A lot of us keep a gargantuan container of all-purpose flour in our pantry—a near-lifetime supply, if you're anything like our Test Kitchen. All-purpose flour is the faithful old floury friend that we lean on for pancakes, muffins, and everything in between. More devoted bakers might even have a few wildcards in their baking arsenals, like whole wheat pastry flour or almond flour or spelt flour. But only in the most organized and well-stocked of home pantries have we found a bag of the self-rising variety, or ultra-soft cake flour, resplendent in its old-school packaging.
If you don't bake a whole lot, or didn't plan quite so far ahead (*raises hand*), you might get tripped up on a recipe that calls for one of these somewhat uncommon, vaguely esoteric flours. Should you take another trip to the grocery store to pick them up? No, we say happily. As it turns out, both cake flour and self-rising flour can be easily faked at home, using ingredients that you most probably already have on hand.
What Is Cake Flour, and How Is it Different from All-Purpose Flour?
Cake flour is a light, delicate, finely milled flour. It has a lower protein content (8%) than its all-purpose cousin (11%), which means any batter you make with it won't develop very much gluten, and your finished product will be lighter and softer, with a finer crumb. If you're whipping up an airy chiffon cake or feathery angel food cake, your recipe very likely calls for cake flour, and you'll be glad for the tender, melt-in-your-mouth results. You wouldn't want to use cake flour in something like sturdy loaf of bread, however, as it requires stronger, higher-protein-content bread flour—but that's another story.
Here's the good news, though: Even if you don't have cake flour immediately on hand, you, too, can have featherlight baked goods by using good old all-purpose flour. You can replicate cake flour by measuring out the same amount of all-purpose flour as the measure of cake flour called for. Then, remove two tablespoons of flour for every cup of all-purpose flour you're using, and replace each of those tablespoons with cornstarch. And in grams: 100 grams of sifted cake flour can be subbed with 85 grams sifted all-purpose flour plus 15 grams cornstarch.
So, if your recipe calls for 2 cups of cake flour, measure out 2 cups of AP flour, remove 4 tablespoons, and add 4 tablespoons of corn starch. If your recipe calls for 3 1/2 cups of cake flour, you'll remove 7 tablespoons, and so on and so forth.
Whisk together your flour and cornstarch, and then sift. A lot. About five times, actually. Since we're aiming for lightness, you want your hacked cake flour to be very-well aerated, with the corn starch completely integrated. Sorry for the inconvenience, but it wasn't our idea—Alice said you have to.
And voilà, you have cake flour!
Self-raising flour is almost exactly like all-purpose flour, but it has added salt and leavening mixed into it. Thus, recipes that call for this type of flour typically won't require additional salt or leavening. Self-raising flour is a very big deal in Southern cooking, especially in biscuits. And if you don't currenty have it in your pantry, it's also pretty simple to substitute with ingredients you do already have: all-purpose flour, salt, and baking powder. For every cup of self-rising flour that your recipe calls for, measure out one cup of all-purpose flour and add 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder. In grams: 100 grams of self-rising flour can be subbed with 100 grams of all-purpose flour, plus 5.5 grams baking powder and 1.13 grams salt.
So, if your recipe calls for 2 cups of self-rising flour, you'll measure out 2 cups of all-purpose flour, and add 1/2 teaspoon salt and 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder.
Whisk everything together, and then sift. That's right, about five times total, until it's super, super light and fluffy. Aeration, you know. Alice's orders.
Keep in mind, however, that certain cult-following brands of self-rising flour (such as White Lily and Presto, the latter of which is actually labeled as self-rising cake flour) are similar to cake flour in that they're milled from softer wheat and have a lower protein content than all-purpose. If your recipe calls for one of these flours, or you feel like being a total overacheiver (we see you), use your DIY cake flour instead of all-purpose in the above self-rising flour conversion; at the end of the day, you'll be adding cornstarch, salt, and leavener in the correct proportions to basic all-purpose flour. And your unthinkably flaky, tender, mile-high biscuits will thank you.
As for the kind of stuff you can make with cake flour and self-rising flour? Here are a few of our faves.
This ultralight cake is a take on a classic, from Kienow's Bohemian Bakery in Portland, OR. It features a silky, fluffy banana-based cake, which soaks up a banana-rum syrup, then gets topped with sliced bananas and vanilla mascarpone cream.
This is a simple yellow cake with an easy-to-follow recipe: 4 eggs, 3 cups of sifted cake flour, 2 cups of sugar, 1 cup of butter and milk, each. Top with a fruity raspberry frosting and eat cheerfully.
These beloved cookies, filled with thick pools of melty chocolate discs, are special also because of their use of cake flour—they end up with a chewy but not dense texture.
This simple, satisfying, super-flavorful bread will soon be a part of your brunch rotation. It's got it all: sausage, chives, butter, and lots of cheese, along with cake flour to give it lift. Slather more butter on a warm slice, and nobody will be mad.
Here's a one-bowl, no-measure, impossible-to-mess-up cake. You don't even need extra leavener, because the cake's self-rising flour does that job for you.
What's your favorite way to use cake flour or self-rising flour? Let us know in the comments.