Science of Baking: My recipe calls for cake flour; can I substitute it with all-purpose flour?

Science of Baking - cake flour

Welcome to this new section of Sugar for the Brain!

Science of Baking (I like to call it the nerdy corner) will be all about the science behind what we bake. I love science! I think you do too because I’ve had a lot of positive answers when I proposed to do this section on Facebook (a long time ago!). I hope I’ll be able to do real experiments, like the post I did with the cake pops that crack, to show you what is really happening when you add high-protein flour instead of low-protein or if you don’t beat the egg whites enough.

I don’t have a degree in baking so I’m using the knowledge of great books and sources that you’ll find below each post.

Feel free to ask your questions! I’ll gladly do a Science of Baking post to answer it!

Science of Baking - cake flour


My recipe calls for cake flour; can I substitute it with all-purpose flour?

Nah, not really.

(And here come the scientific part, if you want a very simple explanation, jump to “In a few words” below)

The difference between cake flour and all-purpose flour (and between all kinds of flour for that matter) lies in the amount of protein (gluten). Gluten is a protein composite formed with two other protein: glutenin and gliadine. When you add liquid to flour, the two proteins bind together (in a web-like network way) to form gluten. Gluten contributes to the structure of your cake (holding it together) and its elasticity.

Cake flour has less protein than all-purpose flour which in turn has less protein than bread flour. Because it has less protein, Cake flour will produce less gluten than all-purpose flour. This will result in a more tender cake. For example, a lot of gluten will lead to a baguette-like texture.

Not only can you choose a low protein flour to reduce the amount of gluten formed in your cake, but there is also other ways to inhibit the formation of gluten (fat, alkaline and acid ingredients, etc). This will be the subject of the next Science of Baking.

Substitutions
Even if I do a lot of cakes, I never bought cake flour. I’ve always used substitutes with great results. The goal of these recipes is to lower the amount of gluten by substituting a little amount of all-purpose flour by cornstarch, which has no gluten. I’ve tried many recipes, here is a few:
http://low-cholesterol.food.com/recipe/cake-flour-substitute-87689
http://joythebaker.com/2009/09/how-to-make-cake-flour/
http://frugalliving.about.com/od/makeyourowningredients/r/Cake_Flour_Sub.htm

In a few words
If you use all-purpose flour instead of cake flour, you’ll get a cake that is less tender and fluffy. This is because cake flour has less gluten than all-purpose flour and less gluten makes more tender cakes.

Sources
Blais, Christina; Larrivée, Ricardo (2007). La chimie des desserts, Les Éditions La Presse.

Chattman, Lauren (2009). The baking answer book, Storey publishing.

Potter, Jeff (2010). Cooking for Geeks, O’Reilly.

Angel Food Cake

Angel Food Cake

Hi everyone!

I LOVE angel food cake. And I don’t know if I should be ashamed of the next statement or not, but I’ve never, ever, eaten a homemade angel food cake. Always the boxed one (Betty Crocker), which I find sooooo gooood. I could really eat all the cake, no joke.

Angel Food Cake

Making a homemade angel food cake sounded like a great challenge. But in the end it’s not really harder than your usual cake. It’s just a lot of egg whites. A.L.O.T. And of course, if you’re like me, you don’t want to lose your yolks so you plan at least another recipe to use them. So this weekend I made: an angel food cake, crème brulees, crème brulee apple tart (coming up) and an apple crisp because I had too many apples for my tart. Big weekend 😀 Yummy weekend.

For this recipe, I would advise that you use a stand mixer, because the egg whites rise almost above the whip of the mixer so I can’t imagine the challenge to whip them evenly with a hand mixer. My cake was delicious, but it could have been fluffier.

Angel Food Cake

Angel Food Cake
From Sweet Sugar Bean I  really love her photos, you should take a look!

Cake

  • 1 cup cake flour *
    1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 12 egg whites at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

Garnish

  • Whipped cream
  • Raspberries (or any other fruit)
  • Chocolate, grated

* You can make 2 cups of cake flour by adding 1/4 cup cornstarch to 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour. Just keep the other cup for an upcoming cake recipe! Don’t use all-purpose flour only, your cake will be too dense. Learn why in the New Section: Science of Baking.

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F
  2. Make sure there is no grease in the angel cake pan, the utensils and the bowls you’ll use.
  3. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour and 1/2 cup of sugar. Repeat 2 times. Set aside.
  4. In the bowl of a stand mixer, add the egg whites, the salt and the vanilla and beat until foamy. Add the cream of tartar and beat until soft peaks form.
  5. While beating, gradually add the cup of sugar. Beat until stiff peaks form.
  6. With a spatula, gently fold in a quarter of the flour-sugar mixture. Continue alternating between adding a fourth of the flour mixture and folding.
  7. Pour the batter in the angel cake pan. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until it springs back when pressed with your fingers.
  8. Invert pan and cool completely. Run a knife around the edge of the cake pan to unmold. 
Garnish with whipped cream, fruits and grated chocolate.

Angel Food Cake