What Is Bread Flour? Bread Flour vs All-Purpose Flour

And can you just use all-purpose flour instead?

January 17, 2022
Cinnamon rolls and orange juice

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Cinnamon rolls and orange juice

Photo by: Jennifer_Sharp/Getty Images

Jennifer_Sharp/Getty Images

By Jessie Sheehan for Food Network Kitchen

Jessie Sheehan is a baker and cookbook author.

And can you just use all-purpose flour instead?

Bread flour is your yeasted baked good’s best friend. It is a high protein flour that contributes to the chewy nature of bread and pizza crust, as well as the delightful (read: fluffy) rise of your cinnamon buns and donuts. When it comes to flour, the higher the protein, the more gluten development. Often in baking we talk about avoiding gluten development, like when we make cake or muffins, as extra gluten can make a baked good tough. But when it comes to yeasted baked goods, gluten is our bestie. That same “toughness” that we want to prevent when making birthday cake, makes our yeasted treats rise high (due to the structure it provides during the fermentation process (aka during the rise)) and gives our bread (or pretzels or pizza crust) that telltale “chew.”

Many recipes for a yeasted baked good will straight-up call for bread flour, but if they call for all-purpose flour – perhaps in an effort to make the ingredient list “pantry-friendly,” as they say – you may substitute bread flour for all or some of the all-purpose, if you would like. Doing so will give you more chew and a better rise than the all-purpose. Finally, you may also substitute all or some of the all-purpose flour in your cookie recipe, if chewy cookies are your jam. Again, it is the structure and gluten development that the bread flour brings to the cookies that makes them chewier than usual – but more on this below.

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Photo by: Claudia Totir/Getty Images

Claudia Totir/Getty Images

What Is Bread Flour?

Bread flour has the highest protein content of all the flours, “weighing in” at 12 to 14 percent. This high protein means that bread flour is also the strongest flour, and as such, it provides your baked good with the most structure of any of the flours. And as you can imagine, structure is key when a baked good is being asked to rise high, without collapsing, like a loaf of bread, or a donut. Yeasted doughs, therefore, benefit tremendously from bread flour, as the flour’s strength contributes to impressive gluten development, and such development easily traps the CO2 gases produced during fermentation, making for airy results. Bread flour is readily found in the grocery store and can be substituted for all-purpose flour in recipes calling for both commercial and natural yeast (aka sourdough).

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Photo by: Tom Merton/Getty Images

Tom Merton/Getty Images

Bread Flour vs. All-Purpose Flour

Bread flour produces baked goods with more structure and chew than all-purpose flour, as all-purpose only has a protein content of 10 to 12 percent, versus the 12 to 14 percent of bread. All-purpose flour produces tender baked goods (as opposed to chewy ones) and is ideal for cakes, muffins, biscuits, piecrust, etc. Bread flour, on the other hand, is ideal for bread, pizza dough, pretzels, etc. – items where a strong crumb and a chewy texture are coveted.

Bread Flour Substitute

If a recipe calls for bread flour, and you don’t have any on hand, don’t panic. You can always substitute all-purpose flour for bread flour one for one in any recipe that calls for it. Your bread might not raise quite as high or have quite as much chew, if you are using all-purpose flour, but it will still be delicious and homemade and all the good things.

Chocolate Chip Cookie

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Chocolate Chip Cookie

Photo by: UMeimages/Getty Images

UMeimages/Getty Images

Bread Flour In Cookies

You heard that right. Bread flour can be substituted for all-purpose in any cookie recipe for which a chewy texture is the goal. And you can substitute all of the all-purpose for bread, or just a portion of it (you do you, in other words). If you’d like a little chew, but also a little tenderness, then maybe substitute half; and if you’re team chew-or-go-home, try substituting all for all. Food Networks’ own Alton Brown, has as epic chocolate chip cookie recipe that calls for bread flour that he has rightly titled, The Chewy.

Bread Flour Recipes

Wondering about recipes that call for bread flour? Well, look no further than the following.

A round loaf of bread with a part of it missing that is placed on a cutting board along with a knife

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A round loaf of bread with a part of it missing that is placed on a cutting board along with a knife

©Con Poulos

Con Poulos

This easy-peasy no-knead loaf (aka the simplest loaf you’ll ever bake) calls for both bread flour (for chew and rise) and a little whole wheat flour (for flavor).

Shokupan

Shokupan

Photo by: Teri Lyn Fisher

Teri Lyn Fisher

This delicious super-soft milk bread calls for 100 percent bread flour and demonstrates just how "fluffy" bread flour can make a loaf of bread. The bread flour contributes chew and rise, of course, but also the lightest, most cloud-like crumb.

Food Stylist: Christine Albano
Prop Stylist: Marcus Hay

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Food Stylist: Christine Albano Prop Stylist: Marcus Hay ,Food Stylist: Christine AlbanoProp Stylist: Marcus Hay

Photo by: Con Poulos

Con Poulos

Half all-purpose flour and half bread flour provide the finished product with a little tenderness, plus chew.

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