Breakfast: from white to wheat, a baker's guide

You know what I feel right now?

Relief.

Because it’s officially spring, and this super-long, ridiculously challenging cold spell, a.k.a. WINTER, has finally ended?

Well that, for sure. After months of ice-cold temperatures, icy roads, and ice falling from the sky (do you sense a theme here?), we’re SO ready for what comes next: Mud Season.

But beyond that, I’m relieved that the hypothesis I challenged myself with months ago – that it shouldn’t be difficult to change the flour in favorite recipes from all-purpose (white) flour to whole wheat – has proven true.

Let’s backtrack a bit.

Whole-grain is on everyone’s lips these days, the mantra of the nutritionally conscientious. Eat more whole grains. Add healthy fiber to your diet.

And, from the FDA: “Consume at least half of all grains as whole grains.”

And yet… who wants to take a well-loved, cherished family recipe, one you’ve proudly baked and shared for years, and risk transitioning it from all-purpose (white) flour to whole wheat?

Well, many of you do, judging by the questions we hear every day on our baker’s hotline.

And honestly? So do I. The older I get, the healthier I want to stay. And the same can be said for all of us, from babies to Boomers: a strong, healthy body is one of the keys to a happy life.

Since I bake SO much of what my extended family eats – bread, rolls, pizza, and other treats – I decided to step up and actually take those chocolate chip cookies, that beloved white sandwich bread, those signature cinnamon muffins, and bake them with whole wheat.

Thus my hypothesis: the process HAS to be easy. I know I won’t do it if it’s difficult.

Whew! That’s the sigh of relief I breathed a few paragraphs ago. I’ve now substituted whole wheat flour for white in sandwich bread and dinner rolls, pizza and cinnamon buns, cookies and bars of all flavors and persuasions and, as of today, all my favorite breakfast treats: muffins, batter breads, scones, biscuits, and pancakes.

The result? Hypothesis proven.

It’s NOT difficult to change your favorite white-flour recipes into fiber- and nutrient-rich whole-grain treats.

C’mon, I’ll show you.

First step: the best whole wheat flour.

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Here’s my favorite: our 100% whole-grain organic white whole wheat flour.

Yes, 100% whole grain. Just because there’s “white” in its name doesn’t mean it’s “white” flour. Wonderfully mild-flavored and light-colored, white whole wheat is ground from white wheat berries. While darker, more assertive traditional whole wheat flour is ground from red wheat berries.

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You can see the difference in color in these cinnamon Doughnut Muffins; that’s a muffin made from 100% white whole wheat at top left, and one made from 100% red whole wheat at bottom left.

Red berries vs. white berries? Same as a yellow tulip and a pink tulip. Different colors, same flower.

And how about that organic label – what difference does that make?

Well, eating organic is another lifestyle choice I make – both to limit ingestion of chemicals, and to support the small farmers who choose to raise their crops and livestock using this method.

But when I can’t find our organic white wheat flour, I’m very happy using our regular white wheat.

OK, enough chatter – let’s enjoy some whole wheat breakfast treats, shall we?

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Let’s start with scones. Aside from their pink topping (more on that later), these are just plain, everyday scones, unadorned by fruit, chips, or any flavor beyond vanilla.

I’ll test these plain vanilla scones three ways: using 100% all-purpose flour, as the recipe directs; using a 50/50 blend of all-purpose and white whole wheat; and with 100% white whole wheat flour.

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I make the dough; shape it; and brush it with milk, prior to applying some coarse sparkling sugar.

But wait a minute – there’s some vanilla sugar on the giveaway samples table. Mmmmm… that sounds perfect! Smells good, tastes good…

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…turns bright pink when wet.

O…K… So much for that experiment. Well, they’ll still taste good.

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Yup. Bright pink.

And the flavor, texture, mouth-feel?

Wonderful. Clearly the 100% white whole wheat scone is darker; and there was a bit of grittiness in its mouth-feel, from the bran.

But flavor and texture? Totally good.

Next up:

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My favorite (and your favorite) Doughnut Muffins, the most popular muffin recipe on our Web site.

I’m choosing these because they’re a “cake-type” muffin, one in which the butter, sugar, and eggs are beaten (creamed) together before the flour is added alternately with another liquid. I’ll test “stir together” muffins later.

For this test, I’m throwing traditional whole wheat flour into the mix – literally.

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Left to right, I’m using all-purpose flour; a 50/50 AP/white wheat blend; 100% white wheat; and 100% red wheat. See the difference in color?

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That’s AP flour to 100% red wheat, left to right. The rise is the same; again, only the color is different, plus the slight bit of bran in the mouth-feel.

