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Here at the Whole Grains Council, we field many questions from home bakers looking to use whole grain flour in their recipes. Here are a few quick tips to convert your favorite recipes to whole grain:

  • In cookies, scones, pancakes, muffins, and quick breads (like banana bread), feel free to substitute whole grain flour for all-purpose flour one-to-one, without making other changes.
  • In yeast breads that need to rise, feel free to substitute whole wheat flour for half of the all-purpose flour one-to-one, without making other changes.
  • To make yeast breads 100% whole wheat, add an extra 2 teaspoons liquid per cup of whole wheat flour, and let the dough rest for 25 minutes before kneading.
  • White whole wheat flour and fresh whole wheat flour (as opposed to flour that has been in your pantry for several months) tend to have the sweetest, mildest flavors.
  • Work your way up slowly, gradually replacing more and more of the all-purpose flour with whole grain flour.
  • For a sweeter flavor, replace 2-3 tablespoons of the liquid with orange juice.

To better understand the science of whole grain baking, we caught up with P.J. Hamel, of King Arthur Flour. Hamel has been with King Arthur for 25 years, and has authored (or co-authored) three King Arthur cookbooks, including the King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking Cookbook. This week I caught up with her to learn the best tips and tricks for baking with whole grains.

“The biggest challenge and the thing most people want to do is whole grain bread,” explains Hamel. Bakers can usually substitute up to 50% of the all-purpose flour in a recipe with whole wheat flour, without making other adjustments, and still enjoy a comparable taste and texture, “but if you go 100% [whole grain], you usually change the outcome.” 

Fortunately, our baking expert has the solution. Hamel recommends an additional “two teaspoons of liquid per cup of whole wheat flour,” as whole grains tend to absorb more moisture. Additionally, she recommends allowing the dough to rest for about 20-25 minutes before kneading. Note that these tweaks are generally only necessary when replacing all of the white flour with whole wheat flour, but not if you’re just substituting half.


However, perhaps Hamel’s biggest secret weapon is the type of flour she uses: White whole wheat flour. White whole wheat flour isn’t bleached or refined. It is simply whole grain flour that has been milled from white wheat, rather than the more common red wheat. It has a lighter color and a milder flavor, but still offers all of the whole grain benefits, as its bran, germ, and endosperm are left intact. For this reason, white whole wheat flour is an excellent ingredient to use in whole grain baking, for breads, pastries, and everything in between.

As Hamel demonstrates, whole grain baked goods can be delicious and light, but bakers need to be aware that a hearty whole grain loaf will not taste identical to pillowy white bread. For this reason, Hamel warns that “people need to be sensible about what they can substitute.” She recommends that “everyone start by 50% [whole grain] and feel their way through.” Once they are comfortable, they can work their way up to a greater proportion of whole grains.

Additionally, some recipes better lend themselves to whole grain flour. In cookies, scones, muffins, and other baked goods that “aren’t stark white,” Hamel insists that you’ll “scarcely know the difference” when all-purpose flour is replaced with whole grain flour. Additionally, Hamel reveals that “banana bread is something that does really well with whole grains.” After all, “Everyone loves banana bread.” Similarly, muffins, chocolate cakes, and spice cakes are all well suited to whole wheat flour, due to their darker color and rich texture.  

Another smart entry point into whole grain baking is to seek out recipes made specifically for whole grains. These recipes allow the nutty whole grain taste to shine, and are designed to showcase their pleasantly hearty texture. The most popular whole grain recipe from King Arthur is their Whole Wheat Waffles. According to Hamel, “you honestly cannot tell the difference” that these are made with 100% whole wheat flour. Other fan favorites that Hamel shares with us are the 100% whole grain Soft Chocolate Chip Cookies, and the Crazy Blonde Brownies (which use more than half whole grain flour). 

While our conversation focused on whole wheat baking, Hamel reminds readers that both old fashioned and quick oats “are a great thing to bake with.” (Need proof? Try our Oat-y-Licious Wheat Bread or these Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies.) For the sweetest, most delicious taste, Hamel advises bakers to read the date on the label and “try to get fresh flour,” because “whole wheat flour does gradually oxidize.” (Note: this freshness is one of the many reasons that sprouted whole wheat flour is gaining popularity among bakers, including master baker Peter Reinhart). Lastly, for consumers seeking a milder product, or those who are new to the fuller, richer taste of whole grains, Hamel recommends replacing 2-3 tablespoons of the liquid in the recipe with orange juice, because it “helps temper the flavor of whole wheat.” 

