General principle of using flours
The key is knowing what kind of texture the final cooked/baked product should have and using flour(s) with the correct level of gluten to create the desired result.
For wheat flour products, cakes and biscuits with a crumbly texture require low-gluten/low-protein/soft-wheat flours (also called ‘cake flour’), whereas things like bread which should have a spongy elasticity require high-gluten/high-protein/hard-wheat flours (also known as ‘bread flour’). Noodles, pasta and pancakes all require a degree of elasticity and hence flours with adequate gluten content must be used.
Do note that the percentage of protein in wheat flours categorised as low/medium/high-protein varies from country to country.
The quality of protein, and not simply the quantity, is also important. For example, hard Canadian wheat is said to give very good bread flour.
You can tweak the level of gluten in your mix by adding either of these wheat products:
a) wheat starch – wheat flour with the gluten removed. Adding this will reduce the total percentage of gluten in the flour mix. [Available in shops and supermarkets selling ingredients for Chinese cooking.]
b) vital wheat gluten – wheat flour with starch and bran removed. Adds gluten content to your flour mix. Can also be used to make vegetarian gluten seitan/mock meat. [See here for info on where to buy in Singapore.]
If you want to be gluten-free, you’ll need to add in another substance that helps to bond the flour together, such as xanthum gum, guar gum, pre-gel starch or some other flour that is sticky without containing gluten, such as glutinous rice flour.
Mixing flours of different levels of stickiness will also help you to arrive at the correct level of elasticity. For example, buckwheat flour and rice flour have poor elasticity, whereas cornflour, tapioca flour, glutinous rice flour, potato starch. potato flour, water chestnut flour and arrowroot flour all create a glutinous effect. However, many of these flours have distinctive tastes so you should take that into consideration when using them.
More details on each kind of flour can be found in my notes on flours for Chinese & Japanese snacks.
Until my recent attempts to start making Chinese and Japanese snacks and sweets, I was only familiar with baking which generally uses wheat flour, either white or wholemeal.
With the acquisition of a bread machine, I got to learn a bit about using bread flour as opposed to regular wheat flour.
My interest in wheat- and gluten-free baking has also led me to turn to Indian flours as a ready source of flours.
Whilst looking around the shops, I’ve also come across the flours used in Southeast Asian sweet snacks and hopefully I’ll get round to learning more about those in time.