Cake Flour 101

Yield: 12 cupcakes

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook: 20 minutes

Diving into Cake Flour 101 – A fun visual guide to cake flour including what it is, how to substitute, and side-by-side comparisons so you can see how it works in action!

Before this cake flour experiment, and before the next couple of posts you’ll see here, it had been a while since I had done baking experimenting and side-by-side comparisons like this.

They’re a LOT of work, but I really missed having fun in the kitchen in this way!

Don’t get me wrong, sometimes it pains me to intentionally make batches of anything that I know aren’t going to come out exactly right, but the photos I’m able to create are so valuable. They actually show you how different ingredients and techniques impact your favorite treats.

And I don’t know about you, but I’m such a visual person that the best way I can learn about the magic and science of baking is by seeing it in action.

If you like these kinds of posts and find them helpful, then you’ll LOVE The Magic of Baking online course + community I recently created. It dives deep into baking science in a fun, visual, & approachable way so you can enter the kitchen with complete confidence.

Now let’s get on with this Cake Flour 101 experimenting…

Diving into Cake Flour 101 - A fun visual guide to cake flour including what it is, how to substitute, and side-by-side comparisons so you can see how it works in action!

Tools and Ingredients Used:

I made every effort to replicate each batch as perfectly as possible, using the same exact tools and ingredients whenever applicable. I used a kitchen scale to measure ingredients to ensure 100% accuracy and used an oven thermometer to gauge exact baking temperatures. Each batch was baked for exactly 20 minutes.
I used Bleached Gold Medal All-Purpose Flour for the control batch and DIY cake flour, and Sofasilk Cake Flour for that batch. Lastly, I baked the batches in my Wilton Cupcake Pan, using a large spring loaded OXO scoop to fill each cavity evenly with batter.

Also note that the photos I took in comparing these are a little darker than I would normally like, but I wanted to avoid excess post editing so you could see the color and texture as true-to-life as they were when I baked them!

What is cake flour?

Cake flour has a lower protein content than all-purpose flour:

All-purpose flour: 9-12% protein content
Cake flour: 6-8% protein content

This lower level of protein discourages gluten formation. Lower levels of gluten equal more softness and tenderness in a baked good. Think of something that has a really high level of protein like steak. It’s tough and chewy. When we want the opposite of that texture, we want lower levels of protein.

Cake flour is actually made from soft winter wheat and is extra finely ground, giving it a softer, finer and more delicate texture. That fineness is actually why cake flour should be sifted before use, it’s more likely to clump together.

Lastly, cake flour is typically bleached, which further weakens the proteins which again prohibits gluten formation. Bleached flours in general soak up more water and produce thicker batters.

Testing Cake Flour & Substitutions

Diving into Cake Flour 101 - A fun visual guide to cake flour including what it is, how to substitute, and side-by-side comparisons so you can see how it works in action!
Those three elements make cake flour very different than all-purpose flour in terms of it affects the chemistry of a recipe. Since it’s made from a different wheat using different manufacturing techniques, it’s impossible to recreate cake flour exactly at home using “DIY” substitutions. That’s why I was so eager to compare side-by-side cake flour vs. all-purpose flour vs. DIY cake flour.

I had a suspicion of how this experiment would turn out, but I wanted to be 100% sure either way. I know many of us don’t always have cake flour in our pantries so it’s kind of an annoying ingredient when you see it called for in a recipe!

Yet because of all of the baking experiments I’ve done in my Ultimate Guides, I know one small seemingly insignificant change can have significant results in baking.

Control Recipe – All Purpose Flour

Cupcakes made with all-purpose flour vs cake flour
The cupcakes I baked were based off a standard cupcake recipe found at the bottom of this post. This recipe uses all-purpose flour. I re-made the same recipe each time, simply changing out the flour for each batch you see below.

These control cupcakes were soft yet sturdy with a slightly open crumb. They weren’t super tall and had some cracking on top that I think visually reflects the slight chewiness they had. Basic yet delicious.

Cake Flour

Cupcakes made with cake flour
I used the same amount of Sofasilk Cake Flour in place of the all-purpose flour in this batch. These cupcakes baked up pale and tall with a spongier and softer texture. The softness actually reminded me slightly of a more commercially produced cupcake but not necessarily in a negative way. They were so soft that I don’t think they’d hold up to a heavy or generous frosting or filling.

