Whole Grain Brownies: the little black dress of baking

Think about it. They both fit any occasion, from day into evening. They both dress up or down with equal aplomb. And they’re both appropriate, no matter the circumstance.

But whole grain? Isn’t that like wearing a burlap sack to the prom?

Au contraire. Not when you have the right recipe.

In the test kitchen, we’re sometimes so involved in our “mad scientist” mode, thinking up new combinations of flavors, or the next new thing as far as technique, that we forget that other people may still be looking at whole grains as punishment food. And that the wonder of white whole wheat flour may yet be undiscovered by many bakers out there.

The collective food memory of the 60s and 70s’ boat anchor bread loaves dies hard.

When PJ, Susan Miller (the head of our Baking Education Center) and I marched into the test kitchen to work on our cookbook, King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking, we had a singular mission in mind. Of course, it was serious business and nothing but every day.


No recipe was good enough until it tasted great. Period. Not “great, for something made with whole grains.” No qualifiers were allowed. Along the way, we cranked out a pile of leaden loaves, rocklike crackers and sunken cakes, so you wouldn’t have to.

Every once in a while, we’d get a break during the testing process. We gradually learned how whole grains behave, and two of the guiding principles we came to trust were these: Whole grains need more moisture, and they need more time. PJ had the cookies and brownies chapter, and in the process created this classic. Like a little black dress, it’s easy to reach for. Let’s put some Whole Grain Brownies together now. You can also see a video of me making these very brownies at how2heroes.com.

Preheat your oven (350°F), and grease a 9″ x 13” pan. If you’re planning to take these brownies out on the town, I suggest you accessorize with a piece of parchment paper underneath; more about that later (and on the video).


Place the butter and brown sugar in a large, microwaveable bowl, or in a medium saucepan. PJ decided the more assertive flavor of whole wheat was better matched with brown sugar than white. Smart lady. Melt the butter.


Stir the mixture, then heat just until it’s hot (110°F to 120°F). This little extra bit of heat helps the sugar to dissolve, which is where the shiny crust comes from on top of your brownies. This is how the mixture looks after another 40 seconds at low power in the ‘wave.


Off the heat, stir in the cocoa, salt, baking powder, espresso powder, and vanilla.


Here is my artsy, mirror-image photo of vanilla being added. This vanilla was from the very bottom of the bottle where the solids were, so it looks a tad cloudy in the measuring spoon.


Stir until smooth; check that the mixture isn’t too hot: pleasantly warm to the touch is ok, but you don’t want to cook the eggs when you add them. Now add the eggs, one at a time.


Stir between additions, and watch the texture of the batter change and get thicker.

Add the flour


and chocolate chips. This step is where you can add your own personal touches. Mint or white chocolate chips? Sure! Peanut butter chips? Go on, turn some heads! Toffee bits? By all means.

For you raisinet fans, try a cup of dried cranberries and a cup of bittersweet chocolate chips. And don’t forget nuts! I’m fond of macadamias in brownies, when I can afford them, but walnuts or pecans are just fine, too. Add 1 cup of whatever “accessories” you choose.

I went with some chocolate chips, white chocolate chunks, and walnuts in this batch.


Transfer the batter to the pan,


and bake for 28 to 30 minutes.


Test kitchen head smack here. Parchment has this annoying habit of flopping over in the oven. I know this, yet, do you think I’d remember to take proper measures to address it? Not this time.


I can tell you, however, that if you’re planning to go this route, it’s best to collect yourself a couple of little metal alligator clips to secure the parchment to the edge of the pan.

Back to the baking. How do you know they’re done? PJ often gives her pans of brownies a “belly button”, but poking a small hole in the center to look at the texture of the brownies there. It should show wet crumbs, but not raw batter.


Look at the edges, as well. They should be set. With whole grain brownies, you may not see a lot of “pull” from the edge of the pan, the way you’d expect to with a white flour recipe, so don’t let that fool you into overbaking. This is how the edges look after baking.


Take the brownies out of the oven. Now for the hard part. Keeping your hands off them.

Because the true miracle of this recipe happens overnight. After the brownies are cool, cover them and let them rest at room temperature. The bran in the flour will absorb moisture overnight, and do a graceful disappearing act. Like a lot of recipes, a little rest where all the flavors can talk to each other is a good thing.


