Best Substitutes for Cake Flour

Making a cake

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When you whip up a cake for a birthday, promotion, or other festive celebration, chances are your recipe will call for cake flour. But chances also are that you won't have cake flour on hand. This specialty ingredient isn’t necessarily a staple in most pantries, and it can be pricey or difficult to locate.

If you’ve found yourself devoid of cake flour, don’t worry! That doesn’t mean you can’t create a fluffy, delicious cake using a simple substitution.

What is Cake Flour?

As you look over a recipe for Boston cream pie or carrot cake, you may wonder: what exactly is cake flour, and does using it (instead of the more common all purpose flour) really make a difference in baked goods?

Cake flour begins with soft wheat that gets very finely milled. Its chief difference from all-purpose flour is its protein content. Whereas all-purpose flour contains about 9 to 13% protein, cake flour contains significantly less, at about 5 to 8%—the lowest of all flours.

Here’s a fun fact: The protein in flour is mostly comprised of gluten, which creates chewiness in breads, but isn’t necessarily a good thing in cakes. Since cake flour is lower in gluten, it results in finished cakes that are lighter, fluffier, and less dense.

Bleaching is another signature aspect of cake flour. When flour is bleached, its acidity increases, allowing its starches to absorb more moisture. By absorbing more moisture, cake flour can create a more tender cake.

As for nutrition, cake flour isn’t drastically different from regular all-purpose flour. Here’s a look at how they compare.

Cake Flour Nutrition

The following nutrition information for a ¼-cup (32-gram) serving of cake flour has been provided by the USDA.

  • Calories: 110
  • Fat: 0g
  • Sodium: 0mg
  • Carbohydrates: 25g
  • Fiber: 1g
  • Sugars: 0g
  • Protein: 3g


All-Purpose Flour Nutrition

The following nutrition information for a ¼-cup (32-gram) serving of all-purpose flour has been provided by the USDA.

  • Calories: 114
  • Fat: 0.3g
  • Sodium: 0mg
  • Carbohydrates: 24g
  • Fiber: 1g
  • Sugars: 0g
  • Protein: 3.25g

Why Use a Cake Flour Substitute? 

Pre-made cake flour is, of course, ideally suited to baking cakes with a delicate crumb. But a variety of factors may mean you’ll need a substitute. Cake flour’s high price can be prohibitive, and not every local grocery store carries it. And since a simple, lower-cost alternative generally creates a similar finished product, you may not feel it’s worth purchasing a bag of cake flour that won’t get used very often.  

Meanwhile, people with wheat allergy, gluten intolerance, or celiac disease need to eliminate all types of flour from their diet. In this case, a gluten-free alternative can create a tasty dessert those with dietary restrictions can still enjoy.

Best Cake Flour Substitutes

Ready to get out the mixing bowl? These three cake flour substitutes will have you baking up a masterpiece without much fuss (and, in the last option, without the gluten).

All-Purpose Flour and Cornstarch

As mentioned, cake flour’s lower protein (AKA gluten) content is its secret weapon for producing light-as-a-feather cakes. However, it’s possible to reduce the protein content of regular all-purpose flour with a simple hack.

For this substitute, all you’ll need is all-purpose flour and cornstarch. For each cup of cake flour in your recipe, measure out 1 cup of all-purpose flour, then remove 2 tablespoons. (Or, if you’d rather, measure out exactly 14 tablespoons of flour.) Add 2 tablespoons of cornstarch and sift the mixture together.

This simple trick works best with unbleached all-purpose flour, but in a pinch, can also be applied to whole wheat pastry flour. Just keep in mind that any whole wheat flour contains more protein than white flour, so your finished product will naturally be somewhat chewier and less fluffy.

In terms of taste and texture, a flour-plus-cornstarch mixture performs beautifully in baking—often without a noticeable difference from cake flour. Its nutrition profile is also comparable to cake flour, though adding cornstarch will slightly increase calories and carbohydrates.

All-Purpose Flour and Arrowroot Powder

If you’re not keen on using cornstarch because of concerns about additives or GMOs in corn, arrowroot powder offers another DIY cake flour alternative. Just like the recipe with cornstarch, this substitute starts with 1 cup minus 2 tablespoons of all-purpose flour. From there, simply add 2 tablespoons of arrowroot powder (sometimes called arrowroot flour) and sift well.

Using arrowroot powder may cause a few minor changes to your finished cake. Like cornstarch, the addition of arrowroot will marginally bump up the calories and carbohydrates of all-purpose flour (and, of course, decrease its protein level).

When you bake cakes with this substitute, be aware that arrowroot powder may cause your cake to retain more moisture. This can certainly be a bonus for moist, tender cakes, but depending on the recipe, may create complications. Arrowroot powder can also make cakes bake more quickly, so set your oven timer accordingly, checking your cake frequently for doneness.

Gluten-Free Cake Flour Blend

For those who follow a wheat-free or gluten-free diet, creating a usable base for cakes isn’t as simple as subbing out a couple of tablespoons of flour. Instead, you’ll need to start from scratch with other ingredients that don’t contain wheat. Favorites include: nut and whole grain flours, or alternative flours like chickpea and soy.

Making a cake with a DIY wheat-free cake flour can definitely make special occasions feel more celebratory for people with special dietary needs. However, because these flours don’t contain gluten, they may be difficult to interchange with all-purpose or cake flour in baking.

Some experimentation may be necessary to nail the perfect texture in your favorite birthday chocolate cake or lemon chiffon. If you’d rather opt out of the trial and error, simply purchase a store-bought gluten-free cake flour. These usually contain similar ingredients to homemade blends, such as brown rice flour, potato or tapioca starch, and sometimes sorghum flour. 

It’s worth noting, too, that a gluten-free cake flour (whether made at home or store-bought) will provide slightly different nutrients than cake flour made with wheat. Many commercially produced GF cake flours are higher in carbs and overall calories, while containing less protein.

3 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Bob's Red Mill. What is Cake Flour? April 2018.

  2. U.S. Department of Agriculture. Enriched bleached cake flour. March 19, 2021.

  3. U.S. Department of Agriculture. Wheat flour, white, all purpose, enriched, bleached. April 1, 2019.

By Sarah Garone, NDTR
Sarah Garone, NDTR, is a freelance health and wellness writer who runs a food blog.