What Is Cake Flour?

You can’t just substitute all-purpose flour for cake flour and here’s why.

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July 29, 2021
Vintage Flour Measuring cup with Flour, Spoon and knife for leveling.


Vintage Flour Measuring cup with Flour, Spoon and knife for leveling.

Photo by: Annabelle Breakey/Getty Images

Annabelle Breakey/Getty Images

By Jessie Sheehan for Food Network Kitchen

Jessie Sheehan is a baker and cookbook author.

Cake flour – you know, the one that comes in a box, rather than a bag? – makes for some of the fluffiest and most softly-textured cakes around, and if a recipe requires it, it’s a good idea to grab yourself a box – or make your own. Here we reveal the “what, why, and how (to DIY it)” of cake flour, so read on if you want tall, fluffy, soft slices of cake to be part of your cake-making (and eating) future. Below you will find answers to any and all of your cake flour queries, such as what is cake flour? what is in cake flour? what is the difference between all-purpose flour and cake flour? and, perhaps most importantly: how do I make cake flour? – among others.

What Is Cake Flour?

Cake flour is an ingredient often found in – you guessed it – cake recipes, as it produces cakes with soft, tender crumbs due to how finely it is milled and how little protein content it has. Low protein is a plus in cake-making, as it is related to gluten formation (aka the enemy of cake): the lower the protein, the less gluten development. In short, less gluten results in a cake with a fluffy, soft texture, rather than a chewy tough one. For context, bread flour has a high protein content and more gluten is intentionally developed when you make bread, as a chewy crumb with some real bite is what you want when eating a slice of generously buttered sourdough bread – but not when enjoying a slice of the best vanilla cake. Not all cake recipes include it as an ingredient, but when they do, it is a good idea to pay attention.

What Is In Cake Flour?

In cake flour, you will find finely milled flour with a low protein content, made from soft wheat.

Preparing cheesecake batter. Cream cheese, granulated sugar and all-purpose flour in bowl of food processor. Beater attached. Selective focus.


Preparing cheesecake batter. Cream cheese, granulated sugar and all-purpose flour in bowl of food processor. Beater attached. Selective focus.

Photo by: annick vanderschelden photography/Getty Images

annick vanderschelden photography/Getty Images

What Is the Difference between Cake Flour and All-Purpose Flour?

Cake flour has a lower protein content than all-purpose flour (about 8% to all-purpose’s 10 to 12%) and is also made from a softer wheat than all-purpose. When you use cake flour, you develop less gluten in your baked good, when you use all-purpose, you develop more. As such, cake flour is best in cakes, and other baked goods, that require or benefit from a soft, tender, even crumbly, texture. All-purpose flour on the other hand, will contribute a bit more structure to the recipes it is used in, and is fantastic in a wide variety of baked goods – like practically all of them. And the beauty of all-purpose flour is that most of us not only already have it in the pantry, but also we can use it to make low-protein cake flour! Amazing, we know. See below.

What is a Substitute for Cake Flour?

You can substitute for cake flour with a combination of all-purpose flour and cornstarch. Because cornstarch is extremely fine, it lowers the gluten formation in the all-purpose flour, resulting in a flour that performs remarkably similarly to cake flour. Read on for the exact ratio.

Hispanic woman sifting flour in domestic kitchen


Hispanic woman sifting flour in domestic kitchen

Photo by: Jacobs Stock Photography Ltd/Getty Images

Jacobs Stock Photography Ltd/Getty Images

How do I make Cake Flour?

To make one cup of cake flour, combine 14 tablespoons of all-purpose flour with 2 tablespoons of cornstarch. Whisk the two together and then sift at least once. We find it easier to start with one cup of all-purpose and then remove two tablespoons of it, replacing them with 2 tablespoons of cornstarch. But you may also measure out 3/4 cup, plus 2 tablespoons of all-purpose and add two tablespoons of cornstarch to that. Or measure out 14 tablespoons of all-purpose and two of cornstarch. In other words, you do you.

Strawberry Short Cake Made with Angel Food Cake and Strawberry Sauce


Strawberry Short Cake Made with Angel Food Cake and Strawberry Sauce

Photo by: pamela_d_mcadams/Getty Images

pamela_d_mcadams/Getty Images

What recipes call for cake flour?

Although you will typically see cake flour called for in cake recipes, it is also found in some cookie recipes, in crumble topping atop pies and fruit crisps and in cornbread.

Recipes with Cake Flour

Want to watch cake flour in action? Check out some of the different recipes for which it is called – and then make them all.

Photo by: Matt Armendariz ©2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Matt Armendariz, 2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

This is the perfect birthday or celebration cake that everyone needs in their repertoire. And it shows you what DIY’ing cake flour looks like in real life: this cake calls for all-purpose flour PLUS cornstarch, which means the crumb will be soft and the layers, fluffy. Added plus: this recipe calls for a little oil which means an extra moist cake.

Food Network Kitchen Step by Steps

Food Network Kitchen Step by Steps

Photo by: Lucy Schaeffer

Lucy Schaeffer

Angel food cake always calls for cake flour, as the cake depends on the flour’s fine grain and low protein content for its signature soft texture and tall stature. Superfine sugar is also helpful, and loads o’ whipped egg whites, as well, in making our best-ever angel food cake

Chocolate Cakes_ Greek_ Mexican and Filipino Parties

Photo by: Ryan Dausch

Ryan Dausch

Calling for cake flour, this black forest cake (a cake combining the wonderful flavors of cherry and chocolate) is wonderfully soft crumbed and fluffy, while still uber-chocolate-y and strong enough to hold up to the syruped cherries and Kirsch.

Cake flour lightens what might otherwise be a heavy cake, due to the caramelized bananas that make up the “top” of this delicious upside-down cake. The tender texture of the cake benefits immeasurably from the cake flour, as well, and is in wonderful contrast to the fruity, sticky, brown-sugared bananas.

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