Cake Flour vs. Pastry Flour – What’s The Difference?

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If you are an experienced baker, you’d know how important it is to choose the right kind of flour according to the food you’re baking. But relatively new people can’t tell this difference very well; some might not even know what kind of flour is needed for what purpose.

But let us tell you, using the wrong flour in any recipe can ruin it. Two commonly used flours in the baking world are Pastry Flour and Cake Flour. Despite having many similarities, both of these flours are used for different recipes. Using one instead of the other can make your food too flaky or chewy and hard.

In this article, we will discuss what makes these flour different from each other, how we can substitute one flour for the other, and compare other kinds of flour so that you can have a better understanding of flours in general. This understanding is the first step to becoming a better and more skilled baker!

What is Gluten? 

Before jumping into the differences between Cake Flour and Pastry Flour, we first need to talk about gluten. Gluten is a protein found in flour that gives the dough its elasticity and firmness. Gluten is a large protein made from two other proteins called glutenin and gliadin.

This protein is responsible for holding the dough together and can determine how hard, and firm the dough will be. You must also note that gluten is only formed when the flour is mixed with water and kneaded; this causes the glutenin and gliadin to combine and form gluten. Without gluten or other proteins, converting flour into dough would be virtually impossible.

Cake Flour Vs. Pastry Flour: Protein content

“But why is all of this relevant?” you may ask. Because the fundamental difference between Cake flour and Pastry flour is the different amount of protein, each has. To make things a little clearer, let’s take the example of bread flour. Bread flour is made with hard-flour, that is known for its high protein content that provides the bread dough with its elasticity and makes it rise.

And this high protein content works well. Because without elasticity and cohesion, we wouldn’t be able to make pizza or bread. But now imagine that you have to make cake using this same dough.

Even thinking about this doesn’t feel right. The cake would be too chewy and hard. And this is where Cake Flour and the Pastry Flour come in.

To bake some dishes like pie crust and cookies, you need a softer kind of dough that’s not too chewy and not too soft and flaky. We use pastry flour for this purpose, which has lower protein content than normal whole wheat flour. This low protein content makes the dough softer and less elastic.

Cake Flour is almost similar to Pastry Flour, but it has lower protein contents. This means that the dough would be softer and more tender. Cakes are usually very soft, and they have a porous texture that helps make them moist. If we use flours higher in protein content, the cakes will become too chewy and rigid; they’d also become too hard and dry.

Cake Flour Vs. Pastry Flour: Texture 

Experts made Pastry Flour using soft flour, which means that it has a softer texture. It is finely milled to ensure that the particles are smaller to provide more surface area for the air to get entrapped. And the more air gets entrapped, the airier its texture gets.

This airy texture is the reason why pastries usually have an easy-to-bite texture, and they are also easily chewable. If we use whole wheat flour instead of pastry flour, the pastry will become too hard and bread-like. But this doesn’t mean that Pastry flour is not versatile, you can actually use Pastry Flour in many different recipes, but its airy texture will always persist.

If we take this one step ahead and mill the flour even more finely, we’ll get Cake Flour. Cake Flour is very soft, and if you take a handful of it in your hand, it’ll feel like air because of its pillowy texture and lack of protein content.

As the Cake flour is very finely milled, it absorbs and releases heat much faster than other flours, so it is usually cool even when left in a room with high temperature. This quality is also true in case of pastry flour or even good quality all purpose flour, but these attributes are more pronounced in the case of Cake flour.

Cake flour can also be much harder to handle. Because a soft current of air can make the flour go all over the place, and you’re left with a kitchen covered with Cake Flour. And you can’t easily pick it back up or wash it away because it is milled very finely.

Can You Use Cake Flour instead of Pastry Flour?

If it’s hard for you to get Pastry Flour and you’re in a mood to make some delicious pastries, you can always use a blend of Cake Flour with All purpose flour. Use a half-cup of Cake flour with a half cup of all purpose flour to make one cup of flour that you can use in making pastries. The low protein content in the Cake Flour is covered by the protein content in the all purpose flour.

So What’s the Difference Between Cake Flour and Pastry Flour?

As we have discussed, there are many major differences between Cake flour and Pastry flour. We covered it all from containing different protein content to having a different purpose and different textures. We hope that this article helped you understand the fundamentals. Here is a quick summary of the differences we covered. 

  • Cake flour has a very low protein content, which is higher in Pastry Flour. 
  • Cake Flour has an airy, pillow, and smooth texture, the same is true in case of Pastry Flour, but it is observable to a lesser degree.