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Thursday, March 18, 2021

Substitute for Cake Flour (and When It Matters)

I was making some scratch confetti cupcakes for my daughters' birthday yesterday, using a white cake recipe and some pastel cake/cookie sprinkles mixed in with the batter. (That's them above, iced with a buttercream frosting and topped with pastel M&Ms.) My white cake recipe calls for cake flour, but what I have is all-purpose flour. 

What is cake flour and why and when does it matter?

Cake flour is a refined wheat flour that is made with a lower protein wheat than all-purpose or bread flour. It's the protein (gluten) that forms stretchy bonds in bread dough -- nice for holding a piece of bread together but makes for a slightly dense cake. Cake flour makes a finer cake with a smaller crumb. For most scratch cakes, the difference in end result is minimal between using all-purpose or using cake flour. (And that's why I don't keep cake flour on hand, but instead use a substitute when it might make a difference.) Some cakes, like a light white cake or angel food cake do turn out lighter using cake flour.

So, is there a good substitute?

There sure is -- corn starch (or cornflour, but not cornmeal). Using corn starch in place of a small amount of all-purpose flour reduces the total grain protein content and makes a lighter crumb. Some shortbread-type cookies call for cornstarch in addition to flour. The end result is a more tender cookie than a similar cookie using flour only.

The cornstarch plus all-purpose flour substitute for cake flour

1 cup of cake flour equivalent can be made from 2 tablespoons (or 1/8 cup) cornstarch plus 7/8 cup of all-purpose flour. 

For every cup of cake flour called for in a recipe: measure 2 tablespoons of cornstarch into a 1 cup dry measuring scoop. Then add all-purpose flour to fill the 1 cup scoop. Increase or decrease according to this ratio. So, if a recipe calls for 1  1/4 cups of cake flour (which is what my 10 cupcake recipe calls for), measure 2  1/2 tablespoons of cornstarch into a measuring cup, then fill with all-purpose flour to 1  1/4 cups. 

FYI, arrowroot can be used in place of cornstarch, for those with sensitivities to corn.

Little cakes topped with chocolate candies -- always a hit with my family!


  1. Cupcakes always seem festive just as yours do. I have never used cake flour and wasn't sure what it was. Thanks for solving that mystery. I tend to like denser cakes, so I don't think I'll have much need for it but it's good to know that I can sub a little cornstarch if I do want to use it. Thanks.

    1. Hi Live and Learn,
      I love cupcakes. They're fun and nice little packages of cake and frosting -- portion-controlled.
      Wishing you a wonderful day, Live and Learn!

  2. I think that's the recipe that America's Test Kitchen uses as a substitute for cake flour. My ATK recipe for soda bread calls for some (not all) cake flour to make it lighter. I also learned from a food blog I follow that adding 1-2 teaspoons of cornstarch keeps your cookies softer.

    Your cupcakes are cute. I'm not sure all the M&Ms would have made it to the top of the cupcakes if I were doing the decorating.

  3. Hi Kris,
    I hadn't thought to use some cake flour in other breads. Good to know that it helps soda bread and other cookies. I will definitely give it a try in soda bread.
    I did make sure to buy extra M&Ms (I bought these from bulk bins). A few didn't quite make it to the tops of cupcakes. :)
    Wishing you a wonderful day, Kris!

  4. Happy birthday to your daughters and the cupcakes are adorable.


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