The short answer to the question can I use bread flour for cake would be no because it will create a denser and chewier cake.
My recommendation would be that if you don’t have cake flour or not even pastry flour, then you should use all purpose flour.
To better understand why I say that all purpose flour and not bread flour works for making cakes, let me introduce you to one of my favorite cake cookbooks.
If you’ve perused the cookbook Snacking Cakes by Yossy Arefi, when it comes to the chapter where ingredients are discussed, you’ll notice that, for most recipes, the author recommends using all-purpose flour. Moreover, you should use the unbleached kind and look for one that is lower in protein.
The author writes that he prefers the ones from Gold Medal or Pillsbury.
To take it even further, the author has recipes that incorporate whole grain flours sprinkled alongside all purpose.
My personal recommendation is that if you want the sort of flour that you can store in your pantry for making pizzas, breads, and all sorts of desserts, then I recommend the Antimo Caputo Chefs Flour. It’s great because by buying one product you can make all sorts of baked goods.
Can I Use Bread Flour for Cake? Why I Say No
Let’s quickly establish why I don’t recommend using bread flour for cake.
Bread flour, which is also known as hard flour or strong flour, is the one that has the highest protein content. That’s its main characteristic. It can have a protein content between 11 and 13%.
All purpose flour can have between 10 and 12% protein content. That’s why I said that you should look for one that has a lower protein content.
An all purpose flour that has 11.7% protein content is better for baking breads and pizzas than it is for baking cakes and pastries.
Obviously, if you were to ask anyone which flour is best for baking cakes, they would answer that the answer is obvious: cake flour is the best. Second is pastry flour.
Cake flour has a protein content between 7 and 9%, while pastry flour is situated at 8-9%. They’re quite close.
However, I also argue that an all purpose flour like the ones I’ve mentioned above can work really well, too.
Just know that my answer to the question can I use bread flour for cake is no.
Why does the protein content matter?
The higher the protein content, the chewier and crustier the bread will be. That’s why we use bread flour for our breads and that’s about it. Not even all breads are made with this type, some actually require all purpose flour.
Cake and pastry flours are softer. They’re fantastic for making tender baked goods: cakes, cookies, biscuits, pie crusts, pastries, etc.
If you bake a cake with bread flour, the end result will simply not have the same soft, velvety crumb. It will be dense, it will leave a much heavier feeling in the mouth. It definitely won’t melt in our mouth but it will be much chewier.
The texture of a cake is characterized by small, thin-walled air cells. These small, thin-walled air cells make the cake melt in our mouth. The overall texture is moist and smooth, light but not crumbly.
How to use bread flour in cakes
If you do end up using bread flour for your cake recipe, make sure to not overwork the mixture too much.
Due to the high protein content, more gluten is produced by this flour. The more you work it, the more gluten is produced.
If you overwork the mixture for the cake, the results will be a heavy cake.
You just have to beat the ingredients until they’re well combined but not beyond that. It can be quite tricky in this respect but I think that experienced bakers can succeed.
The taste will be the same, bread flour won’t give it a distinct taste. It won’t taste like bread. It will taste like the rest of the ingredients that the recipe requires.
Just the texture will be different.
All in all, although my answer to the question can I use bread flour for cake is no and I actually prefer all-purpose flour, if you really have nothing else, then you can use it but don’t expect a soft texture as the end result.