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All Purpose Flour vs Bread Flour: What are the Differences

The debate all purpose flour vs bread flour is not actually a very complex debate for us to have. These two flours have a lot of similarities and one major difference.

What the bread flour vs all purpose flour discussion is all about: bread flour has a higher protein content than all purpose flour. It produces a higher gluten content, which can make breads have a deeper flavor.

That’s the thing that sets them apart in this bread flour vs all purpose flour debate.

Beyond that, there are a lot of interesting things to discover.

Later on, we’ll be talking about how these two flours are made and how to substitute all purpose flour for bread flour and which are my recommendations for the best flours to use for making breads, baguettes, rolls, pizza.

All Purpose Flour vs Bread Flour: Protein Content

all purpose flour vs bread flour

The thing is that the protein content for these two flours is not set in stone, it’s not an exact percentage that must be respected by all manufacturers.

For example, King Arthur informs its readers that their all purpose flour has an 11.7% protein content, while their white bread flour has 12.7% protein content.

It can be considered that all purpose flour can have anywhere between 10 to 12% protein content.

Bread flour, which actually has two branches (white and whole wheat), can have on average an 11-13% protein content.

Or it can go even higher than that, especially for whole wheat flours. It really depends, as I said this is not an exact numbers kind of situation.

Now you see why bread flour is also known as hard flour or strong flour.

So,

If you what to know what is hard flour, now you know that it’s bread flour, which you should be using if the recipe calls for hard flour, although recipes clearly indicate which type of flour should be used, whether it’s all purpose or bread flour.

On the other hand, cake and pastry flour has the lowest protein content, well below 10%, somewhere around 7-9%.

In order to find out the exact protein content of the flour you’re using, check out the nutritional information. If it says that it has 11.7 grams of protein per 100 grams flour then that’s your protein content, 11.7%. It’s information easy to come by.

The Role of Gluten in Bread Making

Gluten forms when flour comes in contact with water, it’s what gives bread its texture, it makes bread airy and chewy, and holds it together.

A high protein content translates into a deeper more delicious flavor and what we call an open crumb because more gas bubbles are trapped during the two rising phases.

The higher protein content leads to more gluten being produced.

The yeast feeds on sugars and starches, which makes the bread rise until it’s good for baking. In simple terms, that’s how bread is obtained.

It’s why we’re saying that you really need just 4 ingredients to make good breads: water, flour, salt, and yeast.

All Purpose Flour vs Bread Flour: How Are These Flours Made?

Both all purpose flour and bread flour are milled from wheat. That’s the major thing they have in common. Wheat is a source of plant protein for people.

In both cases it’s best to look for unbleached flour.

Bread flour is milled only from hard wheat, which is high in protein. It’s great for making all kinds of yeast breads and can also be used for pizza dough making.

Soft wheat is lower in protein and has more starch.

All purpose flour is milled from a combination of both hard and soft wheat. It has a variety of uses from breads to cookies to pizza dough. It’s sometimes referred to as simply flour.

Bread flour actually comes in two varieties:

  • white flour – is made from hard white wheat, the whole grain is used, which means that the actual correct name would be whole white wheat flour but it’s simply called bread flour, it’s sweeter tasting that the whole wheat flour and less dense
  • whole wheat flour – is milled from the whole grain of hard red wheat, it’s darker in color, is a source of dietary fiber, has a more intense aroma than some might not prefer, especially if they’re used to white bread, and the texture of whole wheat breads is denser, which is why it’s often used in combination with white flour

Bread Flour vs All Purpose Flour: Prices

All purpose flour is cheaper.

Then comes white bread flour.

And the most expensive of the three is whole wheat flour.

How to Substitute All Purpose Flour for Bread Flour

The best substitute for white bread flour is all purpose flour. If you don’t have white bread flour, you can definitely use all purpose flour.

The same can be said in reverse: if you don’t have all purpose flour, you can use white bread flour.

As we’ve already established in our all purpose flour vs bread flour debate, these flours are different but also incredibly similar, which makes them interchangeable.

The rise of the dough, the consistency and the texture shouldn’t differ much.

If you’re using whole wheat flour in combination with white flour, you can use both all purpose flour and bread flour. Whatever you have in the house works.

If you can follow the recipe by having the exact ingredients written in the recipe that’s great but if you want to know about how to substitute bread flour for all purpose flour or vice versa the answer is simple: you just do by using the same yeast and flour quantity, there’s no need to change anything.

Best All Purpose Flour for Bread

Since we’ve established everything there is to know when it comes to our all purpose flour vs bread flour debate, I thought it would be a good idea to recommend you some of the best all purpose flours for breads as well as some of the best bread flours.

Bob’s Red Mill Unbleached Organic White All Purpose Flour

This is definitely one of the best all purpose flours for bread. It can also be used for making pizza dough, pasta, baguettes, rolls, and all kinds of breads.

It’s not only unbleached all purpose flour but organic, as well. It’s also unbromated. And non GMO.

It has a pretty nice protein concentration of about 11.76%. It can even be used for desserts making if you don’t have anything else in the house.

The all purpose flour from Bob’s Red Mill comes in 5 pounds bags and the price is quite what one would expect from such high quality flour.

This is quite the perfect all purpose flour if you appreciate high quality products.

Another fantastic choice is the King Arthur Unbleached All Purpose Flour.

Best Bread Flour

As I’ve already stated above, bread flour falls into two categories: white flour and whole wheat flour. I’m going to recommend what I considered to be the best bread flour for each of these two categories.

King Arthur Flour Unbleached Bread Flour

What can be said about the King Arthur bread flour except that it’s without a doubt one of the best bread flours?

Well, it’s also quite affordable, comes in bags of 5 pounds or 8 pounds, has a high 12.7% protein content, and it’s perfect for making all kind of breads, rolls, and pizza.

On the bag you will find that this flour has just two ingredients: unbleached hard red wheat flour and malted barely flour. That’s exactly what I like when looking for the perfect bread flour.

They also include an absolutely no-knead crusty chewy bread recipe. That’s a good name for a recipe. In the instructions they recommend using a Dutch oven but I would say that a baking stone works just as great and even a loaf pan would be a good option if that’s what you have in the house.

Great River Organic Milling Organic Whole Wheat Bread Flour

The Great River organic whole wheat bread flour is simply amazing but the price is high.

It has a very high protein content, about 16.66% and quite a good amount of dietary fiber, according to their nutrition facts.

It makes delicious breads, pasta, pizza, rolls, and the list can go on. It’s capable of making very nicely risen dough, you can skip on adding vital wheat gluten for your first try and see how it goes.

The manufacturer states that they’re using locally grown wheat, which is always great, and their whole wheat flour is made by grinding the grains between two millstones. It’s finely ground flour of the best quality.

It’s non GMO, organic, and it’s made from hard red spring wheat.

It comes in very big 25 or 50 pounds bags.

If you want to discovered even more options for the best flours, check out my post on the best flour for bread machine, the flours are the same, whether you’re using your hands, or get aid from a stand mixer or a bread machine.

All in all,

The general take on the all purpose flour vs bread flour debate is that they are not that different and you can easily substitute all purpose flour for bread flour and vice versa.