unbleached cake flour

Longtime readers know that my go-to cake recipe is the “Tender White Cake” on the back of the Queen Guinevere cake flour bag. I love that brand from King Arthur Flour enough to mail-order it in bulk, as it’s not available in stores, but I’ve always been taken aback by this note on the bag:

“Despite our reservations about chemicals, this flour must be bleached to set the proper ph absorption, tolerance and adaptability for cakes.”

This is, after all, a company that prides itself on never bleaching its other flours. And, bleached flour is banned in the European Union. But bleaching has been a given in U.S. cake flours, essentially part of the term’s definition, credited with giving cakes a finer texture and more even rise, a better ability to hold moisture and distribute fats.

But now, something new’s in the works. King Arthur Flour has developed an unbleached cake flour, and it’ll start showing up in grocery stores across the country in September.

How exciting is this? Enough that there are already 600+ comments on the blog entry talking about the flour’s debut.

“(W)e really care about offering the highest-quality product free of unnecessary chemicals, and our cake flour has been the one product in which we compromised our unbleached stance,” spokeswoman Allison Furbish wrote when I asked about the new flour. “We wanted to change that,” or at least offer an alternative, as the Queen Guinevere flour will stay in the catalog.

I told Allison that I’d always thought it was impossible to make an unbleached version of the low-protein flour. It wasn’t, she wrote, it just took a lot of work — and a year or more of testing. The final blend includes specially selected wheat “and, you’ll note in the ingredients disclosure, some cornstarch,” she wrote.

“It does produce slightly different results from the bleached cake flour, but for folks who are committed to avoiding bleach and other chemicals, this is a great alternative.”

Allison also passed on a note from MaryJane Robbins, the Baker’s Hotline rep/Baking Education Center teacher who has worked with the flour. Robbins says there will indeed be some difference between cakes made with the bleached and unbleached versions:

“Bleached flour cakes tend to be a bit loftier, with a fine crumb and a dry texture. Think about the classic white wedding cake. A tad dry, but very fine in texture,” she wrote. “Unbleached cake flour baked up a moister cake, with a medium crumb. It’s a little bit denser, but in my opinion, closer to a home made cake.”

We’ll be able to buy the new flour, unlike the bleached Queen Guinevere, in Seattle grocery stores. The King Arthur folks have kindly offered, though, to send me a box now to do an early test for readers.

What should we bake to try it out?

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