DIY Cake Flour

Cupcakes made with DIY cake flour substitute
For this batch I followed this technique for making “DIY” Cake Flour:

1 cup all-purpose flour minus 2 tablespoons + 2 tablespoons cornstarch

Then I sifted this flour + cornstarch mixture 5 times with a fine mesh strainer.

These cupcakes looked more like the control / all-purpose flour cupcakes than the cake flour cupcakes which I thought was interesting. They definitely had a softer, more tender texture than the control batch however, and a finer more delicate crumb. However, they weren’t as soft and delicate as the real cake flour batch.

Final Comparison

Diving into Cake Flour 101 - A fun visual guide to cake flour including what it is, how to substitute, and side-by-side comparisons so you can see how it works in action!

Diving into Cake Flour 101 - A fun visual guide to cake flour including what it is, how to substitute, and side-by-side comparisons so you can see how it works in action!
I think visually this comparison does a good job of proving the belief I’ve always held that nothing is quite as good as the real thing. 90% of substitutions you make in baking will alter the taste and texture of the final result. Sometimes substitutions are necessary and I understand that. However, I think it’s always best to follow the recipe exactly as it’s written… at least the very first time you make it so you understand how it’s supposed to turn out.

Luckily, since cake flour is refined and bleached it will keep in your pantry for a long time. So why not have some on hand for those few recipes that use it so you can really take your baking to that next level?

Cake Flour 101

000
Yield 12 cupcakes     adjust servings
Prep Time 15 minutes Cook Time 20 minutes Total Time 35 mins

Diving into Cake Flour 101 – A fun visual guide to cake flour including what it is, how to substitute, and side-by-side comparisons so you can see how it works in action!

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups (191 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine salt
  • 1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
  • 1 stick (113 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 large egg
  • 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons whole milk

Directions

  1. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the sugar and butter until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg and vanilla and beat until combined. Add the dry ingredients and milk alternatively, starting and ending with the flour, beating well after each addition. Continue beating for one minute. Divide the batter between the cupcake cups, filling each about 2/3 full.

    Bake at 350°F for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Let cool for 10 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.

by

Recipe Notes

Control recipe fom my Ultimate Cupcake Guide

Control recipe fom my Ultimate Cupcake Guide

About Tessa...

Tessa is a professionally trained chef, cookbook author, and cookie queen. She loves to write about all things sweet, carb-y, and homemade. She’s on a mission to make the world a more unapologetically DELICIOUS place. Tessa lives in Phoenix, Arizona.

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21 Responses to “Cake Flour 101”

  1. #
    Peggie — September 5, 2017 at 5:10 am

    Have you done any experiments with bleached flour vs unbleached flour? I always use pastry flour for anything that doesn’t have yeast. Fortunately there is a co-op near me where I can buy 25 lb. bags.

    • #
      Tessa — September 5, 2017 at 9:55 am

      I have! When it comes to AP flour, bleached vs. unbleached doesn’t yield a massive difference. Unbleached flour will take on the properties of bleached flour as it ages as well. Would you like to see a side-by-side comparison like I’ve done here? I can add that to my list if there’s interest 🙂

  2. #
    Dena — September 5, 2017 at 7:17 am

    What about mixing AP with Cake Flour….? Will we get the best of both worlds?

    • #
      Tessa — September 5, 2017 at 9:52 am

      In some recipes, yes! It just depends on your desired result and preferences 🙂

  3. #
    Jenny from jennyisbaking.com — September 5, 2017 at 9:47 am

    This is bad news as we don’t have cake flour in Germany and I HAVE to substitute. And is that correct that cake flour has less gluten???

    • #
      Tessa — September 5, 2017 at 9:58 am

      Oh no, Jenny! Can you order it online? Cake flour has less protein, so it will form less gluten when mixed in a batter. The differences between cake and AP flour are quite astounding!

  4. #
    Ruth — September 6, 2017 at 4:56 am

    I’m working with King Arthur cake flour these days, and I like it very much. Have you played with it at all?

    • #
      Tessa — September 11, 2017 at 9:49 am

      No I haven’t because it’s unbleached, so it literally won’t work for some recipes like angel food cake.

  5. #
    Dalya Rubin — September 6, 2017 at 9:22 am

    I’m so glad that you’re bringing back the experimental posts! This entire page was super interesting to read and I love that you took side by side pictures! Thank u! I never realized how much of a difference there is between store-bought cake flour and DIY cake flour.

