What is the best flour for sourdough bread? Should you use bread flour vs all purpose flour - this is a question asked by many new sourdough bakers.
But which flour should you use to bake sourdough bread? And why?
There are so many options when choosing a flour, sometimes it's hard to know what to pick.
And then depending on where in the world you live, the right flour might be called by a different name to you're used to!
So let's explore bread flour vs all purpose - and which one you should be using to bake sourdough bread. You can find the best flour for sourdough pizza here.
What Is All Purpose Flour?
All purpose flour (or plain flour as it can be called in the UK and Australia) is exactly as it's name suggests.
An all purpose wheat flour that can be used for cakes, bread, pizza - pretty much anything you can think of.
In the US, all purpose flour tends to have a higher protein content than in the UK. For this reason, you'll hear of many bakers in the US using all purpose flour for sourdough and bread with no issues.
Meanwhile, in the UK and Australia, plain flour as it's called, can be lower in protein, and thus cause issues, particularly when used for sourdough bread.
In general, all purpose flour has a protein content of around 9 to 10%, depending on the brand and type of wheat.
US brand, King Arthur's All Purpose Flour has a protein content of 11.7%, making it quite high for an all purpose bend.
In Canada, law dictates that All Purpose Flour have a protein content no lower than 13%. This means that Canadian All Purpose can often be quite good for making sourdough!
What Is Bread Flour?
Bread flour (or baker's flour) is a high protein, white flour that is milled specifically for baking bread and sourdough.
You'll get the best results for your sourdough bread from using bread flour. The most popular bread flour in the US is King Arthur Bread Flour.
Most brands of bread flour will have a protein content higher than 12%. Something between 12 - 14% is perfect.
It's really important to look at the nutritional panel of the bread flour you are looking at to ensure that it has a higher protein content.
How To Calculate Protein Content In Flour
Thankfully, most packaging will give you the protein content per 100g.
This means that it's really easy to work out the percentage.
For example, on the label above they have stated that the flour contains 12.5g of protein per 100g of flour, so it's easy to see that it is 12.5%.
Most flour labels will give you the protein per 100g so you can easily see the percentage.
If they don't list the protein per 100g, you'll need to do some simple calculations:
Divide the grams of protein by the serving size and then multiply by 100 to give you the percentage.
So if it's listed as 4g of protein per 30g serve of flour, you'd calculate as 4 divided by 30 = 0.133 and then multiply by 100 which will give you 13.3% protein.
4 divided by 30 gives you the grams of protein per gram of flour, then multiplying by 100 gives you the grams per 100g, but also the percentage.
Baking is much easier in grams - it means you can adjust the hydration and size of the loaf really easily! Find out more information on baker's percentages here and if you're still on the fence about measuring in grams - read this!
Which Flour To Use For Sourdough Bread?
Bread flour is the logical choice for sourdough bread. Its higher protein content means that it will give you the best results.
White bread flour will ensure that your dough easily develops a strong gluten network. It will be easy to fold and shape and give you the best oven rise because of this.
If you had a choice of all purpose and bread flour, or even whole wheat, I will always recommend going with bread flour.
Particularly if you're just starting out with baking sourdough bread, it's the easiest choice.
Bread flour will allow. you to become a proficient sourdough baker, before you start branching out into whole wheat or even specialty blends.
Best Flour Brands for Sourdough Bread
Here are the top brands of bread flour in the US. You can click the links and purchase online for your convenience.
I've listed the protein content next to each brand.
King Arthur Bread Flour 12.7%
White Lily Bread Flour 12.3%
If you are outside of the US, you might like to look at these brands:
Wallaby Baker's Flour (Australia) 11.9%
Defiance Baker's Flour (Australia) 12.5%
Wholegrain Milling Co White Bread Flour (Australia) 12.5%
Marriages Premier White Bread Flour (UK) 13.1%
Matthews Cotswold Strong White Flour (UK) 12.8%
Is Organic Flour Best For Sourdough Bread?