For more whole grain tips and tricks, check out our handy infographic below. (Kelly)

Infographic about Culinary Benefits of Whole Grains



Desire Glowa
I am gluten intolerant and I am very interested in gluten free recipes. One thing I learned at thanksgiving trying to make dinner rolls, I need more practice haha. Thank you for all your time you put into this, I appreciate you!
Thank you for writing -- we're glad you enjoyed the article! And yes, practice certainly helps in the baking department :)
I tried 100% whole grain flour to make buns but they came out very hard on top but the inside is soft. Where did i go wrong?
Was this a recipe designed for whole grain flour, or for white flour? While you can often go 100% whole grain with a "white flour" recipe for cookies or other baked goods that don't need to rise much, we really recommend for breads and buns that you use a recipe designed from scratch for whole grain flour. If you're still stuck, call the Baker's Hotline at King Arthur Flour. They're wonderful! (http://www.kingarthurflour.com/bakers-hotline/)
I used whole grain rye flour for rye bread it was very dense and would not rise .Do I need to knead the dough til it blisters? I also couldn't use hardly and of the white flour it called for or it would of been too dry
Hi Mary – Was your recipe designed as a whole grain recipe, or was it designed for white flour? If you’re adapting a bread recipe that was created for white flour, you can usually substitute up to half of the flour with whole grain flour without making other changes, but if you’re using 100% whole grain flour, you may get better results with a recipe designed specifially for whole grains. Whole grains tend to soak up a lot more liquid than white flour does, so it might be that you want to add more water to get the right texture with the dough. The Baker’s Hotline at King Arthur Flour might be able to provide you with additional tips (http://www.kingarthurflour.com/bakers-hotline/)
perhaps your oven rack was in the top slot or toward the top of your oven? The top of a baked good will be more brown the higher you place it in the oven. If this may have been an issue, move your oven rack down to the center or just below the center of your oven.
So helpful! I knew there was a difference when switching from All-Purpose to Whole Wheat! Thanks for the tips!
Meenakshi Verma
I prepared chocolate cake using whole wheat flour after having sifted it. It turned out quite good, though it took little more time than usual to get fully baked.
Hi Meenakshi -- We're glad your cake turned out well!
Can We use this flour to make sponge cake ?
Hi Joseph -- You can usually substitute 25-50% of your white flour with whole wheat flour without impacting the taste or performance of your recipe. With a light cake like a sponge, you may find that it rises a little less when you use whole wheat flour, but it should taste delicious. Let us know how it goes!
Sonia Gupta
Thanks for sharing your tips and tricks with whole wheat. I love whole wheat baking and have a dedicated blog on baking with more than 80% recipes on whole wheat. Check my whole wheat coffee date recipe at https://sonlicious.com/recipe/coffee-date-cake/ and let me know your thoughts.
Thanks so much for sharing your recipe with us, Sonia. It looks delicious!
Taylor Bishop
Interesting article for baking with whole grains. To be honest, I thought it was interesting that Hamel suggests that people should start with 50% whole grain and then feel their way through until they are comfortable. I'm kind of curious to learn more about how long this could take, or what other suggestions can be offered to people who are working towards this.
Hi Taylor -- The reason for Hamel's suggestion of starting with 50% is that you can use 50% whole wheat flour in most white flour recipes without having to make any other adjustments to the hydration of the dough or batter, or to the timing of the rise or bake. When you start adding more than 50% whole wheat flour, you have to adjust your recipe a bit. This becomes easier with practice and people who bake frequently will very quickly learn how to adjust their favorite recipes to incorporate more and more whole grain. And of course, using recipes that were developed to be 100% whole grain is a great way to dive right in!
Good one
Thanks for the great info! I have made pancakes, muffins and loaves out of whole wheat. It's great when you know some tips and tricks to make baked goodies fluffier or moist and yet hearty.
I am making crackers with the substitution of 50% whole wheat flour for white all purpose flour. I added more liquid, which I found out the hard way, but then the dough seemed fine. It's taking longer to bake though. Is this normal?
Hi Tiffany -- Baking with whole grains does tend to require a little more liquid and can result in modified cooking times. We're not cracker-baking pros, but we can recommend the King Arthur Flour Bakers' Hotline whenever baking questions arise -- they've been a great resource to us over the years! The hotline number is: (855) 371 2253.
Christine Taylor
Must whole wheat flour be kept in the refrigerator/freezer?
