If you ask people what type of cookie texture they prefer, most would probably agree: chewy around the edges and soft on the inside. But how do you achieve this elusive texture when baking cookies? It all comes down to food science and how the ingredients work together when they’re placed in the oven.
Flour plays an important role in baking cookies. All-purpose flour is the top choice for cookies because its ideal protein range promotes a chewy but soft result. Other suitable options include cake flour and pastry flour, as well as gluten-free flour blends, coconut flour, and almond flour.
We’ll explain how these flours vary so you can decide which make the perfect cookies for YOU.
How flour impacts the texture of cookies
There are several types of flour to choose from, but not all are ideal for making cookies. The type of flour you use has a big impact on the texture of your cookies – using the wrong one can make cookies too dry, not rise enough, or lose their shape.
Flour acts as a binder for the rest of the ingredients in the dough, and it also dictates how much the cookies rise while baking.
The most common types of flour are made from wheat, which contains a protein called gluten. Gluten is an elastic protein that allows baked goods to rise, as well as impacts the chewiness of the cookie. The higher the protein content the more gluten that flour contains, and the higher the gluten content the chewier the texture will be (more protein=more gluten=more chewiness).
The gluten content impacts how much cookies spread while baking, as well as helps the dough retain moisture so they’re not too dry.
Best flour for baking cookies
#1: All-purpose flour
All-purpose flour is ideal for making cookies because of its protein content, which is around 10-12%. This protein range is ideal for giving cookies a soft but chewy texture. Using a lower protein flour like cake flour (around 7-9% protein) to make cookies will make them more fluffy and “cake-like” compared to using all-purpose flour.
#2: Pastry flour
Pastry flour has a protein content between cake flour and all-purpose flour, so it’s a suitable flour for making cookies. Cookies made with pastry flour will be lighter and more delicate than if you used all-purpose flour. You can typically substitute pastry flour for all-purpose flour in a 1:1 ratio.
#3: Cake flour
Cake flour is the lowest in protein compared to all-purpose and pastry flour. Using straight cake flour for cookies will make the cookies fluffy and less chewy due to the lower gluten content (remember that more gluten=more chewy).
If you’re substituting cake flour in a recipe that calls for all-purpose flour, you’ll need to add two tablespoons to every cup of cake flour. The reason for this is that cake flour weighs less than all-purpose flour, so you’d be using slightly less flour if you substituted it at a 1:1 ratio.
For example, if a recipe calls for two cups of all-purpose flour and you choose to use cake flour, you’ll need two cups plus ¼ cup (4 tablespoons) of cake flour.
Gluten-free flour options for cookies
Gluten-free flour lacks the elasticity of the gluten protein, so the texture of cookies made with gluten-free flour will be quite different from gluten-containing flour like all-purpose flour.
Thankfully, gluten-free baking has become increasingly popular over the past decade, so food scientists and chefs have perfected which gluten-free flour combinations yield the best cookies.
Many of the best gluten-free flours for cookies are a blend of flours, sometimes with the addition of gluten-free starches or thickeners, to mirror the texture of all-purpose wheat flour.
#1: 1:1 Gluten-free baking flour
1:1 gluten-free flour blends are convenient to use because you can substitute them 1:1 for all-purpose flour in recipes, including cookie recipes. Bob’s Red Mill is among one of the most popular brands that make a variety of gluten-free flour, and their version is called Gluten Free 1-to-1 Baking Flour and contains:
- Sweet White Rice Flour
- Whole Grain Brown Rice Flour
- Potato Starch
- Whole Grain Sorghum Flour
- Tapioca Flour
- Xanthan Gum
King Arthur Baking Company is another top flour brand and makes Gluten-Free Measure for Measure Flour, which is similar to Bob’s Red Mill. Its ingredients are:
- Rice Flour
- Whole Grain Brown Rice Flour
- Whole Sorghum Flour
- Tapioca Starch
- Potato Starch
- Xanthan Gum
- Added vitamins and minerals (calcium, vitamin B1-B3, and iron)
#2: Gluten-free all-purpose flour
Like 1:1 gluten-free 1:1 flour mixes, gluten-free all-purpose flour blends are a good choice for making cookies. The ingredients will vary slightly among brands, but they contain similar ingredients as the gluten-free 1:1 flour listed above.
#3: Almond flour and coconut flour
Almond flour and coconut flour are both popular options for gluten-free baking. Almond flour and coconut flour are both low in net carbohydrates (total carbohydrates minus fiber, giving you the number of carbs your body absorbs), making them good options for people wanting lower-carb baking options.
Coconut flour is very high in fiber, which absorbs liquid and can make cookies drier. Almond flour is high in moisture, so an ideal mix is combining almond flour and coconut flour in a 3:1 ratio (three parts almond flour to one part coconut flour).
You can use self-rising flour for cookies, but you should make sure the recipe you’re using calls for self-rising flour. If you use self-rising flour in place of the all-purpose flour a recipe calls for, the texture will likely be affected and they likely won’t turn out right.
In addition, if you use self-rising flour in a recipe that calls for all-purpose flour, the cookies would likely taste too salty. The reason is that self-rising flour already contains leavening agents like baking powder (which contains salt); if you then add more salt and leavening agents as the recipe calls for, it would be too salty.
Bread flour is higher in protein than all-purpose flour so it will yield much chewier cookies than if you used all-purpose flour. In addition, the higher protein content might make the dough a bit dry, so you may need to add additional liquid if you choose to use bread flour.
If you like your cookies extra chewy, then it might be worth trying out bread flour in your next cookie recipe!