5 Great Substitutions for Cake Flour

Have you ever wondered why a slice of cake is soft, while a slice of bread is chewy? A piece of sourdough bread and a chocolate cake both have the same main ingredient: flour.

So what is it that makes the bread structured and springy and a cake (hopefully) soft and fluffy? The answer is cake flour.

Cake flour has less protein than regular all-purpose flour, and less protein means less gluten. Since gluten builds the structure of a baked good, the less there is, the more tender your final product will be.

Cake flour is also milled from soft wheat, is ground more finely, and is usually bleached. This allows the cake to absorb more moisture, which allows it to grow taller and fluffier and leads to increased softness and tender crumb.

Self-rising flour

So now that we’ve established why cake flour is important, why would you want to substitute it? Cake flour is more expensive than all-purpose flour and perhaps you’re trying to save on your grocery bill.

Maybe you have a small kitchen and don’t have the space for multiple bags of flour. Or maybe you were so busy with birthday party preparations you just forgot to get some.

Luckily you don’t have to break the bank, buy a bigger house, or ruin someone’s birthday with a tough cake, because we’ve put together 5 cake flour substitutions to use in a pinch.

1. All-purpose flour and cornstarch

All-purpose flour and cornstarch

The best substitute for cake flour is made from two items you most likely already have in your pantry: all-purpose flour and cornstarch.

As I mentioned before, all-purpose flour has more protein than cake flour, which results in more gluten. You can prevent some of that gluten from forming by cutting your all-purpose flour with cornstarch.

The formula is simple: for each cup of flour, remove two tablespoons and replace them with cornstarch. You’ll then want to Sift this together several times. This will cut the protein and add structure and sponge to your cake.

2. All-purpose flour and arrowroot

All-purpose flour and arrowroot

Using arrowroot mixed with flour will prevent gluten formation in the same way cornstarch will, but there are several reasons someone might not want to use cornstarch. Arrowroot is flavorless, and is higher in dietary fiber, to name a couple, or perhaps arrowroot is what you have on had.

The formula is the same as with cornstarch: replace two tablespoons of flour per cup with arrowroot and seat together.

There are some things to remember when using arrowroot. Your cake may bake more quickly, so keep an eye on it or reduce the oven time. Arrowroot also absorbs more moisture than flour or cornstarch, so you may need to adjust the liquids in your recipe.

3. Almond Flower

Almond Flower

Almond flour can be expensive, but if you happen to have it on hand it can be a substitution for cake flour with many upsides. It’s gluten free, which is great if you’re baking for someone with a gluten allergy or sensitivity. It also has a high fat content, which will add moisture to your cake.

Almond flour does have a flavor, so it will add a sweet nuttiness to your cake. This is not necessarily bad, but something to consider as it might not be what you’re looking for. It will also make your cake unsuitable for anyone with nut allergies.

To use almond flour as a substitute for cake flour, simply use 75% of what the recipe calls for. So if the recipe calls for 1 cup of cake flour, use ¾ of a cup of almond flour.

4. Self-rising flour

Self-rising flour

Self-rising flour is all-purpose flour with leavener (usually baking soda) and salt added in. The addition of these makes the protein content of self-rising slightly lower. Also, since it is mostly all-purpose flour your cake will be denser and tougher, and it might not work for very delicate cakes.

If you use self-rising flour, you will need to adjust your recipe to take into account the salt and leavener already in the flour.

5. Pastry flour

Pastry flour

Pastry flour is not something everyone has on hand, but if you do it can be a handy substitute for cake flour. Where all-purpose has 10-13% protein content and cake flour has between 5-8%, pastry flour lands right in the middle at 8-9% protein content.

Simply substitute pastry flour for cake flour 1:1 in your recipe. Note that pastry flour contains less starch, so the cake might be slightly gummier.

Now you have several tools to make your cakes moist and delicious, even if you don’t have cake flour. Try experimenting with all of them, maybe you’ll find a recipe you like even more than the original!

Jennifer Hallberg

Jennifer Hallberg is a Chef instructor and Pastry Chef in Indianapolis, Indiana who has worked in the culinary industry for 15 years. In her spare time she loves visiting new restaurants and playing woodwinds in the local theater.

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