"Huh?" you think as you read the ingredient list in a new recipe. You know how to cook and you know how to read a recipe and follow directions. But occasionally, you can find a puzzling or unfamiliar ingredient. Sometimes it doesn't matter much. Other times, it's the difference between a cake that feels like a brick and a cake that's fluffy.
In this case, AP flour and All-Purpose flour are the same thing. It's the most commonly requested and used flour … for the reason stated in its name. " All-purpose is designed to be used in a wide range of recipes written for home cooks who do not have the kind of high-intensity mixers or the expertise necessary to use the specialized flours made for commercial bakeries," according to Cook's Illustrated All-Purpose Flour Taste Test. King Arthur Unbleached Enriched All-Purpose Flour and Pillsbury Unbleached Enriched All-Purpose Flour are two top-rated brands.
Flour in general is finely ground and sifted meal of any edible grain. This is about to get science-y: Wheat is the main grain: hard red winter wheat (10 to 13 percent protein), soft red winter wheat (8 to 10 percent protein), or a combination of the two. High-protein flours are best for yeasted products and other baked goods that need a lot of structural support. the The higher the protein level in a flour, the greater the potential for the formation of gluten, which creates an elastic network. Gluten sheets can move with the gas that yeast produces, but not let that gas escape. So the product won't flatten. Lower protein flour is best for quick, chemically leavened goods that use baking soda and baking powder. Too much gluten can overpower quick leaveners and the whole thing can deflate.
All grain is either ground by steel or stone. Steel-ground flour, the most common, is crushed with huge, high-speed steel rollers or hammers, creating a heat so intense that the wheat germ is stripped away, including valuable vitamins and enzymes. Stone-ground flour is usually found in natural food grocery stores. Two moving stones crush the grain without generating much heat so it retains the nutrients.
Technically, all flour is bleached by the natural process of the wheat's pigment oxidizing after three months from yellowish to a whiter hue. These days, most all-purpose flours undergo a (totally safe) benzoyl peroxide or chlorine gas bleaching process to expedite the whitening of the flour. You can use bleached or unbleached flour interchangeably.
Flour texture can range from course to soft and powdery, depending on the bolting (sifting). All-purpose flour is a fine-textured flour milled from the inner part of the wheat kernel and contains neither the germ (the sprout) nor the bran (outer coating). U.S. law requires that all flours without the wheat germ have riboflavin, niacin, iron, and thiamin added. The labels call this "enriched."
So if you're going to stock your pantry with only one kind of flour, it should be all-purpose flour. Cake flour, bread flour, whole-wheat flour, pastry flour, self-rising flour, and instant flour are all different things and shouldn't be used interchangeably with all-purpose flour. And we're not even getting started on all the flours that use grains other than wheat.
Bake something now that you've learned more than you ever thought you'd want to know about all-purpose flour. Here are a few great ideas:
1. Buttermilk Biscuits and Sausage Cream Gravy
Go country for a weekend breakfast and make this decadent meal that really sticks to your bones and satisfies your soul. OK, maybe not your soul, but it creamy, meaty and did you read the part about biscuits? Get our Buttermilk Biscuits and Sausage Cream Gravy recipe.
2. Easy Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Icing
Layer cakes are impressive and look wonderful, but they taste the same as a single-layer, or sheet, cake. Want a cake but no messing with layers? This is more than just any cake. It's the carrot cake you crave: moist, with orange confetti all throughout and the rich, creamy cheese frosting on top that completes the dessert. Or some say walnuts on top finishes it off. You decide. Get our Easy Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Icing recipe.
3. Strawberry Shortcake Muffins
Sour cream contributes a tang and moistness that awakes these little cups of shortcake punctuated with sweet ruby gems. Finish it off with freshly whipped, slightly sweetened cream on top and a sliced strawberry in the center of the cloud. Get our Strawberry Shortcake Muffins recipe.
4. Savory Cheddar Waffles
You know how chicken-and-waffles is a thing lately? Make your own, but try this version to one-up the trend. They're a perfect dinner waffle. Make sure to get some good Irish cheddar for this. Oh, and you'll need a Belgium waffle maker. Get our Savory Cheddar Waffles recipe.
5. Butterscotch-Pecan Blondies
Cookie bars are under-rated. Well, at least by other people. We here at Chowhound rate them highly. Especially these blondies made with browned butter and toasty pecans. So soft and chewy. Get our Butterscotch-Pecan Blondies recipe.
Amy Sowder is a NYC-based food and fitness freelance writer who's also on Chowhound's editorial staff. She loves gooey things, especially cheesy toasties and puns. Colorful food within her sight has no chance of anonymity. Ice cream is a strong motivation for her running habit.