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How to Choose the Right Baking Flour

British home bakers living in Canada are often disappointed when they attempt to duplicate their recipes from back home using Canadian flour. The most common flour found on supermarket shelves in Canada is the ubiquitous "All Purpose Flour". Many customers have told me that their Yorkshire Puddings just don't work out the same when they use All Purpose Flour. They buy McDougall's Plain Flour from Blighty's Tuck Store and, suddenly, like magic, Sunday dinners are a treat once again.

So, how do you choose the right flour for your home baking project? Vancouver-based British chef Oliver Corby believes successful Yorkshire Puddings are based on technique. How very true, but the right selection of flour will help the average home baker achieve consistently good results.

There are three varieties of flour that will cover most of your baking requirements:
  1. Plain Flour
  2. Self-Raising Flour
  3. Strong Flour
Plain flour is a low/medium gluten wheat flour that is ideal for pastries, puddings and batters. Self-raising flour is a low/medium gluten wheat flour that also contains a raising agent thoroughly mixed in with the flour. Self-raising flour is ideal for cakes, scones and sponges.

Actually, self-raising flour is a bit of a compromise for sponges. A really good sponge cake calls for an exceptionally fine flour. Sponge flour is made from specially selected wheat grains that are finely ground. Sponge flour absorbs moisture more readily and results in a lighter sponge. I have found the best results can be obtained with Green's sponge mixes. If you can't find a good soft white flour to make your sponges from scratch, just give a pack of Green's a try.

Making a really good bread requires a different kind of flour. That's where strong flour comes in handy. Strong flour is a high gluten flour. The word "gluten" suggests "glue" which is appropriate since the word derives from the Latin word for glue. Gluten is a mixture of proteins that binds the flour and gives it elasticity.

All Purpose Flour is essentially a medium gluten plain flour (i.e. it does not a contain a raising agent). All Purpose, or plain flour can be used in cake and other recipes that require "raising" by employing techniques such as whisking to introduce air into the mixture. But, why not let the experts at Green's and McDougalls do the work; just buy the right flour for the job and, with a little bit of practice and experience, your baking will be perfect every time.

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