The typical American recipe for baking, unless otherwise stated, when stating to use flour, is referring to All Purpose (AP) flour. Very rarely do you find recipes today that call for self rising flour for a cake.
Sometimes a recipe for bread will specify Unbleached Flour. This is often referred to as Bread Flour in the recipe.
Most AP flour is made from hard winter wheat. In the Southern part of the country, they prefer to use soft wheat flour for their biscuits. And in that instance, it does make a difference in making biscuits from scratch. They seem to rise higher and are lighter.
The one other flour that is found in a lot of homes is Semolina Flour. This is used in making pasta by hand from scratch.
For the average day in your kitchen, I would suggest that you keep AP on hand. It is used in making cakes, cookies. creating sauces, and a multitude of other dishes.
Today's recipes suggest that you no long need to sift your flour. Just whisk it thoroughly. Some recipes will state to add 2-3 cups of "Sifted
" flour. This is when you will be glad you have your mother's old sifter. There is a big difference between a cup of sifted flour that has passed through a sifter and a cup of flour that doesn't call for sifting first.
My preference is to measure out the flour called for in the recipe. After I have all the dry ingredients measured out and combined, rather than just whisk it, I will then sift it. Only after I have measure EVERYTHING out. I still have the right amount of dry ingredients, just lighter in volume. It makes for a much lighter cake and cookies.
But if the recipe calls for 2 cups of sifted
flour, the AP flour must be sifted first with all the other dry ingredients. Measure out the amount of flour called for in the recipe, and then sift it. You will find some left over flour that can go back into your flour bin. When measuring out the sifted flour, spoon it into your measuring cup. Don't scoop it like you would normally do.
If you have a kitchen scale, weigh a sifted cup of flour against a cup of flour that you have sifted after measuring. You will see why it is important that you pay attention to added "sifted flour" to sifting after measuring.
Any questions? Just ask!