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2 Whole-Grain Flours You Should Try in Your Baked Goods

2 Whole-Grain Flours You Should Try in Your Baked Goods

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When baking bread, cakes, pies, muffins, or cookies, substituting part of the all-purpose flour for whole-grain flour is an easy way to add protein, fiber, and robust wheat-y flavor to your favorite recipes. Two whole-grain flours that work great as a substitute for all-purpose flour are white whole-wheat and whole-wheat pastry flours. Both are easy to find in most chain grocery stores.

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As a rule of thumb when substituting, it’s not a good idea to swap out equal amounts of whole-grain for all-purpose flour. Whole-grain flour is heartier than AP, and the other ingredients in the recipe may need to be adjusted to offset the denseness of the flour. Instead, try swapping out the following amounts the first time, then gradually go up until you achieve the flavor and texture that suits your palate.

White Whole-Wheat Flour: Substitute up to 50% of the all-purpose flour in the recipe. Extra liquid or leavening ingredient (such as baking powder or yeast) shouldn’t be necessary. White whole-wheat is milled from white, hard spring wheat so the color and the flavor are lighter, but all of the benefits from the whole grain are still there.

Whole-Wheat Pastry Flour: Substitute up to 25% of the all-purpose flour in the recipe. If you want to use more than 25%, the liquid ingredient (water or milk) may need to be increased. Whole-wheat pastry flour is very finely milled from low-protein soft wheat and has a very wheaty flavor that yields tasty cookies and pie crusts. Whole-wheat pastry flour is also know as graham flour.

So go ahead, try these two whole-grain flours the next time you are baking, and you will be surprised how delicious and easy it is to boost your fiber.

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2 Whole-Grain Flours You Should Try in Your Baked Goods - Recipes

Here at the Whole Grains Council, we field many questions from home bakers looking to use whole grain flour in their recipes. Here are a few quick tips to convert your favorite recipes to whole grain:

  • In cookies, scones, pancakes, muffins, and quick breads (like banana bread), feel free to substitute whole grain flour for all-purpose flour one-to-one, without making other changes.
  • In yeast breads that need to rise, feel free to substitute whole wheat flour for half of the all-purpose flour one-to-one, without making other changes.
  • To make yeast breads 100% whole wheat, add an extra 2 teaspoons liquid per cup of whole wheat flour, and let the dough rest for 25 minutes before kneading.
  • White whole wheat flour and fresh whole wheat flour (as opposed to flour that has been in your pantry for several months) tend to have the sweetest, mildest flavors.
  • Work your way up slowly, gradually replacing more and more of the all-purpose flour with whole grain flour.
  • For a sweeter flavor, replace 2-3 tablespoons of the liquid with orange juice.

To better understand the science of whole grain baking, we caught up with P.J. Hamel, of King Arthur Flour. Hamel has been with King Arthur for 25 years, and has authored (or co-authored) three King Arthur cookbooks, including the King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking Cookbook. This week I caught up with her to learn the best tips and tricks for baking with whole grains.

“The biggest challenge and the thing most people want to do is whole grain bread,” explains Hamel. Bakers can usually substitute up to 50% of the all-purpose flour in a recipe with whole wheat flour, without making other adjustments, and still enjoy a comparable taste and texture, “but if you go 100% [whole grain], you usually change the outcome.”

Fortunately, our baking expert has the solution. Hamel recommends an additional “two teaspoons of liquid per cup of whole wheat flour,” as whole grains tend to absorb more moisture. Additionally, she recommends allowing the dough to rest for about 20-25 minutes before kneading. Note that these tweaks are generally only necessary when replacing all of the white flour with whole wheat flour, but not if you’re just substituting half.

However, perhaps Hamel’s biggest secret weapon is the type of flour she uses: White whole wheat flour. White whole wheat flour isn’t bleached or refined. It is simply whole grain flour that has been milled from white wheat, rather than the more common red wheat. It has a lighter color and a milder flavor, but still offers all of the whole grain benefits, as its bran, germ, and endosperm are left intact. For this reason, white whole wheat flour is an excellent ingredient to use in whole grain baking, for breads, pastries, and everything in between.

