In the professional baking industry, we have a wide variety of flours to use. From high gluten to rice to whole wheat, the type of flour we use determines the strength, taste, and structure of the final baked good.
Remember, flour is made by grinding seeds of grain (like wheat), seeds, or roots into a fine powder. Wheat flour is the most popular in North America. High protein flours (like high gluten or bread) are used when desiring a hard crust or chewy center (like pizzs or bagles). Low protein flours (like cake or pastry) are used when desiring a soft crust or baked good (like cookies and cake).
In the domestic field, you have 3 main choices when it comes to flours: All-purpose, bread, and pastry.
BREAD: A high protein (about 14-15 percent protein content) flour for baked goods with a crisp crust or extra structure. Bread flour is PERFECT for homemade pizza crust, bagels, or French breads. Because of the high protein content, you are able to roll out bread flour-doughs into a thin layer, create full bread loaves, and it resists tearing when the dough is formed.
PASTRY: A low protein (about 8-9 percent protein content) flour for baked goods with a soft crust and structure. I enjoy using pastry crust for anything with low-gluten development, think: anything you mix for a short amount of time. It is wonderful for baking tart/pie shells, cookies, and cakes. *Note: Do not confuse pastry flour with cake flour. Cake flour has a lower protein content than pastry, about 7-8 percent. But cake flour tends to always be bleached, and bleaching weakens the protein. I tend to only bake chiffon-type cakes (like angel food cake) with cake flour.*
ALL-PURPOSE: A medium protein (about 10-11 percet content) flour which is great for, well, all-purpose baking and cooking. It is great for making roux, baking chocolate chip cookies, and muffins. I recommend this flour for people who do not bake often since it will fullfill their flour needs. *Note: You can easily make all-purpose flour by combining equal parts pastry flour and bread flour together!*
Knowing the right flour can help you make a successful baked good. If you are just starting out baking, I highly recommend just using all-purpose flour in your baking and buy any special flours (like whole wheat, rice, cake, rye, etc.) in bulk. Please always store flour in an air-tight container, located in a closed pantry drawer.