AmazingRibs.com is supported by our Pitmaster Club. Also, when you buy with links on our site we may earn a finder’s fee. Click to see how we test and review products.

The Science Of Flour, Yeast, Baking Soda, And Baking Powder

Pizza, bread, pie, cakes, cookies. They all start with flour (well, there are a few exceptions). You can make flour from many grains, seeds, beans, and even roots. The most common flour is made from wheat, but there is also rye, rice, corn, buckwheat, chickpeas, potatoes, and even hemp seed!

Sometimes oils must first be extracted, the outer husks removed, the inner germs separated, and then the the grains/seeds/whatever are dried and smashed in a process called milling. Sometimes they are bleached. Because flour contains oils that can go rancid, flours should not be stored at room temp for longer than four months. Some people store it in the fridge, but that is not necessary. It should be stored in an airtight container. It attracts a small pest called the pantry moth.

I strongly recommend that you use a digital scale to measure flour. There can be a lot of air in flour and a cup or other volumetric measure can vary significantly depending on how the flour is ground and how tightly packed the cup is. But when it comes to weight, a pound is a pound the world around.

Wheat flour is the type we use most often for pizza, breads, and pie crusts. It is a powder that is high in carbohydrates, protein (called gluten), amino acids, oil, vitamins, and minerals. There are different types of wheat flours in the size of grains and the percentage of protein.

The texture and crumb (the interior of the loaf or cake as opposed to the crust) is heavily reliant on the percentage of protein. Low protein flours are usually lighter and softer.

Whole Wheat Flour. Made from the whole kernel with the bran, endosperm, and germ. It is tan in color and about 14% protein.

Bread Flour. A bleached white flour about 13%.

All Purpose Flour (APF). A bleached white powder made from the endosperm of the wheat. There is no urgent need to stock any other flour than APF. Pizza fanatics have become a bit weird about their flour choices, matching them to oven temps, using bread flour at lower temps, APF for medium temps, and 00 (double ought) for higher temps. I find that all purpose flour (APF) works fine, no extra inventory necessary. About 12% protein.

Pastry Flour. About 9% protein.

Cake Flour. A bleached white flour, this has the lowest gluten content of wheat flours so it is used for light products like sponge cake. About 8%.

Gluten Free Flour. A blend of non-wheat starches such as rice flour, tapioca starch, and potato starch.

About yeast, baking soda, and baking powder

Yeast, baking powder, and baking soda are all leaveners, which means they burp a lot. The make carbon dioxide gas (CO2) when you make or bake batters and doughs. The gases help the dough or batter rise and creates air bubbles making the final product puffier, lighter, and airier.

Yeast is alive and ferments the sugars, and takes hours. Baking soda and baking powder are chemical leaveners. That means they react with liquids and form CO2 fairly quickly. Click here for more about the science of yeasts.

Baking soda is the common name for sodium bicarbonate (aka bicarbonate of soda) and when it is mixed with an acid like buttermilk, sour cream, yogurt, vinegar, or lemon juice, it makes CO2 and the reaction happens pretty quickly. Baking soda also improves browning and weakens gluten bonds so cookies will spread out.

Baking powder also has sodium bicarbonate but it has something else, a powdered acid, usually cream of tartar, which is a byproduct of winemaking (that’s what’s in the crystals stuck to the cork). To activate, all it needs is a water based liquid like water or milk. No acid needed. Most baking powder is labeled “double-acting.” It starts belching as soon as the water hits it, and the second act is when it is heated in the oven.

Because the acidity of a recipe can vary significantly, you often need both baking powder and baking soda to get the right texture and flavor. You have to be careful: they can be quite bitter if you use too much. And baking soda can neutralize the zing that comes from buttermilk. Here’s where baking recipe developers earn their keep, figuring out how much of each to use.

Kitchen scales

kitchen scale

I don’t know how I lived without a good, accurate digital kitchen scale for so many years. It is so important. Look at salt for example. 1 cup of table salt has almost twice as much salinity as a cup of Morton’s kosher salt because Morton’s kosher salt has more air space between the grains. But a pound of all salts contain exactly the same amount of sodium chloride. Without a scale, making a brine requires a calculator.

Flour and sugar have the same problem. Packed flour or loose flour. Big diff. Ever try to measure a tablespoon of honey? Did you get it all into the bowl or leave a lot of it on the spoon?

My favorite scale is the OXO Good Grips Stainless Food Scale with Pull-Out Display. It can weight accurately up to 11 pounds as well as fractions of an ounce. Push a button and it converts to metric. Put the bowl on the scale and push a button and it zeros out so the bowl’s weight is not included. The top comes off for easy cleaning. It will change your life.

