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Flour girl: What's in your cake flour?

King Arthur Unbleached Cake Flour Blend.

I truly earned my "Flour Girl" title this week when I tested the new Unbleached Cake Flour Blend from King Arthur, the newest addition to the company's line of flours. Previously, it had offered a Queen Guinevere Cake Flour that bakers raved about. So why would it go and reinvent the wheel?

Recipe Included

I called Allison Furbish, a King Arthur spokeswoman, to get some answers. It turns out that all the cake flours on the market, including Lady Guinevere, go through a bleaching process. This damages the starch in the flour to allow it to hold more fat and moisture, making for a tender cake. The only way to get the same result without bleaching the flour is a longer processing time. The new cake flour King Arthur has developed is left to oxidize naturally. Most millers aren't willing to add this step, which takes three weeks.

I tested the Tender White Cake recipe, printed on the back of the new flour's box. The oxidizing process doesn't make this flour as crisp-white as its bleached counterpart. But if you're not fussy about aesthetics, this isn't really a concern.

I liked the recipe's method of making a paste with the dry ingredients and butter, which is different from the usual way most cakes start with beating the butter and sugar together, then adding the dry ingredients afterward. I'm not sure why, but this step gave me a feeling of stability and security as a baker -- as if the structure of the cake would not be wholly dependent on exactly how I add the flour later on.

No wonder the batter, which starts with such a solid base and contains yogurt or whole milk, makes a sturdy cake. It is neither dense nor is it going to float off your plate like some European-style genoise. I liked it a lot. It is rich and can hold up to a number of fillings. Try it with Soft and Luxurious Chocolate Frosting or cut each layer in half horizontally, spread some raspberry jam between the middle-most layers, then slather the rest with sweetened whipped cream.

The King Arthur folks were very glad to add an all-natural cake flour to their collection at last -- especially one that did not sacrifice flavor and texture. The company will continue to carry the Lady Guinevere flour for those who want to make light cakes (both in color and texture). But this new Unbleached Cake Flour Blend is a great all-around answer for home baking.

-- Leigh Lambert

Tender White Cake
Makes two 8-inch layers (12 servings)

This cake is not as light as a French-style genoise, but its denser texture stands up well to fillings and frostings. A classic chocolate icing or sweetened whipped cream and jam would pair nicely.

Adapted from a recipe on the back of the King Arthur Unbleached Cake Flour Blend King Arthur Flour box

2 3/4 cups King Arthur Unbleached Cake Flour Blend or other cake flour, plus more for the pans
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for the pans
1 2/3 cups sugar, preferably superfine
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
4 large egg whites, plus 1 whole egg
1 cup full-fat vanilla yogurt or 1 cup whole milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Use a little butter to grease two 8-inch cake pans, then use a little flour to dust them, shaking off any excess flour. If desired, line with two 8-inch rounds of parchment paper, then use butter to grease the surface of the paper.
Combine the cake flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer or hand-held electric mixer. Beat for 2 minutes on low speed to aerate, then add the butter and beat to form a soft paste.

Add the egg whites one at a time, then the whole egg, beating well after each addition. Stop to scrape down the sides of the bowl after each addition.

Whisk together the yogurt or milk, and the vanilla and almond extracts in a liquid measuring cup. Add to the batter in the bowl in three additions, beating on medium speed for 1 to 2 minutes after each addition, until fluffy. Stop to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.

Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans. Bake for 25 to 35 minutes, until the cakes are just beginning to brown around the edges and a toothpick or cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean.

Cool the cakes in the pans for 15 minutes, then remove from the pans and cool completely on a wire rack before frosting or storing.

VARIATION: Bake for 30 to 35 minutes for two 9-inch rounds; 23 to 26 minutes for a 9-by-13-inch pan; 18 to 20 minutes for standard-size cupcakes.

Per serving: 354 calories, 5 g protein, 55 g carbohydrates, 12 g fat, 9 g saturated fat, 50 mg cholesterol, 301 mg sodium, 1 g dietary fiber, 31 g sugar

By Leigh Lambert  |  November 5, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Flour Girl , Recipes  | Tags: Flour Girl, Leigh Lambert, baking, cake, flour  
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I tried the King Arthur Unbleached Flour a few weeks ago and I was really happy with the results. I used mine to make a chocolate cake though, so color wasn't an issue. But even when doing white cakes, I typically use brown vanilla extract and real butter, which gives the cake a slightly yellowish tinge.

You can see my results here:

Posted by: bachaney | November 5, 2009 8:46 AM | Report abuse

is cake flour the same as pastry flour?

Posted by: chiquita2 | November 5, 2009 9:45 AM | Report abuse

No, cake flour is not the same as pastry flour. If you want to make your own pastry flour, you can mix about 1/3 cake flour to 2/3 all-purpose flour, if I'm remembering right.

Posted by: cocyach | November 5, 2009 9:49 AM | Report abuse

This is really exciting! I've been trying to switch over to flours that are better for people in general, but cake flour is one of those things that you're just not sure how it will turn out. I wonder if there's a resource anywhere that helps people figure out what are reasonable substitutes for so-called "objectionable" flours. Unfortunately, as much as I love to bake, I just don't have much time for personal experimentation. And my husband would kill me if I had more than three types of flour in the house at a time. :)

Posted by: avaia00 | November 6, 2009 11:24 AM | Report abuse

King Arthur has substitutes for any "objectionable" flour you'd care to name. All King Arthur flours are unbleached (except the aforementioned Guinevere), unbromated, and free of added chemicals. Disclaimer: yes, I work for King Arthur Flour, I'm a baker/blogger. And that's how I know, firsthand, about the quality of these flours (of which we have an absolute slew). "We" being the 167 employee-owners; we really, really pride ourselves on our flours, and work hard every day to ensure they're the best flours in America. Which they are (she says immodestly!) Cheers-

Posted by: hamelpj | November 7, 2009 4:36 AM | Report abuse

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