As Hamel demonstrates, whole grain baked goods can be delicious and light, but bakers need to be aware that a hearty whole grain loaf will not taste identical to pillowy white bread. For this reason, Hamel warns that “people need to be sensible about what they can substitute.” She recommends that “everyone start by 50% [whole grain] and feel their way through.” Once they are comfortable, they can work their way up to a greater proportion of whole grains.

Additionally, some recipes better lend themselves to whole grain flour. In cookies, scones, muffins, and other baked goods that “aren’t stark white,” Hamel insists that you’ll “scarcely know the difference” when all-purpose flour is replaced with whole grain flour. Additionally, Hamel reveals that “banana bread is something that does really well with whole grains.” After all, “Everyone loves banana bread.” Similarly, muffins, chocolate cakes, and spice cakes are all well suited to whole wheat flour, due to their darker color and rich texture.

Another smart entry point into whole grain baking is to seek out recipes made specifically for whole grains. These recipes allow the nutty whole grain taste to shine, and are designed to showcase their pleasantly hearty texture. The most popular whole grain recipe from King Arthur is their Whole Wheat Waffles. According to Hamel, “you honestly cannot tell the difference” that these are made with 100% whole wheat flour. Other fan favorites that Hamel shares with us are the 100% whole grain Soft Chocolate Chip Cookies, and the Crazy Blonde Brownies (which use more than half whole grain flour).

While our conversation focused on whole wheat baking, Hamel reminds readers that both old fashioned and quick oats “are a great thing to bake with.” (Need proof? Try our Oat-y-Licious Wheat Bread or these Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies.) For the sweetest, most delicious taste, Hamel advises bakers to read the date on the label and “try to get fresh flour,” because “whole wheat flour does gradually oxidize.” (Note: this freshness is one of the many reasons that sprouted whole wheat flour is gaining popularity among bakers, including master baker Peter Reinhart). Lastly, for consumers seeking a milder product, or those who are new to the fuller, richer taste of whole grains, Hamel recommends replacing 2-3 tablespoons of the liquid in the recipe with orange juice, because it “helps temper the flavor of whole wheat.”

For more whole grain tips and tricks, check out our handy infographic below. (Kelly)

Make a Puree

If you’re concerned about fat calories (a cup of butter adds a whopping 1,600 calories to a batch of baked goods), try pureeing fruits or vegetables such as apples, bananas, pears, avocados, pumpkin or sweet potatoes to be used in place of some of the fats and sweeteners. Doing so will not only cut down on calories but provide extra nutrients and fiber. For best results, substitute purees for about two-thirds of the total amount of oil, butter, or shortening a baked good recipe calls for and experiment from there. You can also try using mashed up cooked red lentils (seriously, it works great!) for a real fiber punch.

Tips on Baking with Whole Wheat Flour

Welcome to new readers who arrived from’s excellent post by Jane Mountain on 5 Foods You’ll Never Have to Buy Again.

Have you ever tried cooking with whole-wheat flour, only to find the results didn’t turn out as well as you hoped? Cooking with whole wheat requires some adjustments in planning and expectations.

The first thing to keep in mind is that whole-wheat grains contain oil, which can get rancid. So check the date on the package, and always store all whole grains in the refrigerator or freezer. By the way, this is why whole grains are sometimes more expensive. You might think that whole grains should be cheaper, because they don’t need as much processing. But in fact, refined (white) flours became popular because they could be shipped long distances and stored at length without refrigeration. This lowered their cost as well.

Some complaints about whole grain flours, for instance bitterness, may result from improper storage. If you store whole-wheat flour in the freezer it should last a good few months.

