I love working with all-purpose flour. It’s so cheap and easy to buy huge bags from my local Walmart or Smith’s or Costco and dump them into my fifty-pound plastic storage container.
Whenever I feel like baking, I just roll out my flour container and scoop out whatever I need.
But some bread recipes call for strong flour or bread flour. Bread flour tends to be more expensive than all-purpose flour, especially if I choose well-known brands over store brands.
Since I’m more of a hobbyist, amateur baker, I’d rather not spend more money than necessary. On several occasions, I’ve asked myself “do I really need bread flour for baking bread? Why bother?”
So I decided to do a little research on bread flour versus all-purpose and the difference it makes.
What’s the Difference?
At first glance, all-purpose flour and bread flour seem similar. They’re both flour. They’re both great for making bread. They both taste almost the same.
However, mills grind and sift all-purpose flour from hard winter wheat. Bread flour, in contrast, comes from hard spring wheat, which has a higher protein content than winter wheat.
In general, bread flour has about 12 -14% protein while all-purpose only checks in between 8-11%. Now that protein percentage might not seem like a lot, but it does make a difference in baking.
Wheat protein contains wheat gluten, the stringy strands that give your bread its texture, elasticity, and structure. The more gluten your bread has, the better your bread will rise and hold its shape when baking. Additionally, gluten gives your bread its characteristic chew.
So if you want your all-purpose flour to function like bread flour, you’re going to need to bump up the gluten content with vital wheat gluten.
What’s Vital Wheat Gluten?
Vital wheat gluten comes from wheat flour. The wheat flour is hydrated to activate the gluten, and then the gluten itself is extracted, dried, and ground into a powder.
Because it’s pure gluten, you don’t need a lot to have a big impact in your baking. When you combine it with low-protein flours, like all-purpose flour, it bumps up the protein percentage for chewier, more shapely breads.
But you don’t need to stop at low-protein flours. You can also add it to any bread recipe that might need a little extra support and structure, such as recipes with a lot of fruit, seeds, or nuts. You can also use it to make seitan, a vegetarian-friendly alternative to meat.
You can buy vital wheat gluten at your local grocery store, often in the baking section, though occasionally it pops up near gluten-free sections (and the irony makes me laugh a little). Walmart does carry it, as well as Whole Foods, and nutritional supplement stores such as The Vitamin Shoppe.
If you can’t find it in stores, you can buy Vital Wheat Gluten on Amazon.com for about $15 for a 4-pound bag (though that price is subject to change).
Here’s How Much to Add
Lots of baking sites disagree about how much vital wheat gluten to add to create all-purpose flour. Some people recommend adding just 1 teaspoon wheat gluten per cup of all-purpose, while others recommend 1 to 3 tablespoons per recipe.
I guess the variation depends on the baker’s preferences and budget. And since you can technically add vital wheat gluten to bread flours and bump the already-high protein content even higher, it really depends on what you’re looking for in the consistency of your bread.
If you truly love baking bread, you can just experiment with different amounts of wheat gluten to see how it changes your bread. Take notes of what you like and dislike, then go from there.
However, for the amateur baker like myself, I need something a little more consistent. A few websites agree that 1 1/2 teaspoons per cup gets good results, so that’s what I’ll recommend, too.
Here’s What You’ll Need
- 115 Grams (1 Cup minus 1 1/2 Teaspoons) All-Purpose Flour
- 5 Grams (1 1/2 Teaspoons) Vital Wheat Gluten
Then whisk them together. That’s it! Super easy.
Here’s Formula for Your Next Recipe
Don’t want to measure all-purpose flour cup by cup to make bread flour substitute? You can do a little bit of math at the beginning of your recipe, if you measure by weight.
