How to use whole wheat flour in quick breads: it's a simple switch

You know it’s good for you. You’ve wanted to do it forever. And this time you’re determined: you WILL learn how to use whole wheat flour. Like, how to substitute it for all-purpose flour in all of your favorite recipes. How to make baked treats that actually pass the “family filter:” they look good, taste good, and disappear quickly.

Thankfully, substituting whole wheat flour for all-purpose flour is actually quite easy in most recipes. And quick bread is a great place to start (think banana bread, zucchini bread, pumpkin bread, those breads where you simply stir together batter and pour it into a loaf pan).

Learn how to use whole wheat flour in quick breads — without any fuss from your family! Click To Tweet

What are the three potential main differences between a typical recipe made with all-purpose (white) flour, and one made with whole wheat flour? Flavor, color, and rise. Something made with whole wheat may taste “wheatier;” it may appear darker; and it may rise differently.

These differences are most apparent in recipes where flour is the chief ingredient: e.g., bread. Yeast bread is a prime example; many yeast breads are made simply from flour, water, yeast, and salt.

But compare yeast bread to quick bread, which along with its flour usually includes sugar, butter, eggs, and mix-ins like mashed fruit or chocolate chips or nuts. While it’s starkly apparent which loaf of yeasted sandwich bread is 100% whole wheat and which is made from white flour, the difference is much less pronounced in, say, a rich, dark loaf of banana bread. Or even in a delicate lemon bread.

Let’s take a look.

How to use whole wheat flour in quick bread via @kingarthurflour

How to use whole wheat flour: lemon bread

Here are two loaves of Quick Lemon Bread ready to go into the oven. I’m using this recipe because it’ll be easy to tell if there’s any discernible difference between all-purpose flour and whole wheat flour versions. The bread is naturally light-colored, and its flavor (sans glaze) is very mildly lemon.

The loaf on the left is made with all-purpose flour; the one on the right with white whole wheat flour (which is the only whole wheat flour I use; more on that later).

You can definitely see a difference in color.

How to use whole wheat flour in quick bread via @kingarthurflour

Here they are baked. The color difference in the crust remains.

How to use whole wheat flour in quick bread via @kingarthurflour

Interior color? Ditto.

But it’s not an in-your-face difference; if you didn’t have the side-by-side comparison with a white-flour loaf, you wouldn’t necessarily know the loaf on the right is whole wheat.

How to use whole wheat flour in quick bread via @kingarthurflour

And rise? No difference.

What about flavor? The flavor of the whole wheat loaf is just slightly tannic: there’s a tiny “bite” on the end as your taste buds interpret what you’re chewing. But like the color, this isn’t necessarily off-putting.

You also get a bit of gritty mouth-feel from the whole wheat flour’s bran. Let the loaf rest overnight, though, and that bran softens, losing any texture-altering powers it might initially have.

Now let’s try this same test with banana bread, a loaf chock-full of bananas, nuts, and spice: in other words, a more complex loaf than lemon.

How to use whole wheat flour in quick bread via @kingarthurflour

How to use whole wheat flour: banana bread

I’m using our Whole Grain Banana Bread recipe, which calls for a 50/50 combination of white whole wheat flour and all-purpose flour. For this comparison, I’m eschewing the combo and using straight-up all-purpose flour (left) and white whole wheat flour (right).

Difference in batter color? Yes.

How to use whole wheat flour in quick bread via @kingarthurflour

Difference in color after being baked? Not as apparent, especially under a coating of cinnamon-sugar. Looks like the crust of the whole wheat loaf (right) is slightly darker.

Now, what about interior color?

How to use whole wheat flour in quick bread via @kingarthurflour

No difference. Between the brown sugar and the bananas (which darken as they bake), any color difference is erased.

How to use whole wheat flour in quick bread via @kingarthurflour

And rise? Negligible difference. The all-purpose flour loaf (left) domes a tiny bit more, but both rise nicely.

Finally, what about flavor and texture?

Hallelujah! No discernible difference. The assertive flavors of banana and brown sugar, cinnamon and toasted nuts erase any “edgy” whole wheat flavor; and the bananas’ moisture softens the bran as the loaf bakes, eliminating any potential grittiness.

Conclusion

Want to use whole wheat flour in your favorite quick bread recipes? Go right ahead. If you’re at all hesitant, start by substituting whole wheat flour for half the all-purpose flour. If you like the results, keep increasing the percentage — potentially right up to 100%.

How to use whole wheat flour in quick bread via @kingarthurflour

Why we love white whole wheat flour

Let’s get something straight right off the bat: white whole wheat flour is 100% whole wheat flour, with all the vitamins, minerals, and fiber of standard red whole wheat.

The difference? White wheat lacks a certain dark, strong-tasting compound (phenolic acid) in its bran layer. Without this compound, white whole wheat is milder-flavored and lighter-colored than red whole wheat. For those who don’t enjoy the assertiveness of whole wheat, this is an obvious plus.

Remember the family filter? If you’re trying to get your decidedly whole wheat-averse family to switch from all-purpose to whole wheat flour, substitute white whole wheat. In most recipes, they’ll never know the difference!

Want to know more about how to use whole wheat flour? Read our “From White to Wheat: a Baker’s Guide” posts on bread, rolls, cinnamon buns, and pizzabreakfast; cake and cupcakes; and cookies, bars, and brownies.

Have you tried white whole wheat flour? What do you think? Please share in comments, below.

