Flour Explained: A Guide to Common Flours for Pizza Making
Behind every exceptional slice of pizza lies a humble ingredient that forms its foundation—flour. We know that the wide variety of flours on the market can be overwhelming so we put together a guide to the different types and how they’re best used for pizza-making.
From traditional Italian varieties to gluten-free alternatives and everything in between, different types of flour can shape and change the type of pizza you end up with. Whether you’re aiming for crunchy and snappy or puffy and blistered, soft white crust or a heartier whole-grain dough, picking the right flour will set you on the right path.
First things first, let’s talk a little bit about what kinds of things differentiate flours.
Protein content in flour is what determines its strength, with higher protein levels generally indicating stronger flour. Flour strength, also known as gluten strength, is a critical characteristic that determines the performance and quality of flour in various culinary applications. It refers to the flour's ability to develop gluten—the elastic protein network formed when flour mixes with water. You’ll find this content represented on packaging as a percentage, with lower strength flours in the 8 to 11% range and higher strength flours ranging from 11 to 14%.
Bleaching vs. Natural Aging
When flour is freshly milled, it’s not quite ready for use in a baking project. Without being aged, it won’t form the glutenin required to make elastic doughs. Natural aging involves allowing flour to sit and oxidise over time, which helps improve its baking qualities by breaking down certain proteins and allowing the gluten to develop more effectively.
Companies don’t have to wait or rely on this process occurring naturally, though. Bleaching is a process that involves treating flour with chemical agents to whiten its colour and improve its baking performance. The goal of flour bleaching is to accelerate the natural aging process (which typically takes several months) in a shorter period of time. This process can be done through either natural aging or chemical treatment.
We’d recommend always choosing unbleached flour whenever possible because bleaching can cause the flour to lose some of its important nutrients while adding chemicals like benzoyl peroxide (also used for treating acne) or chlorine gas (used to clean pools and known to be irritating to skin and lungs) to the mix. While you’re probably not going to get sick from these chemicals, we like to go au naturel whenever we can.
At the supermarket, you might see wheat classified by strength (hard vs. soft), growing season (spring vs. winter) or color (red vs. white). Here’s a quick explainer on what those differences mean.
Hard wheat has a higher protein content and gluten strength, making it ideal for bread-making, as it develops a strong gluten structure necessary for dough elasticity and rise. Soft wheat, on the other hand, has a lower protein content and lower gluten strength, making it suitable for delicate baked goods like cakes, pastries, and biscuits.
Winter wheat is planted in the autumn and harvested in the spring and summer. It’s a more delicate flour with a lower protein content (10 to 12%), so it’s great for tender bakes and for creating Plain Flour blends. Spring wheat is planted, as the name suggests, in the springtime and harvested in the summer. It’s higher in protein (12 to14%) and often serves as the basis for bread flours.
Red flour is made from hard red wheat, which has a higher protein content and stronger gluten. White flour is made from soft white wheat which has a lower protein content and produces a softer, milder-flavored flour.
Now that you know what kinds of things can differentiate flours, let’s take a look at different types of flour and what they’re best suited for.
Don’t be fooled by the name, this flour is the Swiss Army knife of the culinary world, suitable for a multitude of recipes. Derived from a blend of hard and soft wheat, with a protein content of about 8 to 11%, plain flour strikes a harmonious balance between tenderness and strength. If you only have the space for one flour in your pantry, this is the one to buy as it can serve as a stand-in for 00 flour when you’re making Neapolitan pizza and will be useful in most other things you’ll bake. Try it in place of 00 flour in pizza dough recipes.
Recipes to try:
With its higher protein content, typically ranging from 12-14%, bread flour provides the gluten strength and structure that is essential for a chewy and robust crust. This flour can handle the rigours of high-temperature baking, resulting in a crust with a satisfying chew and a delightful golden-brown colour. Bread flour offers versatility, allowing you to experiment with lots of different styles, from thin and crispy New York-style to thick and chewy Detroit-style pizzas.
00 flour is finely milled, resulting in a silky, soft texture that feels like a dream in your hands. Its low protein content, usually around 11-12%, creates a delicate and light crust, with just the right amount of chewiness. Known for its exceptional workability, it allows you to achieve that iconic thin and slightly puffy crust with those beautiful leopard spots, characteristic of a true Neapolitan pizza.
While 00 flour is generally our pick for high temp, short-cook style pizza dough (like a Neapolitan pizza dough), please note that 00 flour is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Its low protein content means it lacks the strength needed for certain recipes, such as hearty breads that require a substantial rise and structure. For those recipes, you’ll want to turn to bread flour or another flour blend with a higher protein content.
Gluten-free flour blends, typically a mix of rice flour, tapioca starch, and potato starch, can be a viable option for those with gluten sensitivities. These blends offer a versatility that allows you to create a gluten-free pizza with a crust that is surprisingly close to the real deal. While these flours will help you get a fluffy dough that’s a great wheat dupe, the flour acts differently when it’s being mixed up. Expect more of a batter than a smooth, shiny dough ball when working with it. We like Caputo Gluten-free Flour.
Semola or Semolina
The production of semola flour begins with durum wheat, which is milled to remove the bran and germ, resulting in a fine, golden flour known as semolina. What sets semola flour apart is its high protein content, typically around 12-14%, and its coarser texture compared to other wheat flours. The coarseness gives semola flour its signature grainy feel and a distinct yellow hue, which adds visual appeal to various dishes. Semola flour is well-suited for making pasta and breads with a hearty, rustic quality. We like to use it for dusting pizza dough while stretching and launching. Its grit keeps dough from sticking to your peel or work surface. Try it with any of our pizza recipes.
Whole Wheat Flour
Unlike its refined flour counterpart, which undergoes processing that strips away the wheat germ and bran, whole wheat flour retains these vital components. This means that whole wheat flour is full of nutrients contained in the germ and bran like fiber, B vitamins, and minerals. In addition to nutritional content, whole wheat flour possesses a rich, nutty flavour profile that adds a distinctive depth to your baked goods and savoury dishes.
If you’re feeling excited about adding nutritious whole wheat to your favorite dough recipes, do so with a bit of caution! Due to its higher protein content and the presence of bran, whole wheat flour absorbs more moisture than refined flours. This means that recipes utilising whole wheat flour may need a bit more liquid to maintain the desired texture and consistency. When we’re testing new recipes, we like to start with 20% or less whole wheat flour for the first bake and then go from there.
Recipes to try:Neo-Neapolitan Pizza Dough
Overnight Sesame Whole Wheat Focaccia