What Is Bread Flour?

Buying, Cooking, and Recipes

Bread flour

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Bread flour is a high-strength, high-gluten flour that's designed for making pizza doughs, crusty breads, pretzels, bagels and other chewy baked goods. Yeast breads made from bread flour tend to rise more since the higher protein produces additional structure. 

Fast Facts

  • Made from hard red spring wheat
  • Gluten content 12 to 16 percent
  • Made for baking chewy, crusty breads
  • Around 125 grams to the cup

What Is Bread Flour?

Different strains of wheat are naturally higher in protein than others, and they're used for making different flours for different applications. High-protein wheat is said to be "hard," and the flour made from it is termed "strong." Bread flour is a hard flour, usually made from hard red spring wheat, a variety known for its high protein content (the protein being gluten) which contributes chewiness and structure to baked goods.

Bread flour has a coarse texture and off-white color, compared with the finer texture and whiter white of all-purpose flour. If you were to place bread flour and all-purpose flour side by side, the difference would be readily apparent.  

Bread flours typically have a gluten content of 12 to 16 percent, depending on the brand. This compares with all-purpose flour, which generally ranges from 8 to 11 percent gluten. 

While a great many bread recipes call for all-purpose flour, baked goods that need to be chewy and crusty with plenty of rise will turn out well using bread flour. You can either search for recipes that specify bread flour, or simply substitute bread flour for all-purpose flour. 

How to Cook With Bread Flour

One difference when it comes to baking with bread flour as opposed to all-purpose flour or cake flour is that bread flour is usually used in recipes that are leavened with yeast. Chemical leavening agents like baking powder and baking soda are typically used for making foods like cakes, quick breads, muffins and pancakes, which need to be soft and tender, so you'd typically use all-purpose or cake flour for them. With bread flour, on the other hand, you're almost always using yeast, or in the case of sourdough, a natural starter, which is just a form of wild yeast.  

As with all types of flour, bread flour needs be be measured properly, and the way to do that is by weight. This is more accurate than using volume measurements such as cups, and helps make sure your recipes turn out right. With bread flour, a "cup" can range from 120 to 140 grams, depending on the brand. This is why it's helpful to use recipes developed by the manufacturer of your particular brand of flour, especially if their flour measurements are given in grams. Fortunately these days, it's more common to find recipes that give the flour quantities in weights rather than by volume, which takes all the guesswork out. 

Bread

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Bagels

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Pretzels

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Pizza

Sergio Amiti / Getty Images

What Does It Taste Like?

Bread flour isn't something you'd eat on its own, and it doesn't have a flavor per se, other than a bland, dry, powdery one. Foods prepared from bread flour derive their flavor in a couple of ways: one, from the other ingredients, the yeast, sugar, salt and fats that it's combined with; and two, from the caramelization of starches that occurs when the dough or batter is cooked (i.e. when it turns brown in the oven).

Bread Flour Substitute

If a recipe calls for bread flour and all you have is all-purpose flour, you can simply substitute all-purpose flour and it'll turn out fine. Remember that with recipes that give their flour quantities in grams, simply use that same number of grams of whatever type of flour you're substituting. 

If you're determined, though, you can make your own bread flour by adding vital wheat gluten to all-purpose flour. To make a cup of bread flour, weigh out 125 grams of all-purpose flour, then remove 1 teaspoon of flour and add 1 teaspoon of vital wheat gluten. Whisk well or sift to combine.

Bread Flour Recipes

Here are a few recipes that feature bread flour.

Where to Buy Bread Flour

Bread flour is widely sold in the baking aisles of supermarkets and grocery stores of all kinds.

Storage

Bread flour can be stored in a cool, dry place, like a pantry, for 6 to 8 months, assuming the package is tightly closed. If you live somewhere particularly warm or humid, you could seal the opened flour bag in a large plastic bag and keep it in the fridge.