What’s the Difference Between All-Purpose Flour and Bread Flour?

updated Sep 9, 2020
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Flour in plastic container with bag in the background, measuring cup, stand mixer
Credit: Joe Lingeman

Professional bakeries are packed full of flour varieties — whole-wheat, rye, spelt, and more — but most grocers sell a smaller variety of all-purpose, self-rising, and bread flours. If all-purpose flour, as its name suggests, is good enough for most baking projects, then why do many bread, pizza dough, and even some cookie recipes call for bread flour?

All-purpose and bread flour are closely related, and can mostly be used interchangeably, but their small differences in wheat variety lead to marked protein and gluten content variations. Here’s what you need to know about the difference between all-purpose and bread flour for baking.

Credit: Maria Midoes

What Is All Purpose Flour?

This white flour is the perfect balance of protein and gluten for most recipes. Depending on the mill, all-purpose flour is made by removing the wheat’s germ and grinding the starch-rich endosperm into a flour with a 9% to 11% protein content. This protein determines how strong, stretchy, and tender a baked good made with all-purpose flour will or won’t be. All-purpose flour is ideal for cookies, muffins, and quick breads, but it also works well for most cake recipes and some bread recipes too.

What Is Bread Flour?

Bread flour has more protein content than all-purpose, around 11% to 13%, which helps with gluten development. It is mostly commonly used for bread, hence the name, but is also used for chewy cookies, pizza crust, and more.

Can You Substitute One for the Other?

You’ll notice some difference in crumb and texture with breads made with each flour, but the flours can generally be substituted for one another. Avoid over-mixing any recipes that call for all-purpose flour when using bread flour instead or you’ll end up with chewy, dense baked goods!