It’s all about the protein.
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How is all-purpose flour different from bread flour? It's all about the protein. Different amounts of protein affect gluten development in different ways, and gluten is important because it gives baked goods their structure. 

Both flours are made by grinding grains and, in most cases, you'll usually find these types in white flour varieties (though you'll often see recipes that call for whole grain bread flour). Here's how the subtle variance in protein content makes all the difference: 

All-Purpose Flour

Award Winning Soft Chocolate Chip Cookies
Pictured: Award Winning Soft Chocolate Chip Cookies by bd.weld
| Credit: bd.weld

All-purpose flour is, well, used for all purposes. While bread flour and cake flour are at opposite ends of the protein spectrum (more on that later), this powerhouse pantry staple is as middle-of-the-road as it gets. Standard AP flour has a protein content that falls between 9 and 11 percent, which means it is perfect for providing structure in all kinds of baked goods, from cookies and cakes to breads and muffins. There are times when bread flour will work better or differently — like if you're aiming for dense ciabatta — but, in most cases, good ol' AP flour will get the job done. 

Recipes With AP Flour

If you're skeptical that this workhorse really can do it all, just try one of these recipes that use AP flour. Can you believe the variety?!

Bread Flour

French Baguettes
Credit: Katty Loan Chu

Bread flour has more protein than AP flour, somewhere between 11 and 14 percent, because it is made from a harder wheat berry. It's ideal for chewy or dense baked goods like bagels, but it's not great for light and fluffy things like pancakes. Many recipes that use bread flour require you to knead the dough, which leads to even stronger gluten development. 

Directly Above Shot Of Flour In Bowl On Table
Credit: Michelle Arnold / EyeEm / Getty Images

Recipes With Bread Flour

Whether it's because of tradition or intention, these recipes require a lot of structure. For instance, those wonderfully chewy pretzels you get at the mall don't have to be dense, but that's what makes them special. Pizza crust, meanwhile, needs to stand up to a whole host of heavy ingredients.

Can You Substitute One For the Other? 

Flour
Credit: Meredith

You can use bread flour and AP flour interchangeably using a 1:1 ratio (if your recipe calls for one cup of AP flour, use one cup of bread flour) in almost any situation, though you should be aware that your final product's texture will be affected. Only substitute one for the other if you're in a pinch.

Wait, What About Cake Flour? 

slice of angel food cake topped with strawberries

Cake flour, which is made from a softer wheat berry, has a protein content that hovers around 8 or 9 percent. This lower percentage produces lighter results. Not to be confused with pastry flour, which produces just a teensy bit more gluten, cake flour is best for situations where a highly risen, airy result is desired (think angel food cake or sponge cake). 

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