Boom Boom Ain’t It Great To Be Floury

If you’d asked me ten years ago whether I thought I could ever get excited over a bag of flour, I’d have died laughing. No way! I mean, come on – are you serious? A bag of what?  My thoughts on flour (not that I ever lost any sleep over them then) were more along the lines of, “Where the hell is it?” in a supermarket rather than of an ecstatic, jump-up-and-down-with-glee sort of variety.

But that was before I came across an old, slightly dog-eared copy of Rose Levy Beranbaum’s Cake Bible in a second-hand shop in Kirkcudbright.  That was back in 2007. I soon became embroiled in a search to find a replacement for the bleached cake flour that seemed to be so crucial to the success of her most-raved-about recipes. Not that I’m obsessive or anything. Just saying …

Cake layers baked with untreated (L) and heat-treated (R) flour.

I couldn’t simply ship in a whole load of cake flour from the US because the bleaching of flour had been prohibited in the UK since 1997. A bit of online research (okay, googling) revealed that the heat-treatment of flour provides a viable and successful alternative to bleached flour for use in high-ratio cake recipes. Eh Voilà! (I thought). Only, no. After tracking down a supply of heat-treated cake flour at Carr’s Flour Mills Ltd, I phoned them and was frustrated to be told that they only sold it in vat-sized amounts, and they wouldn’t sell any to me anyway because I’m not a business. To be honest, I think they were highly suspicious of my inquiry. They probably thought I was some sort of rival milling industry.

One thing led to another and my poor microwave came in for a bit of a battering as I nuked batch after batch of different flours in an attempt to recreate the heat-treatment process at home. When my hair-brained experiments actually began to generate visible improvements in the cakes I was baking, I started blogging about my results. I was surprised to find that I wasn’t the only one desperately seeking cake flour …

Why on earth were the UK flour mills so reluctant to sell their heat-treated cake flour to home bakers? John Lister from Shipton Mill popped over to A Merrier World to explain a bit of the background:

From the merry Miller in the wood…..Greetings…..stunned by the ingeniuity in the world, happily chortling here to learn of such madness and can hardly believe what happens in the kitchens of England……brilliant news on the cake flour, some years ago the global millers used to spend their time pumping chlorine gas through flour to denature and bleach it to make a perfect functional flour suited to cake making……in the last few years the process was outlawed for health reasons and heat treatment replaced it…..industrial sauce and cake manufacturers now use soft flours that are heat treated, such heat treatment processes are not readily available to smaller millers, still struggling with stone age technology, (Mill stones etc) so the idea of microwaving the flour is fascinating and a perfect solution by the sounds of it, am off to try this out, and will let you know the progress, John

Despite the obvious demand for heat-treated cake flour among home bakers, it seemed likely therefore that supplies would be restricted to commercial use for the foreseeable future.

So … does that explain why I’m so delighted to discover that at least two mills are now selling bags of heat-treated cake flour to individual consumers? (If you still don’t get my excitement, then you probably won’t have read this far anyway).

Dasha kindly left a comment on A Merrier World to let me know about the 16kg bags being sold by FWP Matthews Ltd.  She says, “You need to place the order over the phone as it is not listed in their online shop. The woman I spoke to was super helpful and said that they usually despatch same day with a next day courier.”

The second supplier came to my notice via a comment from AliceL on Rose’s blog. This heat-treated cake flour is being sold in 2kg bags as The Ultimate Cake Making Flour by Cinnamon Square. Furthermore, Alice reported the results of her comparison of the variously-treated cake flours:

Inspired by Rose and Kate, I baked and compared 3 versions of [Rose’s Favorite Yellow Layer] cake:
– one with USA Cake flour (imported via eBay at significant cost 🙂
– one with Kate Flour (made using UK Shipton Mills cake flour, no cornflour)
– one with UK “Cinnamon Square” heated Treated Cake flour (9.65% protein, no cornflour)

Results were all excellent. All three had good x2 rise and were tasty, moist and melting.
USA Cake Flour slightly higher in the centre (~2mm) and marginally finer texture.
Kate and Cinnamon Sq Heat Treated flour cakes were indistinguishable from each other. Just very slightly more fluffy/crumbly than USA cake flour – a tiny bit of Xantham gum would work there I suspect.

Can you hear my feet banging now as I jump up and down with glee?!

Sorry – must dash. Off to buy some flour …

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  1. Janice

     /  May 18, 2012

    That’s great news! Well done Kate – you’ve started a flour revolution…I hope! I’m excited by your news (same as you would have thought anyone excited about flour a few years ago was off their trolley!!!!)
    I’ve not checked the postage costs for these flours but maybe some big Flour company will jump on the bandwagon and start selling it in supermarkets. Home baking is so popular now. I wish one of these companies would make it and call it Kate Flour!
    Kate…with these heat treated flours would we still have to substitute an eighth with cornflour? I’ve been microwaving and substituting an eighth of the weight of the 00 Flour with cornflour…though not bothering with the xanthum gum or putting back in the oven with the water.
    I’m sure these flours are all a product of your hard work and experiments. If you ever do get to make Kate Flour you’ll have to acknowledge your builders for their help in eating your cakes made with the various experimental flours!!
    Love your blog