Organic flour can be a good option for sourdough bread if you can afford it.
Organic flour has not been exposed to any chemicals or toxins and therefore contains a higher mineral content and more wild yeast than non organic flour.
Benefits of using organic flour for sourdough:
- Sourdough starter will rise more quickly than non organic flour due to wild yeast contained in the flour.
- Will smell fruitier and more rounded than non organic flour.
- Gives better oven spring to baked loaf.
- More complex flavor profile for baked loaf.
While organic flour is a great option, particularly if you want to lessen the chemicals you and your family are exposed to, it may not always be affordable or readily available.
An affordable option is to only use organic flour for your sourdough starter. You can then use regular bread flour to bake your bread.
You'll have the benefit of a healthy sourdough starter with a diverse flavor profile.
Can You Use All Purpose Flour For Sourdough Bread?
Yes, you can use all purpose flour to bake sourdough bread, but it will not always give you the best possible result.
All purpose flour doesn't have the higher protein content that bread flour does and therefore will not develop as strong a gluten network or give you the best oven spring.
Using all purpose flour may actually give you wetter, stickier sourdough than you hoped for because it is not able to absorb water as well as bread flour.
I have written a guide to making great sourdough bread with all purpose flour here.
Tips for baking sourdough bread with all purpose flour:
- Try reducing the hydration of the dough or holding back some of the water (around 50 mls) until you see how the all purpose flour handles the hydration. You can then add a little bit more if you need to.
- Don't autolyse or fermentolyse the flour and water.
- Make a smaller loaf - so half this recipe if using all purpose flour. Sourdough can be easier to handle in a smaller batch.
- Add Vital Wheat Gluten to increase the protein content of the all purpose flour.
- Use all purpose flour to make a sourdough sandwich loaf instead of a traditional sourdough boule or batard. Sandwich loaves are lower hydration and much more forgiving.
Best Sourdough Recipes Using All Purpose Flour
All purpose flour can be used in sourdough recipes - and in fact sometimes it's better to use all purpose flour.
If you're wanting a soft, fluffy texture - like dinner rolls, cinnamon scrolls or even fritters, then all purpose flour is exactly what you need.
Here are some great sourdough recipes that are better with all purpose flour:
- Soft sourdough dinner rolls
- Sourdough crackers with parmesan and rosemary
- Sourdough flat bread (tortillas)
- Apple & Cinnamon Sourdough Muffins
- Hawaiian Sourdough Rolls
Best Sourdough Recipes Using Bread Flour
While we've discussed the reasons that bread flour is the best flour for baking sourdough bread, you might be wondering if there are recipes that are best for using up bread flour.
Here are some great sourdough recipes that are best made using bread flour:
- Simple Sourdough Bread Recipe
- Sourdough Olive Bread
- Parmesan and Rosemary Sourdough Bread
- Lemon and White Chocolate Sourdough
- Jalapeño Cheddar Sourdough Bread
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes you can, but you will need to make some adjustments to the hydration and handling of your dough. See above for tips on baking sourdough bread with all purpose flour.
Yes, all purpose flour is called plain flour in Australia and the UK. It's essentially the same (although the type of wheat may differ from country to country).
No, bread flour will have a higher protein content than all purpose flour. In general, all purpose will have a protein content of between 9 and 10%. Depending on the brand though, it could sit up to 11. 7%. Bread flour should be above 12% and ideally closer to 12.5% or above.
Self rising or self raising flour is not ideal to make sourdough bread. It contains a raising agent and salt, both of which you don't really want in your flour before you start the sourdough process. It's best to use bread flour to bake sourdough bread with.
If you enjoyed this discussion of bread flour vs all purpose flour you might find these articles interesting:
- How To Feed Your Sourdough Starter Different Flour
- How To Store Flour (Long + Short Term Solutions)
- Bulk Ferment vs Cold Ferment - why they aren't interchangeable.
- Autolyse vs Fermentolyse - which one should you use?