If you go through flour fairly quickly and you store your flour in a cupboard that is fairly cool, there's probably no need to keep whole wheat flour in the fridge. It will last longer refrigerated, however.
Suvarna Holani
Such a nice article. I baked yeast bread with whole wheat flour at home and it came out good but not as fluffy as in market. Tried tips in this article but yet it was not up to the mark. PL guide me where should have I went wrong.
Hi Suvarna -- So glad you enjoyed the article. Sometimes it takes a few tries to get the balance just right when you're adjusting a recipe to include more whole grain. The folks over at King Arthur Flour are baking experts and we often recommend their Bakers' Hotline whenever tricky bread questions arise. The hotline number is: (855) 371 2253.
Kathi Jones
One thing I find about baking with multi grain flour (I usually use Robin Hood's Best For Bread Multi Grain) is that the texture of the grains are crunchy - almost like they haven't been incorporated properly in to the dough. Would adding the extra liquid and letting it rest , as recommended in article, change this? I'm almost ready to whizz it in my Magic Bullet to try to break the crunchy bits down .... I seem to recall reading something about soaking, but can't for the life of me find that article again. Thanks.
Hi Kathi – I looked up the Robin Hood mix that you bake with and noticed that it’s a blend of white flour, whole wheat flour, and flaked grains (plus ingredients like whole flax seeds). Those flaked grains and seeds are the part that’s giving you a crunchy texture. Some people really like this added texture in their bread, and others prefer baking with just flour (no chunks of flaked grains or seeds). It could be that soaking your flour would soften the flaked grains, making them more chewy and less crunchy, but you might try using whole grain flours that don’t have the grain flakes if you’re looking for a smoother dough. Let us know how it turns out!
I've been using whole wheat pastry flour for baked goods for years and have excellent results. Of course, this doesn't work for bread, but for things like pie crust and cake it's fantastic.
I am searching for a whole grain bread tha provides proper nourishment of a healthy biome. Am I on the right track with the 50/50 recipyou suggest? Thanking you in advance.
Hi Dorian – There is more and more research (like this: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0963996917307081) indicating that whole grains are great for supporting the health of your gut microbiome. The 50/50 recipe is certainly a great start if you’re looking for ways to increase your whole grain intake. Eating foods like brown rice, oatmeal, and whole grain pasta is another way to boost your intake.
I make a banana bread with 100% white whole wheat flour. My mom wants to make it, but where she lives they just sell the regular whole wheat flour. Would that be okay. Will the batter act the same way since both flours are whole? Thanks!!
Hi Lilian – The two flours should bake very similarly and are interchangeable from a functional perspective, but white whole wheat has a milder taste than regular (red) whole wheat, so the flavor of the bread may be a bit different.
I have tried subbing ww pastry flour (Bob’s Red Mill brand) in cake and quick bread recipes, and they turn out fairly dense. Are there tweaks I could try to get fluffier, lighter results? Not aiming for the same outcome as all-purpose, but hoping for a bit more height and air. Thanks in advance!
Hi Darcy – I checked in with one of our baking experts and she mentioned that when it comes to the structure of a baked good, protein content in the flour plays a huge role. It might be that the recipes you’re using really need less protein than the level in the flour you’ve got, in which case you could try using some percentage of refined flour (maybe 20-25%) to lower the overall protein load of the flour. While we find that quick breads usually take a 1:1 substitution of WW flour really well, cakes can be a little trickier. You might be happier using a cake recipe that’s been designed specifically for WW pastry flour.
Hi, I just finished mixing up a cake batter that calls for cake flour.. I used whole wheat flour w/ cornstarch but I was supposed to use all purpose flour for that substitution and I’m not sure what to do. Should I restart? I don’t have much time.. thanks!
Hi Karsen - This is a great question for the King Arthur baker's hotline! https://www.kingarthurbaking.com/bakers-hotline
Gina Bisaillom
I haven't purchased white rice in years. There is absolutely no point to it. The longer cooking time is no problem since I always make it in advance for other dishes like fried rice. I make a batch and keep it in the fridge and then not only is it quick it's instant!
I have an allergy to almonds/hazelnuts/macadamia nuts- what could I substitute when baking sweets
It depends a little on what you're baking, but seeds (e.g. sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, flax seeds, even poppy seeds) can often be a good substitute for nuts because they provide a similar crunch and texture.

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