I’ve compiled a few more tips for switching to baking with whole wheat:

  1. Change your expectations. The texture will be different and there’s no way around that. I now find baked goods from bleached white flour to be pasty. Keep in mind that whole-wheat baked goods crumble more easily, too.
  2. Start gradually. Many products fall in between the extremes of bleached, refined white flour and 100% stone-ground whole wheat. Examples include white whole wheat and 70% or 90% whole wheat, which is unrefined but has a percentage of the toughest fibers removed. Flours also vary in texture–whole-wheat flours ground finely yield results closer to white flour. You can also mix white and whole wheat–start with 30 or 40 % whole wheat and gradually increase as you get used to the change.
  3. Start with the right recipes. Whole wheat bread, fruit muffins, or banana bread will go over better than whole-wheat angel-food cake. You can also use whole-wheat flour for thickening patties or casseroles without a noticeable difference in texture.
  4. Pastries. I use 90% whole-wheat flour for pastries and yeast doughs. They can be rolled out, but not as thinly as with white flour.
  5. Sifting. One reader said that sifting makes her whole-wheat challah lighter. My mother always insisted on sifting flour, and we sifted ingredients for her home-made baking mix no less than three times! I”m not sure that sifting helps keep the dough lighter, and many cooks skip it. Other reasons for sifting flour include removing insects and ensuring uniform measurement. But weighing the flour is a more accurate method for delicate recipes. Since I rarely make delicate cakes this isn’t such an issue for me—for bread I guess based on the texture. Humidity also affects recipes, making recipes less important.
  6. Add extra water to the recipe. This is tied into the weight of the flour—flours vary in their weight per cup, and heavier flours require more liquid—but the whole grains seem to absorb more liquid and suffer more from dryness. Whole-grain bread doughs should remain sticky.
  7. Add extra sweetener. I’m no fan of sugar, but if you or your family expects a certain amount of sweetness in their baked goods you will need to increase the amount in the recipe.
  8. Start with a sponge. For breads, I calculate about 700 cc. (24 oz.) of water for a kilogram of flour (454 grams). For the sponge, I add about 700 g. of the flour to all of the liquid, along with the yeast or sourdough starter. For more information, see my recipe for Challah Bread Using Sponge Method.

Have you ever baked with whole wheat flour? Please share your successes and challenges in the comments!

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I routinely substitute whole wheat flour for white flour in recipes. I use an extra tablespoon of water for every cup of whole wheat flour substituted. So for example, if I make a bread recipe with nine cups of flour and want it to be 2/3 whole wheat, I add an extra 6T of water.

Many whole wheat recipes call for honey instead of sugar, but sugar is much easier and cheaper to use. I don’t use a lot, so I figure it’s not such a big problem nutritionally.

Thanks, Ilana for your tips. Honey is not a health food either, in my opinion.

Great tips. The whole wheat Challah you gave me was so TASTY. After eating white challah for many weeks, it just tasted great, I can’t put my finger on it… more like real food. But it was very crumby.

Thanks for these great tips Hannah! I love the first one – manage your expectations! Most often I use half whole wheat flour and half AP so the texture isn’t too heavy in cakes, breads, pancakes, etc. I recently made some chocolate chip cookies with entirely whole wheat flour that were to die for!

Yosefa–glad you enjoyed.
Katherine–whole wheat cc cookies sound delicious!

Thanks for these useful tips. “Change your expectations” – good point.
I know we’re supposed to keep whole grains and whole grain flours in the refrigerator (as well as nuts, seeds and so many other things) but I find it really difficult to fit all those in and still have room for the large quantities of produce I like to keep on hand. Do you prioritize, e.g. what might hold up for a while outside the refrigerator until a space becomes available?

This is good info for me. My kids wrinkle their noses if the challah is too dark, but it would help to sneak in at least a little.

I also find that whole wheat bread is crumblier. Perhaps adding some wheat gluten would help that. I have never tried it.

Thanks to a friend’s suggestion, I started adding oat bran and wheat germ to my challah. Together they add a nice subtle sweetness. I can see how they would complement the bitterness of whole wheat flour.

on sifting: Rose Berenbaum (Bread Bible, Cake Bible) advocates aerating the dry ingredients for cake and sifting is one way to achieve it. It helps absorbtion of the liquids I believe. A quicker way to aerate is mix dry ingredients with a hand mixer before you add the wet.

Personally, I don’t think there is enough of a difference in cake, much less bread, to justify taking out an appliance or taking extra time to sift. (though sifting is oddly satisfying when I do have time for it.)

Faye, I am pretty strict about keeping whole grains in the freezer. Because I buy flour in bulk I maintain an extra freezer.

tdr, thanks for the tips especially the one about the hand mixer. You could try an egg beater too.