In other types of recipes – bread, especially, and cookies, to a lesser extent – I’ve found myself adding more liquid when using 100% whole wheat. Whole wheat flour, with its coarser grind, absorbs liquid more slowly than all-purpose flour; but also ultimately absorbs a greater amount.

With these breakfast treats, though, I find the liquid ratio wasn’t an issue. Even if the 100% whole wheat version isn’t exactly the same consistency at the batter or dough stage as its all-purpose counterpart, that difference disappears in the oven. Everything I bake rises to the same height, and has very similar texture.

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See?

Next, let’s try a stir-together muffin, one in which the dry ingredients and wet ingredients are mixed separately, then stirred together briefly and gently; no beating involved.

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Irish Soda Bread Muffins.

Now, these muffins already call for 1/3 of their flour being whole wheat. But I’m ignoring that, and stick with my original test: 100% all-purpose flour; a 50/50 blend; and 100% white whole wheat flour.

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This is what I mean by “gently and briefly” combining the ingredients. I whisk together the flour and other dry ingredients; the buttermilk and other liquid ingredients; and then stir the two together (no beating!) with a spatula. The raisins and caraway seeds go in at the end.

This method works well for muffins that include a lower percentage of fat. Why? Without fat to prevent gluten from toughening up as you beat, it’s important to combine everything gently.

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And here they are: you can see a difference in color, in both the batter and the baked muffin.

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But texture? Taste? Nada. Tender and crumbly, studded with raisins and caraway seeds, even the bran is undetectable this time around.

Here comes a whole wheat challenge:

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Buttermilk biscuits. With honey, of course.

I decide it’s time to go offsite, and try someone else’s recipe. After all, a lot of the recipes we want to make start out un-vetted, right?

I Google “the best biscuit recipe.” And come up with a link to Oprah’s site, proclaiming “The World’s Best Biscuits. End of Story.”

Well – how can I resist? Andrew Carmellini, the fellow who developed the recipe for Oprah, says, “That’s all I’ve got to say about these. The best. In the world. Period. Eat ’em while they’re hot.”

Don’t worry, I will!

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I’m going to try 100% red wheat flour again – really give it a workout. A tender, soft, high-rising biscuit made with 100% RED whole wheat flour? We’ll see.

The flours (at left, clockwise from top) – red wheat, all-purpose, the 50/50 blend, and white wheat – produce doughs that are virtually the same consistency.

And how will they bake?

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The same.

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Same rise; different color.

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See what I mean about color?

In biscuits, which are practically all flour, the color becomes very noticeable. All of these biscuits rise beautifully; and taste anywhere from mild (white flour) to assertive (red whole wheat). But I think it’s the color, in this case, that will be the “no thank you” moment for whole-grain non-lovers.

Also, the 100% whole wheat biscuits (especially the red whole wheat ones) have a discernible rough texture in the mouth. It’s not unpleasant, any more than eating an oatmeal cookie could be considered unpleasant; but it’s there.

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But let’s end on a sweet note, shall we? This is one of the 50/50 biscuits.

Next, an all-American favorite, THE most-searched bread recipe online:

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Banana bread!

“But, I thought this post was about breakfast…?”

Well, the only difference between batter bread (banana bread, zucchini bread, pumpkin bread, et. al.) and muffins is the shape and size of the pan. And besides – don’t tell me you’ve never had a piece of toasted banana bread for breakfast!

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The recipe comes from the very first cookbook I ever had a hand in creating: a 1989 fund-raiser for the Camden (Maine) Public Library’s children’s room.

When I asked the community to share their favorite recipes, I was overwhelmed by the number of banana bread recipes that appeared in my mailbox. I ended up putting 10 of them in the book – just because they all sounded so good!

And for the whole wheat test, I choose Shirley J. Martinek’s recipe – mostly because it divides by four easily (I’ll test both red and white whole wheats); but also because of its interesting top and bottom crust of vanilla-scented, brown sugar-sweetened walnuts.

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As you can see, all the loaves bake up in similar fashion.

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Since the crust is so dark, you can’t tell which loaf uses which flour until you actually cut into them.

OK, one more time: from left to right, I’m using all-purpose flour; a 50/50 all purpose/white whole wheat blend; 100% white whole wheat flour, and 100% red whole wheat flour, a.k.a. King Arthur Premium Whole Wheat Flour.

Great flavor: check (though I would have preferred a bit more banana). Nice, moist texture: check. With the rough bits of unmashed bananas, any potential “branniness” pretty much disappears.

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Isn’t that a nice top crust? VERY tasty, too.

And last, but certainly not least, we reach my favorite of all weekend breakfasts:

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Pancakes!

My go-to pancake recipe is our Homemade Whole Grain Pancake Mix, which makes the softest, tastiest, most comforting pancakes ever.

