I'm confused about flour! Does it matter if you use bleached or unbleached?
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It depends on how finicky your recipe is. I use unbleached for everything, but then again, I prefer to avoid chemical processes. If color is important to you (e.g., you want an ultra-white bechamel), then you will need to use bleached flour. Otherwise, my personal experience tells me they are the same.
Margie is a trusted home cook immersed in German foodways.
I have always used unbleached flour--never had a problem with it discoloring foods.
Bleached flour often results in a finer-textured product than unbleached; almost all cake flour, for example, is bleached because it weakens the gluten proteins present in the flour (gluten is what makes things chewy) so that you end up with a light cake v. a dense, heavy one. Often, you can substitute unbleached, all-purpose flour for bleached or cake flour with no change in the end result as long as you understand that you may have to be more cautious when mixing so as not to over-develop the gluten present in the flour.
It depends upon what you're using the flour for. Rose Beranbaum answers the question this way:
"The type of flour one chooses will have a profound effect of both taste and texture of all baked goods. When it comes to cakes, most benefit from using either bleached cake flour or bleached all-purpose flour. These two types of flours will give cakes the most fine and tender texture and most delicious flavor."
Bleaching also degrades the stretchiness of a dough (sometimes a good thing, sometimes distinctly not).
If a recipe calls for bleached flour, use it. There's nothing to fear about the bleaching process anymore than you'd fear "chemical" leaveners.
Okay...so when a recipe says, for example 1 cup of all purpose flour, what should I assume it means?
Unless the author specifies-is one automatically assumed?
Excellent question. If it's a cake, I'd reach for bleached. For yeast bread, unbleached. Between those two extremes it's less important (if it were critical, a good recipe would call for cake, pastry or bread flour rather than AP). If you think about it in terms of texture and gluten strength, you could reason that cookies, pie crusts and quick breads might be better off with bleached, pastry and popovers would be better off with unbleached.
Another difference between the two flours is aroma and flavor. Bleaching destroys both so take that into consideration. Stick your nose into a bag of one and then into the other and you will immediately be able to tell the difference. Would you want a cake that smelled like a fresh loaf of bread or a loaf a bread that smelled like a white cake?
While we're discussing flour properties, no attribute is more important than freshness. If your white flour is over a year old, toss it out (3 months for whole wheat).
Oops. I meant to type bleaching "affects" not "destroys" flavor.