Kitchen Hacks

The Best Substitutes for Cake Flour & Self-Rising Flour in Baking

No need for an extra trip to the grocery store—you probably already have everything you need.

by:
August 20, 2021
Photo by James Ransom

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 bread flour, ultra-soft cake flour, and self-rising 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. Here’s how to make a worthy substitute for cake flour and self-rising flour with everyday pantry staples. 

Cake Flour from Food52

What Is Cake Flour?

Before you freak out about the fact that you may not have cake flour on hand, you may start by asking yourself, “what is cake flour? Is cake flour the same thing as all-purpose flour?” For starters, no, it’s not the same product. Cake flour is a light, delicate, finely milled flour. It has a lower protein content (8 percent) than its all-purpose cousin (11 percent), 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 a sturdy loaf of bread, however, as it requires stronger, higher-protein-content bread flour—but that's another story.

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Cake Flour from Food52

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 cornstarch. 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 the mixture through a fine mesh sieve. A lot. About five times, actually. Since we're aiming for lightness, you want your substitute for 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-Rising Flour from Food52

What Is Self-Rising Flour?

Another specialty type of flour that you may come across when baking is self-rising flour. Once again, self-rising flour is not the same thing as all-purpose flour nor is it the same thing as cake flour, bread flour, or pastry flour. Self-rising 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. Because of this, you should never substitute self-rising flour in place of all-purpose flour as the amount of leaveners (think: baking powder and baking soda), plus the amount of salt, will drastically alter your baked goods...and not for the better. Self-rising flour is a very big deal in Southern cooking, especially in biscuits. And if you don't currently 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 once again using a fine mesh sieve. That's right, about five times total, until it's super, super light and fluffy. Aeration, you know. Alice's orders.

Cake Flour from Food52

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 favorite recipes that use these two kinds of flour. 

Recipes with Cake Flour

Bavarian Banana Cake

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.

1-2-3-4 Cake with Raspberry Buttercream

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. 

Jacques Torres' Chocolate Chip Cookies

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.

Effortless Angel's Food Cake

We understand that we’ve already spent a good amount of time talking about the wonders of cake flour in cake. But no dessert demonstrates the delicate beauty of cake flour like an angel food cake. This cloud-like dessert is already ethereal, thanks to the use of a dozen whipped egg whites. But the light cake flour also contributes to the airy fine crumb that you’ll have to see to believe in a slice of this treat.

Angel Food Cake

Recipes with Self-Rising Flour

Sausage, Cheddar, and Chive Biscuit Bread

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.

No-Measure Chocolate Cake

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. 

3-Ingredient Bacon Biscuits

Remember how we mentioned that Southern home cooks rely heavily on self-rising flour for baked goods like biscuits? See how this specialty flour works its magic in these super simple drop biscuits. The only other ingredients that you need are buttermilk and really smoky, really flavorful, thick-cut bacon strips. 

Bacon Biscuits

What's your favorite way to use cake flour or self-rising flour? Let us know in the comments.

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25 Comments

Bill M. August 2, 2020
If I can't find any unbleached flour, can I use regular AP flour?
 
Michelle C. March 24, 2020
I have 20kg bag of pastry. I need bread flour. I have some gluten wheat flour. What is the ratio mix please
 
Rick M. April 30, 2020
The question is not specific enough as written. If you have "Gluten Wheat Flour." That would be all you need to make bread. Now if you're actually meaning to say you have "Vital Wheat Gluten" that is completely different and has no actual ratio for making bread flour with Pastry Flour. Pastry flour is a soft wheat flour with a protein content between those of all-purpose flour and cake flour. Now to make Bread Flour out of AP and VWG, you would take 1 cup AP, remove 1 1/2 teaspoons, and replace with 1 1/2 tsp of VWG. Since Pastry flour is lower in protein than AP, you may need to kick it up to 2-3 Tablespoons to as a replacement. Sadly, it would have to be your experiment of trial and error, but hopefully this guides you in the right direction. If you are NOT referring to Vital Wheat Gluten, then I am really confused by your question. Why is noone from Food52 answering these questions?
 
jparfitt4yrz September 18, 2019
its poop
 
Rebecca February 4, 2018
I have a recipe that calls for cake flour. I only have self
rising flour. Do I need to make any changes?
 
