Subbing in flours is the sign of a baker who likes to do things on the fly. And I am one of them.
Don’t have enough plain flour? Ahh – a little self-raising to get you over the line is *fine*. Wheat flour for biscuits is *just* as good as all-purpose. And aren’t all sauces equally as effective at thickening a sauce?
These are all common cooking questions, but did an erroneous flour alternative secretly scupper your chances at a perfectly baked good? Probably.
Here’s what you need to know.
Can I use self-raising flour instead of plain flour?
You can sub in self-raising for plain flour in recipes – and vice versa – but you will need to tweak some of your other ingredients to compensate.
Plain flour cake recipes often ask for an extra leavening agent, typically baking powder. On the other hand, self-raising flour cake recipes typically don’t demand baking powder as the flour comes readymade with raising agents.
In which case, cake recipes asking for self-raising flour could use plain flour plus a teaspoon of baking powder instead. On the other hand, self-raising flour could be subbed in to plain flour recipes by reducing or removing raising agents in the ingredients list.
Baking bread is a science – and the golden rule is not to amend the ingredients. Ever.
The same applies to the flour. Bread recipes usually ask for plain flour, and that’s because the raising agent comes from the yeast working with the water, flour and salt. If you use self-raising flour, your bread won’t rise evenly and you could end up with a stodgy crumb.
Related: Best breads for healthy digestion
Both self-raising and plain flour are fine for thickening sauces. Any air bubbles you get from the raising agents in self-raising flour will pop and evaporate as the sauce cooks, although plain flour usually tastes better.
Plain flour is the preferred batter base, but self-raising will work, too. Just be mindful the raising agents could make the batter less crispy when cooked.
Is plain flour the same as all-purpose flour?
Yes. ‘All-purpose’ or ‘AP’ flour is most often mentioned in American recipes, but all-purpose and plain flour are exactly the same.
Can I use bread flour instead of plain flour?
It depends on what you are baking. Bread flour has a higher protein content so that when you add it to your bread mix it produces more gluten (and this raises your loaf).
For delicate baked goods, like sponge cakes or biscuits, the gluten will make the dough tough and chewy, so swapping bread flour in for plain flour for these kind of recipes is not advised.
If you have no other options, then when you do use bread flour as an alternative, use the ‘muffin method’. This is the method that mixes wet and dry ingredients separately and then very lightly combines. By doing so, you don’t have a much time to activate the gluten and encourage that elastic texture upon baking.
Can I use wheat flour instead of plain flour?
Wheat flour is the brown bread to plain flour’s white bread; the only difference is how much bran and germ is left over (and not processed out) in wheat flour.
However, while they are similar, whole wheat flour doesn’t rise as well as plain flour, so if a recipe asks for plain flour, be aware that your sponge cake could turn out pretty flat and dense if you were to opt for wheat flour instead.
Is self-rising flour the same as self-raising flour?