Pastry flour is a low-protein, specialty flour that is ideal for baked goods. But how does it differ from all purpose and cake flours? And what about whole wheat pastry flour? We break it all down for you

By Kelly Vaughan
Updated December 04, 2018
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We know what you're thinking: What is pastry flour, anyway? Is it really worth spending money on? I barely have room in my pantry as it is. Doesn't all-purpose flour work well enough? Oh, and cake flour: what's that? Well, trust us: Pastry flour is worth knowing about (and using) if you like to bake. Keep reading for everything you need to know.

What Is the Difference Between Pastry Flour and All-Purpose Flour?

Pastry flour is a low-protein, specialty flour that is ideal for baked goods. On average, pastry flour has an 8 to 9% protein count versus all-purpose flour, which contains approximately a 10 to 12% protein count. For pastries like biscuits, scones, pie crusts, and quick breads, a lower protein count means a lighter, flakier dough.

Protein count is equated with the amount of gluten in flour; the higher the protein count, the more gluten in your flour, which will result in a denser dough. As you mix dough, the gluten in the flour (aka the protein) binds together and becomes tighter. This is why it’s especially important to not overwork your dough— too much mixing will lead to a tough, chewy dough (better for bagels).

However, pastry flour is not ideal for all pastries: cinnamon buns, for example, generally have a soft but dense dough which is best achieved by using all-purpose flour. So consider each recipe carefully. While pastry flour can transform challenging doughs like homemade puff pastry, it is not a one-size-fits-all ingredient.

How Does Whole Wheat Pastry Flour Differ?

Whole wheat pastry flour is made from the complete wheat kernel, meaning that it is less processed and more nutritious than enriched and bleached pastry flour. Whole wheat pastry flour adds a nutty, slightly dense texture to pastries. Much like pastry flour, the whole wheat version has a lower protein count than all-purpose flour, which helps achieve lighter pastries. Whole wheat pastry flour’s nutritional value comes from its high fiber content and lack of traditional additives like niacin, iron, thiamine, folic acid, and riboflavin. You can use whole wheat pastry flour interchangeably with pastry flour; really, it's a matter of personal taste.

What's the Difference Between Cake and Pastry Flour?

While pastry flour is ideal for pie crusts and tart shells, cake flour is designed for (you guessed it!) cake. Cake flour’s soft, fine texture easily absorbs liquid and sugar, which produces an extra-moist cake. Cake flour has a 7 to 8% protein count, even lower than pastry flour. The low protein count creates a moist, fine crumb and fluffy texture in cakes and muffins. Many cake flours, like Pillsbury Softasilk ($14 for a two pack, amazon.com) and Swans Down ($13 for a two pack, amazon.com), come pre-sifted, enriched, and bleached. We recommend trying it out in our classic pound cake.

A note of caution: cake flour should not be substituted in recipes that call for all-purpose flour. Because cake flour contains less protein than all-purpose flour, it requires more fat (i.e. eggs, oil, butter) to support its weight and leaven properly. Try experimenting at home until you find the perfect fat to flour ratio for some oh-so-good sweet treats!

Are There Good Pastry Flour Substitutes?

An easy DIY pastry flour can be made in your own kitchen—for one cup of pastry flour, combine ½ cup of all-purpose flour and ½ cup of cake flour. The protein from equal proportions of all-purpose flour and cake flour meet in the middle to create perfect pastry flour.

For gluten-free bakers, Jovial Foods has created a pastry flour made from organic ancient grains and organic brown rice flour ($5.50, jovialfoods.com). Blends by Orly also sells a certified-GF pastry flour which uses similar ingredients like brown rice flour, wholegrain sorghum flour, millet flour, and long grain rice flour ($14, amazon.com).

Where Can You Find Pastry Flour?

Pastry flour can be found in nearly every grocery store, either in the baking aisle or in a designated natural/organic aisle, as well as online. King Arthur’s Flour ($3, amazon.com), Bob’s Red Mill ($4, bobsredmill.com), and Arrowhead Mills ($6, amazon.com) have all created their own pastry flours.

This Story Originally Appeared On Real Simple