the gluten; you can't really compensate for a lower gluten level by adding more gas. As I said, you can try to use the AP flour straight up, and probably end up with a slightly denser/flatter bread; otherwise you either need to add actual gluten or use a recipe created for AP flour in the first place. –  Aaronut Jan 1 '11 at 22:38

Bread baking is remarkably tolerant. It is very hard to make an inedible loaf. That said, why not start with a recipe that has been tested with all-purpose flour. There are plenty of them. By the way, a terrific book to get you started with baking is Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. Enjoy the journey, learning to bake bread is one of the most rewarding things you will ever do in the kitchen.

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I'm trying to make do with minimal ingredients and am planning to follow this recipe, should it prove practical. I meant to use that as one of the links in the original post (it's now fixed). I'm suffering from a bit of information overload (and time constraint) so I don't think I'll go digging about for a recipe with even more stringent requirements. If you do know of one though, I would quite appreciate a link to it. –  intuited Jan 1 '11 at 21:08

I started that way. AP flour can be bought in larger quantities where I am. You might not even notice the difference. In fact, if you want to really see the difference, make two breads side by side with the different flours. Note the difference in water you need, the feel, and the eventual eats.

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Actually, I think you are fine making any of those recipes with AP flour, especially the two recipes for white bread. If you want a good general "sandwich" bread, then AP flour will give you a softer crumb that most people actually prefer for that kind of bread. If you had bread flour, you could try it, but I wouldn't go out of my way to get the bread flour or vital wheat gluten to add to the flour in these cases.

In the case of the whole wheat recipe bread flour can be particularly beneficial because the bran in the whole wheat flour inhibits gluten development somewhat. Even in this case, the proportions are such that it shouldn't make much of a difference, and I wouldn't go out of my way to source higher gluten ingredients.

If you want more gluten development out of your AP flour one thing you might try is what bakers call an autolyse. This is a technique where you bring the dough together just to the point where all the dry ingredients are hydrated and let it sit without messing with it for about 20 minutes. This allows the gluten in the dough to get a headstart knitting itself together. After that 20 minute period, then you knead the dough.

As a general rule of thumb, for breads you make in a loaf pan you should be fine using AP flour if that's what you have. If you want to make artisan crusty breads that are usually formed into baguettes or other shapes to be baked free form on a pizza stone or other solid oven deck then bread flour will help out (along with a host of other techniques).

The book Bread by Jeffrey Hamelman (the head baker for King Arthur Flour Co) is a great book for more than you would ever want to know about flour and has a lot of good recipes and techniques for the not-in-a-loaf-pan kind of bread baking.

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Very informative, thank you. –  intuited Jan 3 '11 at 5:37

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