What Is Pastry Flour?

Buying, Cooking, and Recipes

Pastry flour

Yulia Naumenko / Getty Images

Pastry flour is a soft, low-gluten flour that's designed for making biscuits, muffins, cookies, pies, and pastry doughs. It has a gluten content of around 8 to 10 percent. 

Fast Facts

  • Made from soft white or soft red winter wheat
  • Gluten content 8 to 10 percent
  • Made for baking delicate pastries and cookies

What Is Pastry Flour?

Pastry flour is a soft flour made from soft white wheat or soft red winter wheat. This lower protein content (the protein being gluten) and finer texture give baked goods a softer, finer crumb. Think about it this way: more protein produces longer strands of gluten and more elasticity. Combined with yeast, which is a powerful leavener, high protein flours produce large air bubbles, a more open crumb, and a chewier texture. Less protein, combined with weaker leavening agents like baking powder and baking soda, produces smaller bubbles and less elasticity so that the result is softer and more tender. Cookies, muffins, pastries, pancakes, biscuits, doughnuts, croissants, Danish and puff pastry, as well as pie doughs, are typical examples of what you might bake using pastry flour.  

Pastry Flour vs. Cake Flour

Cake flour is another flour with a low protein content, which is sometimes confused with pastry flour. And, they are quite similar. Cake flour usually has from 7.5 to 9 percent gluten, as compared with 8 to 10 percent for pastry flour. So you can see that there is indeed some overlap, depending on the particular brand. 

While a professional baker might opt to keep both cake and pastry flour on hand, for the home cook, it won't make as much difference. In practice, you could use pastry flour for cakes, as well as pastries. But don't try to use pastry flour for baking bread, as it won't develop the structure you need.

How to Cook With Pastry Flour

When trying to produce tender baked goods with a soft crumb, it's important not to overdevelop the glutens. The more you knead, stir, or otherwise manipulate the dough, the more you will develop those glutens. So with a hard, crusty bread or pizza dough, you're going to want to knead for a long time to develop those long, elastic strands. But with pastry dough, it's the opposite. You only want to stir or mix long enough to combine the wet and dry ingredients, and then stop. Overmixing your pastry dough will cause it to become tough and dense.

And, as with all types of flour, pastry flour needs to 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 properly. With pastry flour, a "cup" can range from 101 to 108 grams, depending on the brand. But when substituting pastry flour for all-purpose flour in a recipe, be sure to use the full 120 grams.

One common method for baking with pastry flour is to cut in solid lumps of fat, such as butter, lard, or shortening. This is the technique you'd use for flaky baked goods like making pies, pastry dough, and biscuits, as the lumps of fat are what create those layers of flakes within the dough. 

Pie dough

DNY59 / Getty Images

Croissants

Cris Canton / Getty Images

Donuts

Marco Vitt / Getty Images

Biscuits

Keiko Iwabuchi / Getty Images

Cookies

Esther Chou / Getty Images

What Does It Taste Like?

Foods prepared from pastry flour derive their flavor in a couple of ways: one, from the other ingredients, the 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). But the flour itself isn't something you'd eat on its own.

Pastry Flour Substitute

Pastry flour and cake flour are both weak flours that are used for making tender baked goods, and as we noted above, there is some overlap between the two in terms of their protein content. So cake flour would be a good pastry flour substitute. So would all-purpose flour, which is intended to be used for all sorts of baking. It won't give you the most tender result, but it will work. You could also combine equal parts all-purpose and cake flours. 

Pastry Flour Recipes

Use 120 grams of pastry flour in place of each cup of all-purpose flour in any of these recipes. 

Where to Buy Pastry Flour

Pastry flour can often be found in the baking aisles of supermarkets and grocery stores, as well as at specialty food stores, specialty baking stores, and online.

Storage

Pastry flour can be stored in a cool, dry place, like a pantry, for six to eight 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.  

Article Sources
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  1. Gluten and Food Labeling. U.S. Food and Drug Administration