But since that recipe’s already whole-grain, I turn to Google once again, and come up with Easy Basic Pancakes, from marthastewart.com. Since King Arthur Flour’s about to start sponsoring Martha’s TV show, I figure I’d best give her recipe a try.

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Three bowls of batter: white flour; 50/50; and 100% white whole wheat. By now, I’m sure you can tell which is which.

Of everything I test, these pancakes show the most difference during the batter stage: the 100% white wheat batter is noticeably thinner than either the AP or 50/50 batter.

Well, I think to myself, I’ll just make some pancakes right away; then wait 30 minutes to see if the batter thickens, like pancake batter (and 100% whole wheat batters) often do.

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The essential gear: a whisk to gently combine the ingredients; a tablespoon cookie scoop, for spooning the batter; and a hot oiled (or buttered) griddle.

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Here we go, one scoop of each type. The 100% whole wheat batter spreads more, due to its thinner consistency.

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But in the end, all of the pancakes are just… simply… wonderful. (Did I mention I’m biased towards pancakes?)

As you can see, waiting 30 minutes for the batter to thicken doesn’t make any difference; it doesn’t thicken appreciably, and the cakes all spread the same.

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That’s white flour on top; 50/50 in the center, and 100% whole wheat on the bottom.

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These are the 100% whole wheat pancakes. Slathered with butter…

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…then drenched in syrup, well, who’ll ever know, right?

So, class, what have we learned today?

Substituting whole wheat flour 100% for the all-purpose flour in muffin, scone, biscuit, pancake, and batter bread recipes isn’t difficult.

Expect darker color and perhaps a bit of roughness in the “bite” – again, it’s not unpleasant, just present. And, if you plan enough ahead, the texture in moist products, like quick breads and muffins, gradually smooths out as time goes by. Even letting them sit as short a time as overnight helps .

If you’re feeding an audience with a sensitive or suspicious palate, someone may comment on the “different” taste.* Though frankly, since most of these treats either contain or are brushed/sprinkled with sugar, any potential “whole wheaty” taste isn’t really an issue.

*When baking with whole wheat flour, I often substitute orange juice for part of the liquid called for in the recipe. Why? While it doesn’t lend any flavor of its own, orange juice (used in small amounts) seems to temper the sometimes assertive flavor of whole wheat.

And finally, I’ve learned that my very favorite flour is a blend of 50% white whole wheat, 50% all-purpose.

Considering the government-mandated enrichment “package” of vitamins and minerals in all-purpose flour; the complementary vitamins/minerals, plus fiber, in white whole wheat flour; and white wheat’s mild flavor and light color, this 50/50 blend is absolutely the best of all worlds: flavor, texture, and nutrition.

Want to know more? Read our “From White to Wheat: a Baker’s Guide” posts on bread, rolls, cinnamon buns, and pizza; and cookies, bars, and brownies.

Interested in purchasing King Arthur flours, including white whole wheat, at a store near you? Check out our store locator.

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!

comments

  1. Michelle

    Interesting idea to add a bit extra liquid and also let batter rest before baking, in order for the whole wheat flour to absorb the liquid. But wouldn’t the time spent resting negate the effect of the leavening agent? Should I also increase leavener to compensate?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      A double acting baking powder is activated with moisture and again with heat. There is no need to adjust the leavening for a brief rest, since the heat will take care of the second part of the rising. The rest time is allowing the gluten to fully hydrate. Happy baking! Laurie

  2. Jocelyn

    I really like the white whole wheat. Could I substitute it for all purpose flour in my sourdough starter? The sourdough pizza crusts are our absolute favorites.

    Reply
  3. Penny

    I have spent many fun hours poring over this website. It’s a wonderful resource. This blog on reducing AP flour is really helpful. How about a blog on reducing sugar but not adding other forms of sugar such as honey, molasses, etc? I’d wager there are at least as many of us out here with blood sugar issues as gluten-intolerance ones, yet I’ve never seen anything here on reducing sugar. The 2008 blogs by Susan Reid were more about using sugar substitutes entirely. It would be so helpful to know just how much sugar you can take out of a recipe before you mess up the chemistry completely. I saw one recipe on here recently where it gave a range for the sugar, and that is what I’m looking for–that or how much erythritol you could swap out for part of the sugar. Thank you for all you do for the baking community. Your columns are the very, very best!

    Reply
  4. Tina Hood

    Thank you so much for this series on substituting 100% whole wheat for all purpose flour. I live in an older, small home and due to storage constrictions, only purchase 100% whole wheat flour. I realized that many of the baked goods I made were rather dry and would try to adjust the liquid content, but didn’t know exactly how much to add. I appreciate your coming up with a definitive amount of two tablespoons per cup. I have made a note of that and will be adjusting everything I make accordingly. Thank you again!

    Reply

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