Thanks for adding the link to Jane Mountain’s article. It gave us a lot to think about.

Thanks for these tips, I had no idea it needed to be refrigerated!

Indeed I tried a Pizza (same recipe as usual) and it totally came out wrong!

Prag, let me know what happens next time!

As several of the other comments suggested, I substitute whole wheat flour for part of the white flour in recipes – especially challah. I find if I substitute no more than 1/3 of the flour with whole wheat, no one notices the difference. Definitely increase the amount of liquid, though (if you bake often, you start to be able to ‘feel’ the texture of the dough you need, so it is intuitive.)

Adding spices like caraway or ajwain seeds, or nuts or dried fruit, also helps balance the flavor of breads with more whole wheat content.

I also suggest – try using white whole wheat instead of regular. It’s made from white wheat, not red (I believe red wheat is the most common kind) and has the same nutritional content but a subtler flavor. In the northeastern US you can buy it from King Arthur flour in the grocery stores, or mail order it from them. I find it very good – I make a sour dough bread using 100% white whole wheat flour and it’s delicious.

Some professional bakers tell me they can buy whole wheat flour of different “extractions” 70%, 80%, 90%. This refers to how much of the germ is included, I think. The 90% extraction is essentially the typical red whole wheat flour you find for sale in the grocery. 80% has a slightly strong flavor and slightly less nutrition etc. But I have not found partial-extraction whole wheat for sale in the grocery store so I have no personal experience with this.

In the summer I keep less whole flour on hand, and store it in the freezer. In the fall/winter/spring I store my whole wheat and rye flours in an unheated (read: frigid) room of my house.

I am in the process of switching over to whole wheat flour, and something that I like to do is add some oats or oat bran, depending on what I have in the house. You obviously can’t do this with everything, but my challah with some white, a lot of whole wheat, and some oats comes out delicious.

I bake breads, even sandwich breads, using whole wheat flour and get amazing results using a soaker. Basically I put all of the ww flour, all of the water, and all of the salt together the night before, mix it up well, cover it and let it sit on the counter overnight. On baking day, add everything else and proceed as normal. The grains absorb all the water and the bread comes out the consistency you’d expect bread to be — well risen, light, and with a beautiful crumb. Skipping this step results in a smaller, denser loaf that has a dryer crumb. I have found it necessary to bump up the sweetener a bit, but breads have so little anyway that I feel it’s not a bad thing.

Best White: King Arthur Organic White Whole Wheat Flour

White wheat flour is a milder hard wheat, but still one nonetheless. What we normally prescribe to whole wheat is red wheat, which has a stronger flavor and tannins that are not present in the white variety. What this means is that you get all the benefits of using whole grains with a less pronounced flavor difference. You can spring for the organic, but the conventional version is no slouch, either.

The regular white wheat used by King Arthur for the latter is certified and traceable from seed to field to flour the brand prides itself on its “identity-preserved” practices. Either way, the protein content for both sits pretty at 12.2 percent, making it highly versatile. However, the brand’s pros recommend swapping this for a third of regular all-purpose to make the switch seamless.

OK, I need more whole grains in my (baking) life. Where should I begin?

Bread might not be your best first project. Novice bakers may want to try whole-grain cookies, muffins, or quick breads. “These baked goods are a good place to start because they are dense and moist. You can use whole-grain flour and hardly tell the difference,” Ben says.

If it’s bread you’re after (understandably so!), have fun with it. Whether you make your own or use store-bought dough, try shaping it into loaves, baguettes, rolls, pizza crusts, and more. “It’s a great way to get children engaged in the kitchen,” Ben suggests. “I bake with mine a lot. We have fun testing new recipes together.”

34 Healthy Baking Recipes Full of All Kinds of Goodness

Healthy baking recipes are a great way to get creative in the kitchen. Finding ways to enrich both the nutritional content and the deliciousness of your baked goods and desserts can be fun, and lets you focus more on what you can add to a recipe in terms of taste and texture (as opposed to what you can cut out).