Betty D. February 14, 2018
Yes. Cake flour has cornstarch added. You need 2 tablespoons for every 1 cup of flour. Remove 2 tablespoons of flour and add 2 tablespoons of cornstarch. Then sift it well.
 
Rick M. April 30, 2020
This answer is too late, but may help future readers. According to ATK, self-rising flour has the same gluten content as cake flour (not AP flour, as this article keeps erroneously pointing out), so in making cake recipes, just do not add any salt or leaveners as they are already in the Self-Rising Flour.
 
Nineveh O. April 24, 2017
Hi there. If the recipe calls for 350 g of self raising flour thays abt 2 3/4 cups i think? How many salt and baking powder should i place and should i leave out thr 3tsp baking powder thats included in the ingredients? Or keep it?
 
Yw Y. September 28, 2016
What if the flour is in weight in the recipe? Other than converting flour in weight to flour in cups, do you have a formula for these DIYs when flour is measured in weight? thank you.
 
AntoniaJames May 2, 2016
Read this before using in an angel food cake the DIY alternative suggested above: http://www.seriouseats.com/2016/05/why-no-unbleached-cake-flour.html Scroll down to the third set of comparison cakes for more information on this substitution, as well as compelling evidence proving the point. ;o)
 
Suzi W. April 30, 2016
Could I use rice flour or potato flour in place of reg. flour?
 
kantcould May 20, 2015
To turn all purpose into bread flour, I keep Hodgson Mill Vital Wheat Gluten on hand.
 
Regine October 16, 2013
I myself use a different formula for cake and self rising flour that always deliver superior results. 1 cup cake flour = 3/4 cup all purpose + 2 tbsp cornstarch. 1 cup self rising flour = 1 cup all purpose flour + 11/2 tsp baking powder. I omit the salt but if I must I put only 1/8 tsp. I bake all the time and these formulas always work for me. Also, I don't like cake flour due its acidific aftertaste and what I think is a powdery texture, and i have made cakes that ask for cake flour and then made then a second time using my formula. The cakes made with the combination of AP flour and cornstarch is superior in terms of texture and taste.
 
Author Comment
Jen M. October 19, 2013
Looking forward to trying your version--thanks Regine!
 
Lisa October 13, 2013
What about pastry flour? I use to have a local source for it, but no longer. Someone told me that pastry flour was similar to cake flour. Can anyone clear that up for me?
 
Author Comment
Jen M. October 14, 2013
Pastry flour is similar, but not identical, to cake flour -- it's also low-protein, but the protein level usually sits somewhere between those of cake flour (8%) and all-purpose flour (11%), and it's slightly starchier. If you're in a pinch, using a 50/50 mix of cake flour and all-purpose flour makes a good pastry flour substitute.
 
Lisa October 19, 2013
Thanks Jen!
 
Angela R. October 9, 2013
Can someone make a large batch of something like this and keep it in the pantry? Kinda like keeping a bag of the premade stuff?
 
Author Comment
Jen M. October 14, 2013
Absolutely!
 
tee October 9, 2013
Wow, this is great I can't wait to try it out and of course take photos.
 
AntoniaJames October 9, 2013
Very helpful, even for this old-school type who cannot imagine a pantry without cake flour (but finds herself without enough on occasion, and appreciates being spared a trip to the grocery). Quick question, though . . . . does the cake flour conversion work when measuring by weight, not volume? Yes, I know that most recipes in the US are by volume, but being lazy to the core, I much prefer using a scale; typically I convert based on the nutrition information on the box. (Those labels with the calories, fat content, etc., always include both volume and grams; simple arithmetic is all one needs to make the conversion.) Thank you! ;o)
 
Author Comment
Jen M. October 9, 2013
Ooh, that's a good question. I imagine the conversion would work just fine, as long as you keep the proportions the same, but perhaps more seasoned bakers could chime in?
 
Annette J. October 9, 2013
I am always surprised at some of the cultural cooking differences between countries, in the UK every shop that sells flour will have at least two varieties (and often more) - plain and self-raising
 
amysarah October 9, 2013
Thanks for the translation. From what I gather from a couple of baking books published in the UK, self rising flour is more frequently used there as well.
 
Monica M. October 9, 2013
Great tip on the self rising flour. I remember looking in the past and not being able to find the amount of baking powder to flour ratio!