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What is the difference between various types of flour?

The recipe calls for cake flower, I have all-purpose flour. Can I use what I have? Or should I go get the cake flour? I know some things can be substituted, but not all the time. I’m making a n old fashioned pineapple upside-down cake.

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This duplicates What is the difference between cake flour and AP flour? which was merged with What is the difference between various types of flour? The short answer is no; the long answer is yes if you happen to be very experienced with the recipes and flours and know how to adjust ratios and/or baking times to compensate. –  Aaronut Mar 3 '12 at 21:19
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marked as duplicate by Aaronut Mar 3 '12 at 21:19

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This can depend on the specific recipe and the goal, but in general know that cake flour has a lower resulting gluten content than all-purpose flour, thereby resulting in the cake having a "lighter" texture. Experimentation with the specific recipe can tell you whether it matters, but in general I would caution substituting if any of the following conditions are called out by the recipe;

  • a very specific kneading/mixing time, i.e. with breads
  • a specific attention is called to the temperature, i.e. with pie crusts
  • the cake should have a very fluffy, spongy, or otherwise specific texture (as opposed to a more loose end result as with cake brownies or other hybrids where some flex either way could yield a nice result)

In some recipes, and especially mediated by the type of fat you use*, it may not matter if you use cake flour. However, if you want to make a spongier or fluffier loaf of cake, it will be detrimental to have all-purpose flour as the main building block. Some recipes can be specifically cut with cake flour to reduce gluten in the end result. The inverse obtains as well.

*If a recipe with a higher gluten flour calls for a room-temperature liquid fat (canola oil), and you substitute it with a lower gluten flour and a room-temperature solid fat (i.e. coconut oil, shortening) you can tweak to approximate a similar end result with pleasant nuances. I do this with otherwise oatmeal and whole-wheat cookies relying on a puree (i.e. pumpkin, sweet potato) for flavor, and cut in some APF with coconut oil instead of vegetable oil, thus resulting in a crisp cookie with a pleasant toothiness.

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