- Total Bread Flour Needed in Grams * 0.95 = All Purpose Flour
- Total Bread Flour – All Purpose Flour = Gluten
Or to be more precise:
- X(0.95) = Y
- X – Y = Z
If your recipe needs 500 Grams Bread Flour, you’d do the following math:
500 Grams Bread Flour Needed * 0.95 = 480 Grams All-Purpose Flour
500 Grams Bread Flour Needed – 480 All-Purpose Flour =20 Grams Vital Wheat Gluten
Seems a little confusing? Don’t worry – if I try a recipe with bread flour substitute, I’ll do the math for you and provide the measurements.
Do You Save Money?
This is where things get a little tricky. Prices for all-purpose flour and bread flour vary widely from store to store, and sales can make either flour more affordable than the other.
However, if I use Amazon.com and compare a few popular brands, I can do some math and give you a guess.
Currently, here’s what each flour type costs:
- King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour: $10.50 for a 5 lb. bag = $0.13 an ounce
- King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour: $7.29 for a 5 lb. bag = $0.09 an ounce
In this case, bread flour is actually cheaper per ounce than all-purpose flour. If you make bread a lot, this isn’t a bad deal.
But let’s take a look at another brand:
- White Lily All-Purpose Flour: $16.51 for two 5 lb. bags = $0.10 an ounce
- White Lily Bread Flour: $11.99 for a 5 lb. bag = $0.15 an ounce
In this case, the bread flour is much more expensive. Let’s see what the price would be if we added Vital Wheat Gluten to the all-purpose flour. For this hypothetical, I chose Anthony’s Vital Wheat Gluten at $14.59 for a 4 lb. bag at $0.23 an ounce.
If we use the same formula from above, 5 grams vital wheat gluten and 125 grams all-purpose flour make 1 cup bread flour substitute. A 4 lb. bag of vital wheat gluten has 1814.37 grams, so it could make potentially 362 when combined with 343 cups (41, 160 grams or 90 pounds) all-purpose flour.
Continuing down that path, 90 pounds of White Lily All Purpose Flour would cost $148.59 plus the cost of vital wheat gluten at $14.59 would amount to $163.18 to make a total of 362 cups of bread flour substitute.
Assuming my math is correct here, 362 cups of bread flour would weigh approximately 43,440 (at 120 grams in a cup), or about 1532 ounces. And your total would be about $0.10 per ounce.
Phew! That’s a lot of math here.
In this example, combining all-purpose flour and the vital wheat gluten would ultimately save you money. And it could potentially save a lot of space in your kitchen, if you keep a small bag of vital wheat gluten on hand and mix it with your all-purpose flour as you go. You wouldn’t have to buy 90 pounds of flour all at once to reap the savings.
Furthermore, having vital wheat gluten on hand would also allow you to experiment in your baking, which would make the investment worth it, too.
What’s a Good Price for Flour?
That’s the magical question isn’t it.
For amateur bakers who want to save money, I’ve seen Walmart sell large 25 lb. bags of all-purpose flour for about $5.18, or as little as $0.02 an ounce. I buy that flour all the time and use it for many of my recipes. It gets the job done.
However, that doesn’t necessarily mean the flour is amazing quality. Serious bakers tend to opt for well-known brands such as Arrowhead Mills, Gold Medal, and White Lily. These brands can range anywhere from $0.05 an ounce to as much as $0.20 an ounce.
As a rule of thumb, I’d say try to find all-purpose flour that costs less than $0.10 an ounce and bread flour for less than $0.15 an ounce.
Whenever possible, buy flour as part of a bulk sale to get an even lower price. Then buy a bag of vital wheat gluten to have on hand so you can swap between bread flour or all-purpose depending on what’s available.
I know pandemics tend to make flour more difficult to find at times, so just keep an eye out for good deals whenever you can find them and then stock up.
Did You Try It?
I know that I did a lot of math in this post, so forgive me if I made an error along the way (and please point out any mistakes so I can fix them). But I find that doing the math lets me see where I can save money and whether that bread flour sale I see on sale is worth it.
Let me know if you tried making bread flour at home! Did you prefer to measure by weight or by volume? Did you like the difference it made in your bread’s consistency or not? Share your thoughts in the comments below!