    • Hi Janice – it’s really good to hear from you again 🙂
      I wouldn’t imagine that any of these heat-treated cake flours would need anything added/substituted – they should be perfectly suited for cake-baking as they are (especially if they’re being sold as ‘the ultimate’).
      In a supply and demand sense, I guess millers wouldn’t be packaging these flours for home bakers if they didn’t think anyone was interested in buying them. If I’ve contributed to that demand in any way, then I’m very happy! But anyone making heat-treated flour available to individual consumers in the UK has my entire support regardless of whether they’re aware of our microwaving exploits … or not! As for my builders … well, if they ever return to start developments on our new house, then I’ll be more than happy to bake them a few more cakes 😉

      • Janice

         /  May 25, 2012

        Thanks for your reply Kate. It is a really good sign that millers are starting to sell these flours for bakers. You are definitely the inspiration behind this new idea.
        Have you ever considered contacting someone like McDougalls with your idea. They already make Supreme Sponge Flour, 00 and Plain Flour. Following your earlier Kate Flour posts, it is their 00 that I microwave. You already have support from the most wonderful Rose and her fabulous baking book. I’m sure other TV celebrity chefs from the UK who are Rose fans and adore her Cake Bible would love to hear of your theories and work and would back you because the flour does make such an amazing difference. It would be so lovely if they would take your idea up as you put so much hard work into it and deserve to get the credit for it……and just think of the hard work your builders put into it as well, forteiting their waistlines in the advancement of food science!!! Keep up the good work – love your blog!

  2. luv your post. had no idea bleached flour was banned across the pond.

    • Yep, it is. Without wanting to get involved in any arguments about bleaching and health issues (or even arguments about bleaching and taste issues), these heat-treated cake flours are undoubtedly a major step forward for home bakers everywhere.

  3. Wha hoo! Delighted to read this..l am off to buy some flour on line. Thank you for your research!

  4. Nicola

     /  May 20, 2012

    Fantastic and thank you! I am hoping they also sell big bins for storing big bags of flour.

    So very exciting to find an alternative to imported expensive american flour or the time to heat treat flour in my teeny tiny microwave.

  5. Sonia Brown

     /  May 21, 2012

    This is such an interesting thread. I am in the US and have had terrible luck in using US flour with a UK recipe. Nothing rises as it should.

    • Sonia, if you have scales, try going by weight. Most UK recipes indicate the weight of the ingredients. That will get you much closer to parity, when it comes to flour, than if you use volume measurements.

  6. flyingbaker

     /  May 23, 2012

    You are amazing! Now we need to bake through The Cake Bible and compare. Bleached Gold Medal AP is available from Panzer’s in St. John’s Wood, London, mind you. Though since I live in Cardiff, well, it doesn’t help me much!

  7. Nicole Rolland

     /  June 22, 2012

    ………so I am a bit confused… Having read all the posts from Kate carefully about the ongoing saga about making heat treated flour commercially available to home bakers in the UK, is this the situation: heat treated flour available on line from Cinnamon Square & FWP Matthews Ltd, Shipton Mill thinking about bringing out a version for supermarkets, but not yet currently available? I would be very grateful for clarification before i run out to buy some.

    Beautiful rainbow cake you and your daughter made for her school birthday cake! Love the pictures.


    • Hi Nicole 🙂
      Yes, heat-treated flour is available online from Cinnamon square. I think you have to phone FWP Matthews Ltd to order their heat-treated flour, although the info is available online. As far as I’m aware, Shipton Mill produce a lovely cake flour that isn’t heat-treated but aren’t making any heat-treated flours. Does that help …?
      I’m pleased you liked the rainbow cake – thanks for letting me know!

  8. Nicole Rolland

     /  June 22, 2012

    Thanks for your speedy reply! Just to be clear: should I only use the heat treated flour for cakes which specify it in the recipe, ie US recipes? For regular UK cake recipes do I continue to use normal shop bought plain/sr flours? I don’t get the feeling that the 2 are interchangeable.
    Also, do you feel that cakes made with regular UK flour taste better upon keeping? My feeling after having made Rose Levy B’s Southern (Manhattan) coconut cake once with normal UK flour and once with the heat treated flour is that the UK flour one was definitely denser, not as light, but tasted better and better as the days went on (it is a very large cake!). The one made with heat treated flour baked to the specified thickness and was texturally light, but seemed to dry out more as the days went on. My family on the whole preferred the denser UK flour one. What do you think, is it texture vs flavour?

    In anticipation, Nicole

    • The only heat-treated flour I’ve tried so far is my own (!! that sounds weird, but I guess it’s true!), but it wouldn’t surprise me at all if cakes baked with other heat-treated flours do dry out more quickly than those made with untreated flours. BUT – it’s only a hunch. I don’t know for sure. Perhaps producers are able to rehydrate the flours enough to make any difference negligible …

      Re interchange – Perhaps this is something that UK recipes will have to catch up on. There hasn’t been any need to specify whether untreated or treated flour gives better results until now … Victoria Sponges etc will probably enjoy the heat-treated flours, but I’d imagine that carrot cakes will continue to prefer the untreated sorts … for example. Always willing to be proved wrong though!

  9. Rose Levy Beranbaum

     /  July 5, 2018

    OMG how did i miss this from 6 years ago?! now i will give this link to people who ask about UK heat-treated flour. Kate of KateFlour you are beyond brilliant and your contribution to baking around the world is invaluable.
    love, rose


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