I used to think that cake flour was just a suggestion. A strong suggestion, perhaps, but a suggestion nonetheless. I vaguely understood that cake flour would make a cake fluffier and more tender, but I thought I could skip it (who would notice without a superior cake to compare it to?) Or use the popular internet workaround: replace 2 TBSP. of each 1 cup of AP flour with cornstarch.
But that was all before I started reading BakeWise, a definitive cookbook by the biochemist (and my personal idol) Shirley Corriher. Simply put, Corriher writes, “You get a different texture and flavor in a cake made with cake flour.” On the ingredients list for their Magnificent Moist Golden Cake, which was my inspiration for this No-Mixer Vanilla Cake, Corriher states that there is “NO SUBSTITUTE” (their caps, not mine) for cake flour: the cake is let in the center and will just not work properly if other flour is used. “
What is cake flour and what is special about it?
For starters, cake flour is low in protein (typically 5-8% protein compared to 10-13% for AP), and that’s because it’s ground from low-protein (also known as soft wheat) wheat. This means it doesn’t produce as much gluten as regular AP flour and can produce lighter, more tender results. (It also means it doesn’t make good bread.)
But that’s not all. Cake flour is also very finely ground, “with a silky smooth texture that makes a finely textured cake,” explains Corriher (it may be referred to as extra fine or super fine flour). Because it’s so fine, it has more surface area, which means it can hold more liquid. The ability to add more liquid to a cake also allows you to add more sugar without compromising structure. (Since sugar is hygroscopic – sucks in moisture – increasing its amount goes hand-in-hand with increasing the amount of liquid. Otherwise, there won’t be enough moisture left to hydrate the flour.) And why should you add more sugar? It results in a moist, longer-lasting cake with a firmer, finer, plusher crumb, similar to a crumb wedding cake from a fancy bakery.
In addition, after the Bob’s red mill Site also helps cake flour with even distribution of fats and helps cake rise higher.
What’s wrong with bleached cake flour?
You may have noticed that many popular brands of cake flour, like the popular one Swan is downare bleached. In BakeWise, Corriher describes the unique advantages of bleached cake flour over its unbleached counterparts: The bleaching process lowers the pH of the flour, changes its strength so that it can absorb water and swell, softens its taste and helps with even fat distribution.
But since the release of BakeWise, the King Arthur Baking Company has released theirs unbleached, non-enriched cake flourwho have favourited Cook Illustrates found to achieve results that are “practically identical to those of bleached cake flour”. That’s what I prefer and what I used to develop this cake.
Unbleached and non-fortified cake flour
However, it is worth noting that in her book BraveTart, Stella Parks calls for bleached cake flour – which she calls “a remarkably delicate flour in the truest sense of the word” – especially for her angel cake. The point is: for the best results, follow the recipe and its specifications, especially if you’re making something as fine as a cake.
But I need to know: does the replacement work?
Parks calls the idea of swapping out cake flour for a mixture of AP and cornstarch “a life hack that totally misses the point” – but I have to admit that, as far as I can tell, I’ve used it with at least moderate success. Use the trick at your own risk and, I would recommend, in recipes that only require a small amount of flour in total.
However, if your entire layered cake depends on a large amount of cake flour, buy the cake flour. (It usually comes in relatively small amounts anyway, and, in contrast to whole wheat flourA bake-style cake – tender, moist, big, sweet, buttery – makes that extra box in the pantry more than worthwhile.
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