What is all-purpose flour in the UK?
It is typical of the difference between the two countries that the US has developed different names for certain foods and flour is no exception.
All-purpose flour is ‘Plain flour’ in the UK.
Self-rising is called self-raising. Also, there is Indian plain flour which is called Maida. You can buy Maida from online Indian groceries in the USA as well as the UK.
On the subject of Indian flour, if you want to cook with wholemeal flour, get some Indian wholemeal flour, known as ‘Atta’ it is much more refined than the regular wholemeal flour in both the US and the UK.
All-purpose flour is an American term, not British. Or if it is, it’s an American term that’s been imported here.
In most British shops you will find two main types of flour.
Plain four with no raising agent in it, for such items as pancake batter, thickening agent for soups or gravies, etc.
Self- raising flour that has baking powder added to it to enable to make baked goods rise, such as cakes, etc.
“All-Purpose Flour” is the US equivalent of what we know in the UK to be “Plain Flour”
Did you know that you can turn your Plain Flour into the Self-Raising variety by adding Baking Soda? You just need to add 1 and 1/2 tsp of Baking Soda per cup of Flour.
Is all-purpose flour the same as plain flour?
Yes. Plain flour as it is known in places like Australia. All-purpose flour as it is known in places like the USA, The Philippines.
So when you are reading recipes you can translate this one as is.
Note that some people will also try and tell you that all-purpose is good for bread, good for biscuits/cookies, etc. All-purpose is not that all-purpose.
Hence why it is better termed “plain” flour. Use bread flour for bread (hard wheat flour with a higher protein content), use cake flour for some biscuits/cookies(lower protein content).
Note also that self-raising flour, which is common in Australia, is unheard of in other parts of the world. So don’t mistake self-raising flour for plain/all-purpose flour.
You will get quite a different result. But you can make your own self-raising flour. Approx 15g of baking powder (yes powder, not baking soda) to 300g plain (all-purpose) flour. Depending on the recipe, a pinch of salt if it is quite a sweet cake.
Flours come in many varieties, but the most used is usually wheat flour.
This comes in different varieties:
Bread flour or sometimes called strong flour, with higher protein content (~12–14%), ideal for bread and pizza and similar preparations.
Cake flour, also called top flour or weak flour sometimes, with low protein content (~8–9%), ideal for cakes, cookies, and pastry.
Plain or All-purpose flour is somewhat in between with the protein content (9–11%) is usually suited for many preparations, including some bread and some pastries and many other uses in the kitchen.
Then, of course, there is Semolina which is flour from durum wheat… used to make pasta (like spaghetti).
There are also other types of specialized flours as well.
What is plain flour used for?
I assume you don’t mean potato, rice, or cornflour, but you are referring to wheat flour.
The plain flour is used for making anything that you do not want to “rise” – that is, become fluffy, like most bread and almost all cakes.
If it is all you’ve got, you can make it into self-raising flour by adding a small amount of sodium bicarbonate (“baking powder”).
The other thing it is useful for is thickening some gravies or soups: a small amount is mixed to a cream with cold water, then dribbled into the hot liquid and stirred, which thickens the mixture within a minute or so.
I’m assuming you mean what is generally referred to as “general purpose flour”. It’s wheat flour that is kind of Goldilocks … not too high nor too low in gluten.
Professional chefs often used “hard wheat flour” (high gluten) or “soft wheat flour” (low gluten) for whatever they are doing. But home chefs tend to use the general-purpose stuff.
And in-home recipes, it’s used in all kinds of stuff … bread, thickening soups, crepes, cookies.
“Self-rising flour” is the same thing, but with added baking powder. It’s not so popular these days.
If you want non-wheat flour, GF flours like Namaste mimic what general purpose flour does, but without the wheat. I find it works about one-to-one, so I use my old recipes from Joy of Cooking.
What is the difference between “strong flour” and “plain flour”?
Strong flour is a flour with higher protein content.
So-called plain or all-purpose flour has lower protein content and is therefore not suitable for a wide range of baked products that need protein, most importantly bread and bread rolls. In other words, it is not all-purpose at all.
The reason why there is flour with different protein content is due to (1) quality and (2) sifting. Low-quality flour already has a lower protein content than high-quality flour.
Bakeries rely on a stable supply of flour that behaves consistently the same. They cannot maintain a production schedule if the properties of the flour change all the time. For this reason, mills mix different flours to obtain a flour that has consistent protein content.
Also, when the grain is milled, there are certain parts such as the bran and endosperm that are removed to obtain white flour. The flour goes through several stages of sifting.
The more it is sifted, the less protein will remain. The sifted out rougher flour may then be used to prop up some other flour to have a higher protein content to be sold to bakeries.
Some low protein flour is therefore leftover and then sold cheaply in supermarkets mostly to consumers because bakeries don’t usually use it.
The most noticeable impact of low protein content is that a dough made from low protein flour will not as easily ferment as dough made from strong flour. This means if you try to make bread from low protein flour, the loaf will not rise well.
Lower protein flour is mostly used for pastries where rising isn’t as important.
In Europe, most countries have a classification system that indicates the protein content.
The classification is usually based on the weight of ash left when a certain amount of flour is burned in a furnace.
In France, a flour of Type 45 means that 450 milligrams of mineral ash were left when burning 100 g of flour.
In Germany, the closest would be Type 405, which means a remainder of 405 milligrams of mineral ash in 100 g of flour.
Type 45 and 405 are low protein flours only suitable for pastries but not for bread.
In the United States, those might be sold as all-purpose flour. Type 1050 would be a strong flour.
How do bakers flour and bread flour different?
The amount of gluten (or protein) each has. Bakers flour makes for a fluffier, lighter batter, while bread flour would make for a denser product.
Think about the difference between an angel cake and a pizza crust; that’s the difference between those flours.
This Kiwi website Flour Types- BakeInfo (Baking Industry Research Trust) says that baker’s flour (a term not used in the USA) is medium to strong flour used for bread making.
Bread flour is a high protein and hence high gluten (and thus strong flour) used for bread making.
So, I guess they are pretty similar but you would have to compare the protein content on each brand to be sure.
I apologize if you are aware of this already, but two proteins in flour form gluten when the flour is hydrated (ie you add water) and especially when you knead the dough.
Gluten holds the bread up when it rises, pushed by CO2 gas given off by the yeast. Because of its structural strength, gluten also impacts a chewy texture.
So, baked products like cookie and cake use a low gluten flour (called cake or pastry flour in the USA).
All-Purpose flour is in the middle with protein and will make OK cookies and bread, but not the best.
If you want traditional artisan bread, go for a high protein bread flour. Bagels are meant to be chewy and are made from high gluten flour, even more, protein-rich than conventional bread flour.
All-purpose flour UK and the USA