There are two main types of flour wheat grown today, hard and soft, each with a characteristic kernel composition and each with this own particular culinary use.
The wheat kernel will vary in "hardness", which is the measure of protein content and consequently determines the flour's gluten content. Hard flour contains large protein chunks and relatively little starch. As a result this flour forms a strong gluten when mixed with water and is commonly used in bread making. In comparison, soft flours contain a higher starch content and consequently, develop a weaker gluten. Soft flours are more commonly used for pasta and cakes where the texture is meant to be more tender and crumbly.
Gluten works rather like chewing gum. It is both plastic and elastic, that is it will both change its shape under pressure and tend to re-assume its original shape when pressure is removed. Gluten stretches when worked and allows air to be incorporated and trapped, resulting in air bubbles. Bread making requires a hard flour in order for the carbon dioxide, released by the yeast, to be incorporated by the gluten, enabling the dough to rise. Pizza dough does not require the same level of rising action as a loaf of bread, and many people claim that a softer flour is actually better. The following is a guide to the different flours available and their uses.
Semolina. A coarse grain produced from the hardest kind of wheat grown today. This is predominantly used for very stiff dough's, particularly dried pastas. It is too hard for bread or pasta making but can be added to pizza dough for texture and crunch.
Hard Flour. Contains the highest gluten level and is generally used for bread making or pizzas. Make sure the packet states it is a bread flour.
Soft flour. Contains less gluten. Useful for pasta-making and baking, it can be used for pizza. Make sure the packet states that it is suitable for this purpose.
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