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. Martie

    There are three great recipes on King Arthur Flour’s website that come to mind: “Our Favorite Blueberry Muffins,” “100% whole wheat cranberry-sour cream coffeecake,” and “Thanksgiving Muffins.” The first two are made with 100% white whole wheat flour, and the third is a 50:50 blend of all-purpose and white whole wheat. I get tons of compliments whenever I make any of these goodies. I’ve also gotten into the habit of substituting 1/4 to 1/3 white whole wheat for all-purpose in quick bread recipes, including biscuits. Nice article, PJ. Happy New Year!

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Happy New Year to you, too, Martie — so good to see your name here! How are the cows — staying warm? How about you? PJH@KAF

  2. Marvin

    Yes, i use white wheat a lot its a superior wheat for my sour dough bread baking , no need to go extreme, 50% or20% whole wheat is just fine , the sugar and all the aditional addins not nesessary, a little self confidence helps a lot in baking , ✌

    Reply
  3. Monica

    I remember reading that it can help to let things made with whole wheat flour rest for 20 min or so before baking to soften the bran. Would that work for quick bread or would it change the rise?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Monica, good thinking. We’ve found that it can be helpful to let whole wheat batters rest before baking in order to fully hydrate and ensure a pleasant texture. However, in our testing of this banana bread, we found it simply wasn’t necessary since this loaf is already so incredibly moist with the oil and bananas in the batter. You’re welcome to include a brief rest if you like — it won’t negatively impact the rise — but it’s probably not necessary. Kye@KAF

    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Jon, freshly ground whole wheat has marvelous flavor — sweet and nutty, with none of the tannic overtones of wheat flour that’s been sitting awhile. You may have to adjust the liquid in your yeast recipes — either up or down, it’s variable — but in other types of recipes you shouldn’t have to make any changes. Enjoy! PJH@KAF

  4. Lorraine Fina Stevenski

    KA white whole wheat flour is my favorite alternate flour. My favorite recipe for Banana Bread is made with WWW flour and flax. My banana bread is Jamaican inspired and is flavored with coconut and rum. I use buttermilk and butter in the batter. It has a crunchy topping made with ground pralines, toffee and cinnamon sugar. It IS a good idea to let the dough or batter rest before baking so the flour has a chance to better hydrate. Sometimes this flour needs a bit more moisture too. I store it in the refrigerator to keep it fresh.

    Reply
  5. Christine

    I’ve found that I can use whole wheat, but I can’t use white whole wheat. Normal whole wheat has a bitter taste, but use a little orange juice in place of some of the water and it goes away completely. White whole wheat has a funny taste that just won’t go away. Do you have any suggestions for something I could add to recipes where I use white whole wheat that would work like orange juice does with traditional whole wheat?

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Christine, taste is so subjective; I’d say stick with the red whole wheat/orange juice, since you like the flavor. I’ve always preferred the flavor of white whole wheat, as it’s so mild in comparison to red, but there must just be some little edge to its taste that you’re picking up on your palate. I don’t have any suggestions for countering the taste; though if you’re making recipes with sugar, you might cut back on the sugar just a bit since you may be tasting white whole wheat as “sweet,” given it’s missing the bitter compound in its bran layer that red whole wheat has. PJH@KAF

  6. Linda Parsons

    PJ I made the King Arthur whole wheat bread recipe in my bread maker and here is how the top came out. I looked at my dough after kneading for ten minutes and the dough was lumpy and not smooth. So I kept adding water a little at a time until I had added 1/8th cup. I was afraid to add more so I just left it. It never did get unlumpy though. Did too little liquid cause the top to cave in like this?

    Well it would not allow me to paste a picture but the top caved in about 2” or so.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Thanks for reaching out, Linda. The most common reason for a loaf to collapse in a bread machine is too much water. One thing that can help with the texture of your bread is to combine your water and flour, let it rest for 20 minutes or so so that the whole wheat flour can absorb the liquid, then add the salt, yeast, pop it in bread machine, and let it begin the cycle. Letting is rest before mixing thoroughly will very much improve the texture of your dough and finished bread. Annabelle@KAF

  7. Linda Parsons

    Well when reading the Tip and Tricks on the King Arthur’s site, it said if your dough is lumpy it needs more liquid and mine was lumpy, not smooth. Should I have just left it alone then? In my bread machine instructions it said to make sure my yeast does not come in contact with the liquid or salt when putting in the ingredients. So it won’t hurt to mix that in after the dough sits? My bread maker did not start right away on the whole wheat cycle. Maybe it was resting then, however, the flour was not totally saturated in the water since it was not mixed up yet. Thanks so much for your help. I did measure everything exact. I even weighed my flour.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Weighing is perfect, Linda! Letting the dough rest should help things become a bit more homogeneous so that you’ll wind up with a smoother dough once you pop it in the bread machine. Our friendly Baker’s Hotline staff is also full of tips and tricks at 855-371-BAKE (2253) if you want to chat with one of them. Annabelle@KAF

  8. Michelle

    Pretty much love this post! I feel a bit of a pantry cleaning on my future. So I understand AP, Red WW, and White WW. How/where does WW Pastry fall in?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Good question, Michelle. Whole wheat pastry flour has a lower protein content than all-purpose flour, so it gives baked goods a tender texture. You can use it one for one in place of all-purpose flour in most recipes, knowing that the final product will be a bit softer than it otherwise would it. Note that 1 cup is lighter than all-purpose flour: it weighs in at 3 3/8 ounces. We especially like it in cakes, quick breads, and especially graham crackers! Kye@KAF

  9. mary devries

    this flour is the tops. it works well in most of my recipes. in some I cut it half and half in others it is the flour . it is perfect for tea back. loved this article.

    Reply

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