Now, about that parchment thing. When it’s time to serve, you can pick the whole batch of brownies straight up out of the pan, and place it on a cutting board. Now you can cut out shapes to drape in chocolate (a PJ specialty), frost, or drizzle with caramel and a sprinkling of salt. Cut into diamonds for a change of pace, or sandwich a slab of your favorite ice cream between two squares for the ultimate ice cream sandwich.

Brownies are an all-occasion kind of food, and welcome everywhere. No cooking wardrobe should be without a classic recipe like this. Just like your little black dress.

Please try, rate and review our Whole Grain Brownies.

Susan Reid

Chef Susan Reid grew up in New Jersey, graduated from Bates College and the Culinary Institute of America, and is presently the Food Editor of Sift magazine. She does demos, appearances, and answers food (and baking) questions from all quarters.


  1. Amy L

    So, are the 2 cups of chocolate chips the recipe calls for optional? Without them, the brownies would still be chocolate-y? It’s not completely clear to me above, when the blogger recommends adding “accessories,” whether she is saying you can omit the chocolate chips completely, or she is saying you can sub 1 cup of something else but still need at least 1 cup of chocolate chips. Or maybe she’s saying use 2 cups of chocolate chips, PLUS other “accessories.” Are the chocolate chips supposed to melt into the warmed batter, or stay chunky?

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Amy, there is wiggle room here. You could do one cup of chocolate chips and one cup of something else, or two cups of something else, or two cups of chocolate chips. Go crazy! Bryanna@KAF

    1. PJ Hamel

      Sure, Laniesha – wrap them tightly in plastic, then put in a plastic bag and wrap in foil; you want two layers of wrapping to try to preserve their moistness as long as possible. PJH

  2. Brandy

    These are my favorite brownies. The only change I make is to replace half the butter with apple sauce. I did it as directed the first time, and the brownies were greasier than I like. With the apple sauce/butter combo they are perfect….but we have never waited 24 hours before eating them.

    1. PJ Hamel

      Susan, I wouldn’t use brewed coffee; it’ll change the brownies’ texture. You can certainly leave out the coffee element all together; though if you have instant, you could try substituting about 1 1/2 teaspoons of that. Enjoy – PJH

  3. Jess

    Can I replace some of the butter with applesauce or Greek yogurt? And would I be able to change the amount of brown sugar without significantly changing the texture (what would you recommend?) and would it be really good with some peanut butter or even cream cheese in the batter?
    I think making all of those changes at once would be a little risky and you would be compromising the flavor and texture noticeably. Try altering one thing at a time. I would use applesauce to replace the butter. We have a recipe for cream cheese brownies that you may want to try. ~Amy

  4. Livingwell

    I just recently bought a bag of your white whole wheat flour to get more whole grains into my baked goods. Can I make this recipe using a 50/50 combination of it and your unbleached all-purpose flour to ease into the whole whole grain thing? I wish there was a smaller bag of the white whole wheat available. I had to buy a 5 pound bag and that’s a lot of flour to throw away if we don’t like it. Though I routinely buy the 5-lb. bags of your all-purpose flour, it was also available in a small 2-lb. bag. Thanks for your help!

    This brownie recipe is AMAZING! and can be made using either white whole wheat or the traditional whole wheat flour.
    Drop that whole wheat flour into a freezer safe bag and store in the freezer to extend the shelf life.
    You can also use the white whole wheat flour in all purpose recipes – start with 25% white whole wheat in the recipe and see if it meets your taste and texture expectations. You can increase the amount up to 50%. After that, it is best to use a recipe written for whole wheat flour, subbing the white whole wheat for the traditional red whole wheat flour. Happy Baking! Irene @ KAF

  5. April in CT

    I baked these tonight and wondered the whole time how I would get through the overnight wait period. I finally came up with a solution! I told my husband we should do a taste test of some tonight and then some tomorrow to see how much of a difference we noticed. I have to say the ones tonight are fabulous…and they’re supposed to get better than this?! I can’t wait until dessert tomorrow night!

  6. Lauren B

    Spectrum palm oil shortening seems to work well as a butter sub in all my dairy-free experiments. 🙂

    The brownies look wonderful! I’ve always wondered how to get the crackly crust.

  7. Melinn Geery

    This recipe really put the Brown in Brownies…the overnight wait was worth it. Ready for more ww dessert and snack items,bring ’em on! mmg

  8. HMB

    Nice brownies — they are very moist and are keeping well. Some brownies dry out after a day or two, but these are still fresh-tasting. Yummy!!!


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