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.

And speaking of banana bread, want to customize our Whole-Grain Banana Bread to YOUR taste? Use our interactive recipe generator to tweak the ingredients and create your very own personalized banana bread recipe!

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. Ric

    I am having trouble with using WWW in quick breads, the center of the bread doesn’t cook as fast as the outside, at the end of baking I insert toothpick and it comes out clean but when I slice bread the center is gummy,
    What am I doing wrong?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Ric, it sounds like your oven temperature might run a bit hot, or that your pans could be a little on the dark side. (Meaning color, not the Force!) Either could cause the outside of your quickbreads to bake too quickly, leaving the insides gummy. Lowering the temperature of your oven by around 25° and baking for longer would probably help. For a more accurate test of doneness than using a toothpick, you’ll want the center of your quickbreads to reach at least 200°, before removing them from the oven, or 205° for banana bread. Happy baking! Kat@KAF

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      An excellent observation, Erika. Whole wheat, which includes the bran and the germ of the wheat berry, has a higher protein content than all-purpose flour. The higher the protein in a flour, the more liquid it absorbs. (All-purpose has a protein level of 11.7%, whereas whole wheat’s is 14%.) You can combat this by adding an additional 2 teaspoons of liquid for every cup of whole wheat flour.

      Per the lack of rise, it could be helped by more moisture, but in general, whole grain recipes don’t rise as much. The reason is that bran has tiny little sharp edges that cut gluten strands and prevent things from rising as high. Adding something like a Whole Grain Bread Improver or Vital Wheat Gluten can help give your batters or doughs some extra strength. Annabelle@KAF

  2. Cindy D Myers

    Isn’t there a difference in the weight of whole wheat flour? So when substituting for all purpose flour, shouldn’t we be using less?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Cindy! You’re correct that a cup of our whole wheat flour weighs 4 oz compared to our all-purpose flour which weighs 4.25 ounces. Getting down to the nitty gritty of that extra 1/4 ounce is more prevalent in yeast breads, where you would want to make it equal by weight rather than by volume. With quick breads though, doing it equally by volume is just fine. Annabelle@KAF

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