Related articles

Published On: 1/12/2016 Last Modified: 4/22/2021

  • Meathead - Founder and publisher of AmazingRibs.com, Meathead is known as the site's Hedonism Evangelist and BBQ Whisperer. He is also the author of the New York Times Best Seller "Meathead, The Science of Great Barbecue and Grilling", named one of the "100 Best Cookbooks of All Time" by Southern Living.


If you help us, we’ll pay you back bigtime with an ad-free experience and much more!

Millions come to AmazingRibs.com every month for quality tested recipes, tips on technique, science, mythbusting, product reviews, and inspiration. But it is expensive to run a website with more than 4,000 pages and we don’t have a big corporate partner like TV network or a magazine publisher to subsidize us.

Our most important source of sustenance is people who join our Pitmaster Club, but please don’t think of it as a donation. Members get 21 great benefits. We block all third-party ads, we give members free ebooks, magazines, interviews, webinars, more recipes, a monthly sweepstakes with prizes worth up to $2,000, discounts on products, and best of all a community of like-minded cooks free of flame wars. Click below to see all the benefits, take a free 30 day trial membership, and help keep this site alive.


Post comments and questions below

grouchy?

1) Please try the search box at the top of every page before you ask for help.

2) Try to post your question to the appropriate page.

3) Tell us everything we need to know to help such as the type of cooker and thermometer. Dial thermometers are often off by as much as 50°F so if you are not using a good digital thermometer we probably can’t help you with time and temp questions. Please read this article about thermometers.

4) If you are a member of the Pitmaster Club, your comments login is probably different.

5) Posts with links in them may not appear immediately.

Moderators

  Max

Click for comments...

Spotlight

These are not ads or paid placements. These are some of our favorite tools and toys.

These are products we have tested, won our top awards, and are highly recommend. Click here to read how we test, about our medals, and what they mean.

Use Our Links To Help Keep Us Alive

A big part of this site is our unbiased equipment and product reviews. We love playing with toys and we have no problem calling them the way we see them. Some companies pay a finder’s fee if a reader clicks a link on AmazingRibs.com and buys a product. It has zero impact on our reviews, zero impact on the price you pay, and the sites never tell us what you bought, but it has a major impact on our ability to keep this site alive! So before you buy, please click our links. Here’s a link that takes you to a page on Amazon that has some of our favorite tools and toys: https://tinyurl.com/amazingribs


The Cool Kettle With The Hinged Hood We Always Wanted


Napoleon’s 22″ Pro Cart Charcoal Kettle Grill puts a few spins on the familiar kettle design. In fact, the hinged lid with a handle on the front, spins in a rotary motion 180 degrees. It’s hard to beat a Weber kettle, but Napoleon holds its own and adds some unique features to make the 22″ Pro Cart a viable alternative.

Click here for more about what makes this grill special


The Good-One Is A Superb Grill And A Superb Smoker All In One


The Good-One Open Range is dramatically different from a traditional offset smoker. By placing the heat source behind and under the smokebox instead of off to the side, Open Range produces even temperature from left to right, something almost impossible to achieve with a standard barrel shaped offset.

Click here to read our complete review


The Undisputed Champion!

Thermapen One Instant Read Thermometer

ThermoWorks’ Thermapen ONE provides an accurate reading in one second or less. The ONE also includes features that are common on high-end instruments: automatic backlight, rotating display, and water resistant seals. Don’t accept cheap substitutes.
Click here to read our comprehensive Platinum Medal review



Surely you know somebody who loves outdoor cooking who deserves a gift for the holidays, birthday, anniversary, or just for being wonderful. There he is, right in the mirror! Here are our selections of best ideas, all Platinum or Gold Medalists, listed by price.

Click here to see our list of Gold Medal Gifts


The Pit Barrel Cooker May Be Too Easy


The PBC has a rabid cult following for good reason. It is absolutely positively without a doubt the best bargain on a smoker in the world. Period. This baby will cook circles around the cheap offset sideways barrel smokers because temperature control is so much easier.

Click here to read our detailed review and the raves from people who own them


Our Favorite Backyard Smoker

The amazing Karubecue is the most innovative smoker in the world. The quality of meat from this machine is astonishing. At its crux is a patented firebox that burns logs above the cooking chamber and sucks heat and extremely clean blue smoke into the thermostat controlled oven. It is our favorite smoker, period.
Click here for our review of this superb smoker


Fireboard: The Ultimate Top Of The Line BBQ Thermometer

Fireboard Labs Product Photo Shoot. Kansas City Commercial Portrait and Wedding Photographers ©Kevin Ashley Photography

With the ability to monitor up to six temperatures simultaneously with either Bluetooth or Wifi on your mobile phone, tablet, or computer, Fireboard is the best digital thermometer we’ve tested.
Click here to read our detailed review