Cake & cupcakes: from white to wheat, a baker's guide

And now, for our grand finale, the magic trick you’ve all been waiting for:

With a wave of my magic wand, I’m going to turn yummy chocolate cupcakes into just-as-yummy WHOLE WHEAT chocolate cupcakes.

Well, actually, there’s no magic involved here – revelation, perhaps, but nothing miraculous.

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Unless you count the miracle of white whole wheat flour, which manages to skillfully walk the line between all-purpose (white) flour and whole wheat, combining signature attributes of both: white flour’s ease of use and mild (read: neutral) flavor; and all of traditional (red) whole wheat’s fiber and enhanced nutrition.

Pictured above is our organic white whole wheat; we also carry a standard version.

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These cupcakes are whole wheat? Really?

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Well, some of them are 100% white whole wheat (WWW). Some are half all-purpose (AP) flour, half white whole wheat; and some are 100% AP flour.

The point is, it’s nearly impossible to tell which is which. Once I’d finished my tests and mixed them all up, there was absolutely no way to tell them apart.

And isn’t that the goal, when you’re trying to convert a recipe from all-purpose flour to whole grain?

Now clearly, chocolate cake benefits by its dark color, which hides whole wheat’s deeper hue. But what about a simple yellow cake?

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Here are some pictures of Plain & Simple Golden Cake, made with various combinations of white and whole wheat flour.

At left, that’s 100% AP flour on the top; 100% WWW flour beneath it.

In the photo at upper right, the lineup reads 50% AP/50% WWW; 100% AP; and 100% WWW.

And at bottom right, a couple of half-moons: 100% WWW on the left, 100% AP on the right. You may be able to see in this picture that the 100% whole wheat cake has a slightly rough surface, and tends to crumble more easily than its white-flour counterpart. The bran, with its sharp edges, shreds the cake’s gluten (the substance that holds baked goods together). Thus, a bran-packed cake might crumble a bit, especially when baked in full-size layers.

The solution?

Cupcakes!

So cupcakes it is, as I test substituting whole wheat flour for all-purpose in the following three types of cake: a dense, moist, oil-based carrot cake; a lighter, pound-cake type lemon cake; and a typical “cream the fat, sugar, and eggs, add the flour and liquid alternately” devil’s food cake.

Let’s start with the carrot cake.

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I decide to use King Arthur’s Carrot Cake Cupcakes, since it earns high marks from you, our readers.

Here are the various flour combinations I’m testing. The tests will be the same for all three recipes, so keep them in mind:
•100% all-purpose (AP) flour
•50% AP/50% white whole wheat flour (WWW)
•50% unbleached cake flour/50% WWW
•100% WWW

I begin by stirring together the batter – literally. This is one of those “stir it up” cakes: no creaming, no alternate additions of flour and liquid.

Bake the cupcakes – no difference in color.

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A slight difference in rise, however. Notice how the cake flour/WWW cupcake rises similarly to the 100% AP one. And the 100% WWW cupcake (at left, in the top picture above) is rather flat across the top.

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Texture-wise, another interesting (though somewhat expected) result: the cupcake made with cake flour, even though it’s also 50% whole wheat, has the finest texture.

And how about the taste? All taste exactly the same: delicious. I love this recipe because it’s not overly sweet.

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Which makes it perfect for its crown of cream cheese frosting.

Next, let’s move to a tougher challenge: a light-textured, light-colored cake.

One recipe for Lemon Bliss Cake cupcakes, coming right up!

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I put together four variations of batter. The recipe calls for creaming the butter and sugar, beating in the eggs, then adding flour alternately with milk. I dutifully do just that – for each of the four batters.

I’m telling you, doing tests like this is not for the easily distracted. Luckily, my husband and dog disappear for the morning – blessed silence!

Notice the difference in color between 100% AP (left), and 100% WWW (right).

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That color variation carries all the way through.

WW7But the rise? No real difference.

And the texture of all four is very similar, too.

The only difference? The slightly grainy “mouth feel” of the 100% WWW cupcake. Rather than being melt-in-your-mouth smooth, the bran gives it a bit of bite.

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Lemon glaze is the perfect final touch. I dip the top of each cupcake into the glaze repeatedly – until it’s gone, absorbed into the moist cupcakes.

And now, what we’ve all been waiting for: Devil’s Food Cake, reincarnated as cupcakes.

This recipe, printed in our King Arthur Flour 200th Anniversary Cookbook, makes an old-fashioned, shortening-based cake. I figure it’ll be a good test to see how well an older recipe takes to whole wheat conversion.

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Four batters – like the lemon cake, made using the “creaming” method.

No noticeable difference in batter consistency, nor in rise during baking.

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Nor in texture – though the cake-flour version might be a tad finer-grained.

Again, the 100% WWW cupcake has a detectable graininess; not unpleasant, just noticeable.

