When I first moved to Hong Kong, to start work as a pastry chef, I found that most of the recipes I had used in previous professional kitchens no longer worked - the cakes were heavy and the pastries tough. I knew the recipes were solid - I had made them over and over again at places such as the Grand Hyatt and Peninsula hotels in New York - so it had to be something else. The obvious culprit was the flour - the brands in Hong Kong had a higher protein content than the ones I had used in the United States. More protein usually means more gluten - something that's good when making bread but isn't desirable in cake, cookies or pastry. I ended up blending different types of flour in order to get the results I wanted. The variety of wheat flours offered in supermarkets can be confusing. There's cake flour, bleached plain (all-purpose) flour, unbleached plain flour, bread (high-gluten) flour, whole wheat flour and self-raising flour. I don't bother with the last one - my British and Australian friends swear by it but its uses are limited. You can make your own by mixing 140 grams of plain flour with one to 1? teaspoons of baking powder and half a teaspoon of salt. To make it even more confusing, the protein content of plain (all-purpose) flour changes from brand to brand - it can range from 9 per cent up to 12 per cent. I used to buy whatever flour was on sale but I've found that to ensure consistent results, it's better to stick to a brand. I usually test my recipes using Gold Medal bleached all-purpose flour, which has a slightly lower protein content than the unbleached type of the same brand. If I run out of bleached flour, I use unbleached mixed with a small amount of cake flour. If Gold Medal flour is unavailable, I use an alternative with a protein content as close as I can find to 10.5 per cent. Cake flour has a low protein content and should be sifted before using. Bread flour has a higher protein content so when it is mixed with liquid, the long, strong gluten strands needed to give the bread a chewy crumb will form. Whole wheat flour goes rancid quickly, so should be stored in the fridge or freezer. Although it has a higher protein content than other flours, it is rarely used on its own because the bran in the grain cuts the gluten strands, making them unstable, thus creating dense, heavy bread. If you're not getting the results you want with your baked goods, experiment with different brands of flour, or blend wheat flours. If your pastry dough is too fragile, the protein content of the flour might be too low, so try adding flour with a little more protein; if the pastry is tough, mix in a little cake flour. And, if you're like me and have several identical plastic containers in the pantry, learn to tell the flours apart by sight and feel so you don't use the wrong one. Cake flour is very white and clumps together if you squeeze a handful of it, bleached and unbleached all-purpose varieties are progressively less pale and clumpy, while bread flour doesn't clump together at all.