Tips on Baking with Whole Wheat Flour

Welcome to new readers who arrived from Grist.org’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!

Thanks to Cooking Manager Facebook Page members  for their contributions.

You may also enjoy:

Going Brown: The Challenge of Eating More Whole Grains

How I Cut My Baking Time in Half

Extreme Frugality: Twenty Memories of My Mother

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  1. 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.

  2. Thanks, Ilana for your tips. Honey is not a health food either, in my opinion.
    Hannah recently posted..Tips on Baking with Whole Wheat FlourMy Profile

  3. 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.
    Yosefa recently posted..Lunch Apples and Breakfast BagsMy Profile

  4. 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!
    Katherine Martinelli recently posted..Sriracha Turkey MeatballsMy Profile

  5. Yosefa–glad you enjoyed.
    Katherine–whole wheat cc cookies sound delicious!
    Hannah recently posted..Why Is Processed Food Bad?My Profile

  6. 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?

  7. 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.)

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

  9. tdr, thanks for the tips especially the one about the hand mixer. You could try an egg beater too.
    Hannah recently posted..Tips on Baking with Whole Wheat FlourMy Profile

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

  11. 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!

  12. Ms. Krieger says:

    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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

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