I often specify all-purpose or strong bread flour in my recipes. But unless you’re living in Europe, you shouldn’t substitute them with their American equivalent. American wheat is not the same plant as European wheat.
What a German would classify as strong bread flour, an American would classify as pastry flour. Around 60 % of the wheat production in America is the hard red wheat variety which has a higher gluten content than the soft wheat variety which is popular in Europe.
The more gluten is in your dough, the stronger it is. Doughs with high gluten content are ideal for baking the soft and fluffy loaves of bread which are popular in North America because they are able to hold a lot more air than low-gluten doughs.
Soft wheat flour, on the other hand, has a lower protein content and is therefore much better suited for pastries, cakes, and cookies. Just think of shortcrust pastry. German all-purpose flour and white bread flour are perfect for that. With their low protein content, you will get a flaky and buttery crust that doesn’t feel doughy at all. Hard-wheat flours are just too strong for that.
How German flours are classified
American flours are generally classified by their gluten content while German flours are classified by their ash content. The ash content is the amount of minerals that remain after the flour has been combusted. Therefore, it isn’t possible to give you an accurate substitution chart.
The most common wheat flours used in German cuisine are:
|Flour type||Name||Gluten content|
|405||All-purpose flour||8.66 %|
|550||White Bread Flour||7.52 %|
|1050||Regular Bread Flour||8.74 %|
|Whole wheat||Whole Wheat Flour||8.30 %|
This is data from the Technical University of Munich, which measured the gluten content in all types of flour, grains, and beers available in Germany. Ironically, German type 550 flour, which I usually refer to as strong bread flour on my blog, is the wheat flour with the lowest gluten content.
Why you shouldn’t trust anything you read on the internet without doing a fact check
The research for this article showed me one more time, how important it is to always be skeptical about what you believe. Way too often we just repeat what has been told to us about a million times without ever checking the facts ourselves. There is so much misinformation out on the internet so that you should never trust anyone without doing a fact check yourself.
I don’t want to blame anyone but just look at some of the information given on the internet about German and American flour equivalents:
No, German “high gluten” flour (type 1050) contains on average 8.74 % gluten.
No, German type 550 flour contains on average 7.52 % gluten.
No, German type 550 flour hast the lowest gluten content of all German flours.
Well, respect for these trustworthy resources….
Ok, that’s enough of my little rant. Let’s get back on track and look at some data for American flours from the North American Millers’ Association:
|Cake or pastry flour||7-9 %|
|All-purpose flour||8-11 %|
|Bread flour||12-14 %|
|Whole wheat flour||comparable to bread flour|
As you can see, whenever you’re trying to replicate one of my recipes you should use American cake or pastry flour. For German flours, the amount of gluten in all of them is about the same, between 7-9 grams. You still won’t have the same product because American wheat is a different cultivar than European wheat. But with American cake flour, you can hardly go wrong.