self-rising flour

Self-rising flour is called for in many baking recipes—it’s commonly used for cakes, quick breads, biscuits, scones, cookies, and the like. The name has an air of intrigue to it—what is this magical “self-rising” flour, and what does it do for my recipes? Though you can buy the stuff pre-made in the baking aisle at any grocery store, self-rising flour is a no-brainer to make in the kitchen, and something you can throw together in a last-minute baking pinch. Here’s how to do it.

The ratio for making your own self-rising flour is remarkably easy. It’s basically just regular flour mixed with baking powder—the stuff that makes baked goods slightly “rise” while cooking in the oven—and a pinch of salt. The ratio is as follows.

To make one cup of self-rising flour, combine:

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ to ½ teaspoon salt

Most home cooks and bakers have those basic ingredients on hand at all times, so when your recipe calls for self-rising flour, it’s a snap to make your own.

A quick note on what type of flour to use, however: Some brands of packaged self-rising flour use different types of flour in their mixes—some use flours with a higher gluten content (protein), and some with lower. In other words, you might find a mix of self-rising flour that uses all-purpose flour in it and another that contains the refined, finer, lighter cake flour.

The difference in the flour used is in how heavy (or light) it leaves your baked treats. Light, fluffy cake goods should be made with the lighter cake flour, which will make a tenderer, airy cake. If you’re making scones, biscuits or quick breads, however, the more common all-purpose flour is appropriate to use.

So when you make your own self-rising flour, use cake flour for cake recipes; use all-purpose flour for most everything else. (You can also use the naturally light “white whole wheat flour” in lieu of cake flour for an unbleached, whole grain cake with near-equal results.)

The story behind how self-rising flour came to be a packaged balking product is actually an interesting one.

It was invented in 1845 by a baker named Henry Jones, who saw that soldiers and sailors were unable to eat yeasted breads during their service, as this type of bread quickly became stale and rotted. Jones devised a baking formula that used baking powder instead of yeast as a rising agent. This newfound method of baking (using his coined “self-rising flour”) allowed servicemen to enjoy fresh breads instead of the stale breads or hard biscuits they had grown accustomed to.

Today, we don’t have the same need for the self-rising flour formula, except that some people buy it for convenience. Truthfully, though, it seems just as convenient to dash a bit of baking powder and salt with some flour and call it a day.


Image: Mel B.