So, let’s talk flour. The last time we talked about it, I focused on the different types of wheat flour. Today, we’re focusing on one type in particular: all-purpose flour.
All-purpose flour typically contains between 9 and 11% gluten, depending on the brand and the region where you are purchasing the flour. Gluten, as you may know, is a combination of two proteins which, when mixed with moisture, form a network and support structure for baked goods. The more gluten a flour contains, the more moisture is absorbed by the dry ingredients, and the less a baked good will spread.
The question is, does using all-purpose flour from one end of the gluten range or the other really affect the outcome when you are testing baking recipes?
I bought three bags of all-purpose flour and got to testing.
Highest Gluten Level: King Arthur Flour
To determine the amount of gluten in each type of flour, I divided the amount of protein per serving by the serving size. This may not be a 100% accurate percentage, but it gives us a good idea of the relative gluten amounts between flours.
A bag of unbleached all-purpose flour from King Arthur Flour has 4 grams of protein per 30 gram serving, so the flour is 13.3% protein, which we are going to assume is largely gluten. Note that this falls well above the typical 9-11% range for all-purpose flours.
The In-Between Gluten Level: Wegman’s Flour
With 3 grams of protein in a 31 gram serving, the unbleached all-purpose flour from Wegman’s comes in at 9.7% protein.
Lowest Gluten Level: White Lily Flour
I unfortunately couldn’t find an unbleached flour to represent the lowest gluten level, so I can’t fully control for that variable. This White Lily all-purpose flour has only 6.7% protein, which is much lower than the typical all-purpose flour.
I made three batches of chocolate chip cookie dough, weighing out the ingredients to make sure all three doughs were consistent. I covered them all and stuck them in the fridge for an hour, then baked three cookies from each batch on a single cookie sheet. This way, I knew that the weight or temperature of the cookie sheet wouldn’t affect my results.
In the end, there wasn’t much of a difference between the cookies. The cookies made with White Lily flour, the ones with the least amount of gluten and therefore the stickiest dough, took a few more minutes to bake. Other than that, the final cookies were largely the same, with similar textures and densities.
Honestly, I was a bit disappointed. After all my research, I was expecting a much bigger difference between the cookies. I do plan to do another test or two, perhaps with a different type of baked good (a quick bread, for instance), to make sure this wasn’t a fluke. But I suspect it wasn’t, and that the results are accurate. I’ll be sure to update you if I retest!
Moral of the Story
It seems as though the amount of gluten in all-purpose flour won’t make a huge difference in your baking. At the most, you’ll have to increase or decrease the baking time, which is one of the reasons most recipes will give you a time range to follow, rather than a precise time.