Bread Flour vs. All-Purpose Flour: What’s the Difference?

by Charlie

All-Purpose flour, otherwise called AP flour or plain flour, seems to be a basic pantry item for many households. Most of the recipes we prepare at home call for all-purpose flour. But what if you are in the mood to bake something special for your family, and the required ingredient is bread flour, not all-purpose flour?

Before you go ahead and substitute your AP flour for bread flour in that recipe, you should know that these two flour types are not exactly the same. And simply replacing one with the other can significantly change the outcome of your finished product.

So what’s the difference between bread flour and all-purpose flour? The main difference between bread flour and all-purpose flour is the amount of protein each type contains. Protein content varies between brands. But bread flour typically contains 10% to 13% protein content, while all-purpose flour usually has 9% to 12% protein content.

What are Other Differences Between Bread Flour and All-Purpose Flour?

Bread flour is stronger than all-purpose flour, so it gives more structure to your baked goods. It also has more gluten because of the higher protein content, and it is gluten that binds your food ingredients together. Lastly, you may notice that using bread flour requires more liquid in bread or dough recipes compared to using all-purpose flour.

Many bread recipes call for stronger flour to achieve the texture, volume, quality, and cohesive taste of the baked product. Bread flour will give your dough a very good rise that can keep its shape.

Can You Substitute All-Purpose Flour for Bread Flour?

Yes, you can substitute all-purpose flour for bread flour. Since they weigh the same, you can use the same measurements listed in the recipe.

All-purpose flour is your trusty, all-around flour in the kitchen. You can definitely use it to make bread. However, bread flour is particularly meant for baking bread. So if you’re meticulous about having well-shaped, airy, and chewy bread, then make sure that you’re using bread flour in the process.

Also, keep in mind that when a recipe specifically identifies the type of flour you need, it’s best to strictly follow the instructions. A lot of recipes are forgiving, but some artisan breads or dough require bread flour to yield an excellent-looking, feeling, and tasting specialty product.

Lastly, pay attention to the liquid content of your bread and dough recipe. If you’ve decided to use all-purpose flour instead of bread flour, you may have to lessen the amount of liquid in your dough. Slowly add liquid amounts to your dough or batter. Add them in increments, then stop once you’ve reached the desired consistency.

When Should You Use Bread Flour?

You should use bread flour when you want to achieve a good volume and chewy crumb to your baked product. This type of flour is your best choice for making pizza dough, bagels, pretzels, and artisan breads. And we should also mention that breads that use yeast come out better when you use bread flour.

When Should You Use All-Purpose Flour?

All-purpose flour is versatile. You can use it for so many food preparations in the kitchen. This type of flour makes great cookies, biscuits, pancakes, muffins, pizza crusts, and even bread. You can bake pastries and cakes with AP flour, and you can use it to give a good consistency to your soups and stews. You can also utilize all-purpose flour for cooking crisp, crumby steaks, chicken fry, calamari, and nuggets. And yes, you can certainly use it to make your own specialty pasta.

Can You Make Bread Flour from All-Purpose Flour?

Yes, you can make bread flour from all-purpose flour by adding vital wheat gluten to make up for the difference in protein content between these two flours.

Some people, particularly vegans, stock vital wheat gluten in their pantries. If you have one in your home, you can use it to make bread flour from all-purpose flour. Here is how you do it:

  1. Measure out your all-purpose flour using the same amount listed for bread flour in the recipe.
  2. Check the protein content of your all-purpose flour.
  3. Subtract it from 12% or 13% (the typical protein percentage of bread flour).
  4. Multiply the difference with the amount of your flour in grams.
  5. The answer is the amount of vital wheat gluten you will add to your all-purpose flour.

Let’s try out this example. A bread recipe calls for 450 grams of bread flour, but you only have all-purpose flour (10% protein) and vital wheat gluten on hand. Here is how you substitute:

  1. Prepare 450 grams of all-purpose flour.
  2. Get the protein content difference. That’s 12% – 10% = 2%.
  3. Multiply the answer with the flour weight. 2% x 450 grams = 9
  4. Measure out 9 grams of vital wheat gluten. Add it to your flour.
  5. Use this flour and vital wheat gluten blend to substitute for the bread flour in your recipe.

Using vital wheat gluten to make bread flour can sometimes be tricky. Some bakers do not recommend adding over 3 tsp. of vital wheat gluten. In this case, it may be better to wait till you have bread flour before you bake the recipe you have in mind.

Can You Use All-Purpose Flour Instead of Bread Flour in a Bread Machine?

Yes, you can use all-purpose flour in a bread machine to bake a great-smelling and great-tasting bread. You may not even notice any difference at all. In some recipes though, your bread may not rise as much if you use all-purpose flour instead of bread flour. 

Final Thoughts

  • Bread flour has more protein content (10%-13%) than all-purpose flour (9%-12%).
  • Using bread flour in recipes requires more liquids compared to using all-purpose flour.
  • Bread flour gives your bread and dough a better rise and yields chewier, crustier baked treats.
  • You can substitute all-purpose flour for bread flour by using vital wheat gluten.
  • Bread flour is a strong type of flour that helps your bread and pastries hold their shape.

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