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But heck, once you add that ganache on top – who cares?!

Wait a minute: where’s the spongecake? The angel food?

I decided not to go there. Just like some words are best left unsaid, some recipes are best left unadulterated.

But hey, if you want to make an angel food cake with whole wheat flour, be my guest – and please let us know how it goes.

Me? I’ll stick with my white-flour jelly rolls and angel food – and pick up some extra fiber in these cupcakes.

So, there you have it: the final installment in our White to Wheat, a Baker’s Guide series. Interested in converting more of your favorite recipes from all-purpose to whole wheat flour? Check out these additional “white to wheat” guides:

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. KLin

    This article is so helpful and I’m inspired to try making my next cake with half www flour.
    I’m wondering if there would be any advantage in using whole wheat pastry flour instead of white whole wheat flour in cake recipes? Would any adjustments to the recipe be needed?
    Thanks in advance for your reply.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      We’re glad you liked this article, Kerry! Because Whole Wheat Pastry Flour has such a low protein content, it’s great for delicate pastries and cookies, but can have a hard time staying risen as a cake because it isn’t strong enough. You could try using Whole Wheat Pastry Flour for 1/4 or 1/3 of the flour in a recipe, but the finished cake will probably be on the short, dense side, at least compared to the original all-purpose version. We hope this helps! Annabelle@KAF

  2. Barbara Harmon

    I just found your tutorial – it’s sooo helpful! I usually measure flour using a scale, and I’m wondering if there is a 1:1 conversion from regular flour to white whole wheat flour. That is, does 1 ounce of white whole wheat flour weigh the same as 1 ounce of all purpose flour?

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Not quite, Barbara — the way we measure, and for purposes of our recipes, 1 cup of all-purpose flour weighs 4 1/4 ounces, and 1 cup of whole wheat flour weighs 4 ounces. Hope this helps — PJH

  3. Jessica Gavin @JessicaGavin.Com

    I love this tutorial! I would like to make the lemon bliss cake with 100% white whole wheat flour. How long do you suggest to bake the cupcakes? Should I keep the temperature at 350F in the center of the oven? Is there any way to reduce the amount of butter using apple sauce or replace the butter completely? Perhaps use a light olive oil? Thanks!

    Reply
    1. Barbara Alpern

      Jessica, I would bake the cupcakes at 350 degrees in the center of the oven. Baking time should be about 25 minutes, but check early the first time you bake them. I wouldn’t recommend substituting apple sauce or olive oil for the butter, since the butter needs to be creamed in this recipe. bBarb@KAF

  4. Alvy

    Thanks very much for this. Very helpful as I think about how to make healthier cakes for celebrations. How would it be to use 50% WWW + 50% KA Hi-Maize flour?

    Reply
    1. MaryJane Robbins

      50/50 is a lot for Hi-Maize and flour. Try starting with 75/25 flour to Hi-Maize and then adjusting from there until you have a ratio that works well for you. ~ MJ

  5. Xiaolu @ 6 Bittersweets

    Love this type of comparison post! Do you mind sharing how you did the substitutions? Did you do by weight or volume? And what exchange ratio did you use for either? I’m especially interested in the cake+WWW combination since I do a lot of cake/cupcake baking — thanks!

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Hi – I substituted by volume, since that’s how most people will do it. Our all-purpose flour weighs 4 1/4 ounces/cup, while whole wheat is 4 ounces/cup, so a slight difference if you’re weighing. Not sure what you mean by “exchange ratio” – the blog details the percentage of substitution, if that’s what you mean? Hope this helps – and good luck with your cake-baking! PJH

  6. Karen Bratcher

    I used all WWW flour in your sourdough carrot cake recipe last week. Made two 13 x 9 pans, one went to dinner with my neighbor, the other went to work. I didn’t tell anyone it was WWW and nobody noticed… crumbs were all that was left!

    Reply
  7. Maureen

    I’ve been using white whole wheat flour exclusively for a few years, but I generally do pies & cookies, not cakes. Guess I’ll hafta break down and buy some all-purpose, cake or WW pastry flour too, now that I’m retired and have a little more time for baking. 🙂

    Thanks for these blog posts – always helpful!

    Reply
  8. Nancy

    I love KAF White Whole Wheat flour, and I think that recipe for Lemon Bliss Cake is calling my name soon — as soon as I can pick up some lemons at the grocery.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Julie- We actually have a wonderful blog, posted by one of our test baker’s with a great tutorial on gluten-free bread baking: https://blog.kingarthurflour.com/2010/03/02/tender-high-rising-gluten-free-sandwich-bread-heres-how. If you have any questions after reading through the article, feel free to contact out baker’s hotline at 855-371-2253 and we’d be happy to try and help you talk through the process over the phone. Happy Baking! Jocelyn@KAF

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