1. Start with the right flour
Well-stocked supermarkets carry a variety of wheat flours: all-purpose, cake, whole wheat, bread. You might also see flours made from grains other than wheat—rye, rice, corn, oat, buckwheat—but they form little or no gluten, so we won’t discuss them here. The various wheat flours, however, all contain gluten-forming proteins, though the quality and quantity of those proteins differ (for amounts, see the table below). What you’re baking should determine which flour you choose.
Bread flour and durum semolina (used for pasta) contain the most protein and form strong, high-quality gluten. These so-called hard flours are ideal for yeast-raised breads and pasta, because the strong gluten gives the heavy dough structure and the finished product a pleasantly chewy texture.
Pastry and cake flours contain less protein and form weaker gluten. With their low levels of weak gluten, these “soft flours” produce a more tender product, so they’re usually preferable for cakes, cookies, biscuits, and many pastries.
True to its name, all-purpose flour is a decent choice for almost everything. Though rarely used in bakeries, all-purpose flour has a middle-of-the-road protein content that allows it to work well in most recipes the home baker would want to make. Sure, cakes made with cake flour might be more tender, and loaves made with bread flour might rise higher, but the differences are subtle.
Whole-wheat flour, by the way, is very high in gluten-forming protein, but it’s not the best choice for lofty yeast breads because the shards of bran in the flour tear the strands of gluten, inhibiting its development.