“There are nutrient-rich ingredients that you can incorporate into baking in a way that doesn’t take away from [the final product], but adds to it and makes it more satisfying,” Rachael Hartley, R.D., certified intuitive eating counselor and owner of Rachael Hartley Nutrition, tells SELF.

A lot of recipes do this naturally—think about nuts in brownies and cookies, berries in muffins, or oats in cookies and fruit crisps. Abbey Sharp, R.D., of Abbey’s Kitchen, tells SELF that she loves baking with nut butters and seeds like flax, hemp, and chia. The fat, fiber, and protein in these ingredients can make for baked goods that are more filling and provide a steadier stream of energy, Sharp explains.

It can also be fun to play with alternative flours, like whole wheat, oat, or almond. Hartley likes mixing those in with all-purpose flour to create some textural and nutritional variety. Sharp looks for “creative ways to use naturally sweet foods to add body, texture and flavor,” like ripe bananas or dates.

Unless you’re dealing with a food allergy or intolerance, though, there’s no need to make any particular ingredients, like white flour or sugar, off-limits in healthy baking recipes. “I really believe that all ingredients—including sugar—are just tools in the [baker’s] tool box,” Sharp says. “No need to label them good or bad.” Sugar, for example, can be key to achieving a certain structure or texture in some baked goods and desserts, Sharp says, so eliminating it is not always the right move.

And don’t forget that it’s OK for a recipe to be 100 percent about deliciousness and 0 percent about nutrition. “Sometimes the healthiest thing that you can do is really to eat the thing that you want!” as Hartley puts it.

A note about the word healthy here: We know that healthy is a complicated concept. Not only can it mean different things to different people, it’s a word that’s pretty loaded (and sometimes fraught), thanks to the diet industry’s influence on the way we think about food. At SELF, when we talk about food being healthy, we’re primarily talking about foods that are nutritious, filling, and satisfying. But it also depends on your preferences, your culture, what’s accessible to you, and so much more. We selected these recipes with those basic criteria in mind, while also trying to appeal to a wide variety of nutritional needs and taste buds.

7 Whole Grains

One of my favorite ways to make my baked goods a bit healthier is to substitute any white flours for a whole grain alternative. White flours are stripped of their nutritional benefits, while the whole grain substitutes still contain their health providing vitamins and minerals. Whole grains also add fiber to your baked goods, helping them stick with you for a little bit longer without causing your blood sugar to spike! Nowadays, companies are making a whole grain version for just about everything. It might take a little bit to get the cooking part down just right, but the taste is hardly detectable! Teach your kids to love whole grains too!

As a dietitian, I would never tell you to avoid sweets and baked goods entirely just make them a bit healthier instead! With only a few substitutions, you can enjoy your favorite treats for far less calories, fat and guilt than their less healthy alternative! What are your favorite healthy substitutions? Have you tried any of the ones that I mentioned above.

Baking Tip: Soak Whole Grain Flours Overnight

We’ve been doing a lot of baking with whole grains recently, and we see one technique pop up again and again. This is the idea of soaking the grains overnight before using them in the recipe. When it came up again in the comment thread for our Homemade Soba Noodles, we thought it was high time to learn more.

The basic technique is the same no matter what grain you’re working with: simply combine the flour and the liquid called for in the recipe and let this soak overnight before continuing with the recipe. Some people advocate adding a tablespoon of an acidic ingredient like lemon juice or yogurt per cup of liquid. This method can be used for both un-ground whole grains and for whole grain flour.

The overnight soak softens the grains, gives them time to absorb moisture, and breaks down some of their tough starches. This makes the grains easier to work with the next day, particularly the gluten-free ones like the buckwheat flour in our soba noodles. Final texture and flavor of whole grain breads and baked goods is also improved.

It seems that there are also some nutritional benefits to soaking whole grains overnight. Phytic acid found in the bran of many grains prevents some of the nutrients in the grain from being absorbed by our bodies. The overnight soak neutralizes this acid and also goes further by breaking down complex starches, enzyme inhibitors, and other things that can make digestion difficult.

Interesting stuff to think about! We’re definitely going to give it a try in our next attempt at soba noodles and will play around with pre-soaking in our other baking too.

Do you ever pre-soak your whole grains? Do you find it makes a difference?