Baking with ancient grains: Learn to add alternative flours to classic recipes

Baking with Ancient Grains via @kingarthurflour

Here at King Arthur, we take our flours pretty seriously — wheat or otherwise — and right now we’re hooked on ancient grains. I mean, what’s not to love? They have unique flavors. They contain a variety of yummy nutrients. Plus, they’re fun to pronounce. (Say it with me: quinoa.)

Since we introduced our latest three ancient grain flours — amaranth, quinoa, and teff — we haven’t stopped baking with them. Baking with ancient grains has enhanced our breakfast cookies, given our breads new life, and jazzed up our crêpes. But you don’t need special recipes to incorporate more ancient grains into your baking.

Enter our Complete Guide to Baking with Ancient Grains, the product of months and months of testing. We wanted to create a go-to, easy-to-follow resource for mixing ancient grains into some of our classic recipes like pancakes and muffins.

Here’s a peek at how the guide came together and some key baking lessons we learned along the way.

Baking with Ancient Grains via @kingarthurflour

Creating a guide from scratch

To make sure our guide was the resource for incorporating ancient grains into baking, I had some brainstorming to do.

My first task was to decide which ancient grains to test. Easy! With a simple shop around our test kitchen and local grocery store, I came up with a list of eight flours that are tasty, popular, and generally accessible: amaranth, barley, buckwheat, Kamut, millet, quinoa, spelt, and teff.

These eight ancient grains are versatile enough to include in many standard recipes; just swap out some of the all-purpose flour for an equal amount of ancient grain flour. Our R&D team has had great success doing this at a 25% substitution (i.e. it has replaced 25% of the all-purpose flour with an ancient grain flour in many recipes without significantly altering the flavor and texture of the baked goods). This was a great place to start, but I was eager to dig deeper. Would substituting more than 25% of spelt or millet flour yield disastrous results? If I put in 100% teff or amaranth flour, would I discover fantastic new combinations?

Next, I had to pick recipes for testing. This wasn’t as easy. With literally thousands of recipes on our website, it was hard to even know where to start. With some collaboration, though, I narrowed my focus to breakfast baking, a natural fit for these wholesome grains. From there, I chose five customer favorites: Banana Bread, Basic Muffins, Scones, Simply Perfect Pancakes, and Cinnamon Bread.

Now I had a plan: I would substitute 100%, 50%, and 25% of each ancient grain flour in each recipe.

You don't need special recipes to incorporate more ancient grains into your baking. Click To Tweet
Baking with Ancient Grains via @kingarthurflour

Cinnamon bread baked with (left to right) 25% quinoa flour, 25% buckwheat flour, and 25% spelt flour.

Baking and tasting

In the comfort of King Arthur Flour’s test kitchen, I worked through 32 batches of each breakfast item. At the end of each day, I taste-tested and analyzed everything, oftentimes recruiting my fellow employee-owners and family members (lest you think that I didn’t share).

It may seem like glamorous work, but picking out the textural impact and intricate flavor components in 160 different baked goods was no easy task. My notes became a jumble of descriptors like nutty, earthy, light, moist, tender, etc., etc., etc. More often than not, I spent more time analyzing and sorting through my notes than I did baking. In the end, though, the hard work paid off in the form of this thoroughly researched guide.

Baking with Ancient Grains via @kingarthurflour

Scones baked with (left to right) 50% amaranth flour, 50% buckwheat flour, and 50% spelt flour.

Our favorite ancient grains combinations

Ancient grains are definitely just as cool as they’re made out to be. Each of the flours I tested had a unique taste and contributed varying degrees of textural complexity to the recipes. That said, I did have some favorites. Here are just a few I recommend trying:

  1. Cinnamon Bread made with 50-50 Kamut and all-purpose flours was so soft and tender that we preferred it to a loaf made with 100% all-purpose flour.
  2. Our Simply Perfect Pancakes almost seemed more perfect with amaranth flour. In fact, here’s a secret: our gluten-free Easy Amaranth Pancakes are actually just our Simply Perfect Pancakes recipe with amaranth flour replacing all-purpose. We liked this combination so much that we created a new recipe just to feature it.
  3. Kamut flour really enhanced the flavor of our Scones, making them richer and more buttery tasting.
  4. We loved the way the quinoa flour complemented the cinnamon and nutmeg in our Banana Bread and didn’t mask the banana flavor even when substituted 100%.
  5. Spelt flour ensured that our Basic Muffins were moist and tender, and had an extra touch of sweetness.
Baking with Ancient Grains via @kingarthurflour

Pancakes baked with (left to right) 100% quinoa flour, 100% teff flour, and 100% kamut flour.