    • #
      Tessa — September 11, 2017 at 9:49 am

      I’m so glad you like these posts, Dalya!

  6. #
    Emily — September 7, 2017 at 5:59 am

    Thanks! I love these comparisons, and learn a lot from reading them. I’m curious if the results would be the same if you used a recipe that calls for cake flour as opposed to AP flour as the basis for the comparison.

  7. #
    BEC — September 8, 2017 at 3:45 am

    hello,
    i live in australia and i dont think the measuring cup and table/teaspoon is the same in America.

    do you think you will be able to show any grams in table and teaspoon next time you publsih a recipe?

    • #
      Tessa — September 11, 2017 at 9:47 am

      Hi! Did you see grams are included for the dry cup measurements already? Most scales built for home use aren’t accurate enough to decipher small amounts of weight such as tablespoons and teaspoons so I don’t use weight for those measurements.

  8. #
    Lizet — September 8, 2017 at 4:28 am

    Well. That was kind of sad and interesting. Our self rising flour I think it’s more like the cake flour in the US.
    I’ll be checking the protein content in all our flours

  9. #
    Jessica — September 8, 2017 at 8:55 am

    Tessa, I love these science of baking posts. I know they require a lot of work on your part so Thank You! I am curious, you say that the cake flour cupcakes would not hold up to a lot of frosting, so how do you know (other than trial and error) when you want a higher protein content to your flour? Is there a way to tell on the packaging to know the protein content of the flour? (There can’t be much difference between a 8% cake flour and a 9% all purpose flour.)

    • #
      Tessa — September 11, 2017 at 9:44 am

      Yep, you can calculate the protein content by looking at the nutritional label… or avoid the math and just Google it 😉 It does take some trial and error to get a sense for what work work best and when.

  10. #
    Sunny — September 8, 2017 at 10:06 am

    Maybe I’m missing something, but I’m confused.

    1. The heading at the bottom of the page says “how to make cake flour 101” and is followed by a recipe for cupcakes using all-purpose flour. Shouldn’t the heading be something like “recipe for test cupcakes”? the actual “how to make cake DIY cake flour” was in the text above.

    2. and am I correct in understanding that to make this recipe with cake flour, you replace only 1-1/2 c all-purpose flour with 1-1/2 c cake flour? you leave in the baking powder because we’re not talking about self-rising flour, that’s a different topic, right?

    3. you showed the 3 different results but don’t really “announce” a definitive winner, as it depends what kind of texture is desired, correct? if you are using lots of buttercream frosting, as you said, you would *not* want to use cake flour because the cupcakes would be too soft. so you showed the different results so the reader can choose which texture/traits they prefer, correct?

    4. did you consider using 1/2 cake flour and 1/2 all-purpose flour? so they would be a little softer but still strong enough for filling or frosting?

    thanks! I love this whole concept of side-by-side, visual comparisons, it’s super useful and I don’t think I’ve seen this anywhere else.

    • #
      Tessa — September 11, 2017 at 9:41 am

      I think you’ve answered most of your own questions! The heading at the recipe is automatically generated so it’s something my web designer will have to hand code to make it clearer. Yes, correct to point #2. Correct to point #3. For point #4, yes half and half would be a good balance depending on what you’re looking for.

  11. #
    Karlin Teigland — September 15, 2017 at 6:11 am

    I would like to see the comparisons of bleached and unbleached flour.

  12. #
    Leah Rosenberg — September 25, 2017 at 12:44 pm

    Tessa,

    I have always dreamed of going to culinary school, so the baking nerd inside me absolutely “geeks” out every time you post a side by side comparison. I truly had no idea there was a difference between bleached and unbleached flour and have always bought unbleached when available. Also crazy interesting to know DIY cake flour is not the same, I felt the same way when I learned this about DIY buttermilk, as I had almost exclusively been making my own instead of throwing away 3/4 of a bottle every time I want cornbread or red velvet cupcakes.

    Thank you for taking the time to do these experiments and share with us!

  13. #
    Joanne — September 25, 2017 at 7:43 pm

    I would like to see comparisons using bleached an unbleached flours. When baking cookies, I use unbleached flour. Also, thank you for this article using cake flour. The next time I bake cupcakes, I will use it.

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