I've been trying to learn to bake and want to tackle a recipe for French bread. It calls for preheating the oven to 460 degrees, which seems really hot. Could that be a mistake? Also can I use bread flour instead of all-purpose flour in cakes, pies and other baking?

I've been trying to learn to bake and want to tackle a recipe for French bread. It calls for preheating the oven to 460 degrees, which seems really hot. Could that be a mistake? Also can I use bread flour instead of all-purpose flour in cakes, pies and other baking?

— Michelle F., Talent

The setting does seem random, but we see no reason it wouldn't be correct. Professional pizza ovens designed to produce crunchy, crusty pies can be heated as high as 800 degrees.

Like pizza dough, European-style breads that have no butter, sugar or oil often are baked at higher temperatures. Practiced bakers often preheat an oven to just slightly higher than the intended baking temperature and then reduce the heat as they put bread in the oven.

A well-heated oven causes "oven spring," a final burst of fermentation and helps bread finish rising before heat kills the yeast. A hot oven also ensures the loaf's interior will get baked through before the crust burns.

The bread's interior should have big holes surrounded by structure created from the interaction of yeast and protein in the flour. That brings us to your second question. Flours milled for baking bread have higher levels of wheat's natural protein — gluten — to give loaves structure. Breads need lots of gluten to hold them up as they rise.

Cakes, on the other hand, should have medium levels of gluten, which can be obtained from all-purpose flour. Tender things, such as pie crusts, biscuits or delicate cookies, traditionally are made with low-protein flours like White Lily.

So while you can use bread flour in other recipes, goods that are supposed to be tender may come out tough.