What we learned about baking with ancient grains

As for takeaways from the project, our new Guide to Baking with Ancient Grains includes all the results from our extensive testing, and is chock full of useful tidbits on each grain, as well as suggestions for how you can start incorporating them into your baking. But without getting into all that nitty-gritty, here are some of general tips to help get you started:

  1. Substituting 25% ancient grain flour for all-purpose flour in just about any recipe will add interesting flavor to your baked goods without significantly altering the texture.
  2. While many ancient grains are gluten-free, Kamut, spelt, and barley contain gluten and generally have a higher threshold for substitution.
  3. In yeast bread, we don’t recommend substituting more than 50% ancient grains for the all-purpose or bread flour. You’ll end up with dough that’s difficult to work with and a finished loaf that’s dense and fractured.
  4. Of the five recipes we tested, the quick breads (muffins and banana bread), and pancakes seemed the most adaptable to the ancient grain substitutions we threw at them.
  5. We found that adding 1 to 2 tablespoons of liquid to our batters and doughs was an easy way to combat the sometimes drier, crumblier texture in baked goods made with higher amounts of ancient grain flours.
  6. Because ancient grains are often whole grains, they’re more prone to deterioration when left at room temperature. We recommend storing them in plastic containers or bags in your freezer.
  7. To preserve freshness, any uneaten baked goods should be stored airtight at room temperature for up to two days, and in the freezer after that.
  8. Like all our flours, the best way to measure ancient grain flours by volume is with this fluff-sprinkle-scrape method. Better yet, measure by weight.

We loved experimenting with ancient grains, and will continue to do so and pass along our findings. In the meantime, we encourage you to check out our guide and start incorporating these unique, flavorful grains into your baking. As always, we’d love for you to share your own experiences and discoveries with these versatile ancient grains; tell us what you think in comments, below.

comments

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      While we do have a number of cookbooks, including one about Whole Grain Baking, the full Ancient Grains Guide is currently only available online. We’re glad to hear you’re eager to use it and have it easily accessible, though! We’ll keep your request in mind during future discussions about printed publications. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

  1. Rosech

    I do not use flour of any kind in this country due to over hybriding and bleaching or even the unbleached, but go online and order in the REAL flour Einkorn from being restarted as a real ancient grain 10K years ago and has now been replanted. It is not hybrided nor bleached and is fantastic, and very, very low gluten content as well. Just like I switched to stevia for sweetening. Better healthy food items than not.

    Reply
  2. Susan

    A few weeks ago for a friend who, for medical reasons, has to avoid gluten, I made a cookie that called for all Teff flour: Teff Peanut Butter cookies. The recipe is from Bob’s Red Mill. Wow! I liked these as well as or better than PB cookies made with wheat flour.

    Reply
  3. Sarah Reid, CNP

    How did you manage to make 100% substitutions of GF flours like quinoa for gluten containing? Sounds like a recipe for glue to me – usually GF baking is a little more complex than a 1:1 substitution! Perhaps clarify the banana bread comment for novice GF bakers out there?!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      We checked in with Charlotte herself to get a definitive answer on this one, and this is what she had to say, “Great question! We were as surprised as you are to discover that we could substitute 100% of some ancient grain flours into some of our recipes. In the case of the quinoa flour in banana bread, we think that the flour absorbed moisture (from the eggs, sugar, honey, and bananas) is such a way so as to help it maintain structure through the baking process. This will depend on each flour and each recipe, and may even depend how the flour is milled – our quinoa flour is ground quite fine, but others may be coarser and therefore not absorb liquid in the same way. Our guide is a great resource for all our recommendations on which flours work well in which recipes.” If you have any further questions, we’d be happy to talk them over with you on the Baker’s Hotline (855-371-BAKE(2253)). Hope that helps! Kye@KAF

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