Adjust Your Baking for Whole Wheat Flour Like a True Flourist

Even though baking with whole wheat flour has many health benefits, there are a few adjustments necessary that will help guarantee baking success.

Reader Contribution by Lois Hoffman
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by Unsplash/Jude Infantini

Yep, you read the headline right. There is such a thing as a flourist. It is someone who concentrates mainly on the experimentation of baking with fresh flour and who has the affinity for the discovery of heritage grains and the craft of baking.

Most of our grandmothers and ancestors used whatever flour was milled near their homes. Back in the day there wasn’t the talk about gluten-free, whole wheat, non-GMO and organic. Flour was flour. Now, the home baker has to cipher through all this lingo to decide what is the best for their family.

Many times, the conclusion is that the better choice is whole wheat flour. Whole wheat naturally has the level of fiber found in wheat whereas white flour has had most of the fiber removed during processing. This is because the entire wheat kernels are ground into a powder for whole wheat flour whereas during the processing of white flour, the bran and germ, the nutrient-rich parts of the wheat kernel are removed.

Thus, whole wheat flour is more nutritional than its white counterpart. It is rich in nutrients such as vitamins B-1, B-3, B-5, riboflavin, folate, protein and fiber.

Considerations for Using Whole Wheat Flour in Recipes

With this said, even though whole wheat is superior in nutrition, most times it cannot be substituted just cup for cup for white all-purpose flour. If it is, there will definitely be some noticeable differences in texture and taste in the finished product. However, all is not lost, it just takes a little trial and error to make the switch to whole wheat a smooth transition.

Let’s start with the flour itself. There are many varieties of whole wheat flours out there and choosing one is a matter of personal taste. By nature, whole wheat flour has a nuttier, earthier flavor than white. Some kinds are more pronounced in this area than others.

My personal favorite and all around go-to is Red Fife. It is a Canadian heritage wheat first planted by David Fife in 1842 in Peterborough, Ontario, Canada with seed that was brought from Scotland. From 1860 to 1900 it was the nation’s wheat of choice and it set the standard in both milling and baking.

When the century turned, so did Red Fife’s popularity. It’s descendent, Marquis, harvested a week earlier and pushed Red Fife out of its first place popularity.

It seems like there has been an explosion of gluten-intolerant people lately and the latest craze seems to be gluten-free products. It is thought that the reason for this is the hybridization of modern wheat has changed the protein structure of wheat, leading to the increase in gluten sensitivity that we see today.

Gluten-free products cannot be made with any amount of gluten-containing grain or any ingredient derived from such grain that was not processed to remove the gluten. Thus, gluten-free foods are made from four basic ingredients, corn starch, rice starch, tapioca starch or potato starch.

This is why I like Red Fife flour. It is being actively preserved and protected as a heritage variety. It has not undergone the hybridization like the modern wheats have. So, it is not gluten-free but it is more easily digestible and tolerated better by those with gluten sensitivities and…it is real flour!

You can make real baked goods from it and it is not as dark or robust as other whole wheat varieties. But whether you choose Red Fife or another whole wheat flour, there are some adjustments that will make your baked treats taste pretty close to those you are used to. Here are some things to keep in mind when substituting whole wheat for white flour.

pile of flour on a plate

Substituting Whole Wheat for White Flour in Recipes

White whole wheat. With your first trials, you may want to consider using white whole wheat flour. It is milled from hard white wheat which has the exact same nutritional value of whole wheat flour but, because of the variety used, it has a milder flavor and paler color. In flavor and texture, it is kind of the halfway point between whole wheat and white flours.

Wheat germ oil. Keep in mind when purchasing whole wheat flour that it contains wheat germ and wheat germ is an oil. Oils go rancid and will not keep as long as other flours. Stored in an airtight container, whole wheat flour is good in the pantry for three months and in the freezer for six months.

Hydration. The number one rule to remember when substituting whole wheat for a portion of the white flour in a recipe is to add extra liquid and let the dough rest and hydrate before baking. It will make the finished product more tender and moist. This is a result of the wheat germ and bran in whole wheat absorbing more liquid than regular all-purpose flour.

The general rule is to add two extra teaspoons of water for every cup of whole wheat flour that is used. Also, set the dough aside for ten minutes and up to half an hour before baking or, in the case of bread, before kneading. This will allow time for the dough to soak up more of the moisture.

Proportions. When substituting, it is best to start by only replacing 25 percent of the flour with whole wheat. After you get accustomed to that taste, try substituting a third, then half. Some folks go all-whole wheat, depending on how well you like its distinct flavor and texture. Generally, replacing only half of the amount of flour called for will produce a baked product that is not drastically different from the original recipe.

Also, since whole wheat is denser than white flour, three quarters of a cup of whole wheat will replace one cup of white flour.

Incorporate orange juice. Some folks think of whole wheat as having a bitter flavor. To lessen this taste, substitute two or three tablespoons of orange juice for part of the liquid in the recipe. The natural sweetness of the orange juice will relieve some of the bitterness.

Sift the whole wheat flour a couple of times to give it more air which will result in lighter baked goods. This doesn’t mean you have to own a flour sifter. Instead, a fine strainer works just fine. Just sprinkle the flour through it a couple of times.

Rise. By nature, whole wheat doesn’t rise like all purpose flour does. Where a normal rise would take two hours, dough made with whole wheat will take three hours. It also won’t rise as high. To counteract this, many bakers add wheat gluten to their recipes. For every two to three cups of whole wheat flour used, add one tablespoon of wheat gluten.

whole wheat bread slices on a plate

Whole Wheat Can Work for Any Recipes

When transitioning over to whole wheat, start with these guidelines. You can tweak them as you go to your personal liking.

Whole wheat can be substituted in most of your favorite baked goods such as breads, muffins, cookies, pancakes, waffles, soft pretzels and more. The only thing that it doesn’t work so well in is cakes because of its density.

Adding whole wheat flour to your baked goods is something you can feel good about. You will be getting more health benefits and, at the same time, your taste buds will get a new experience. With a little trial and error, we all can become flourists!

Lois Hoffman is a freelance writer and photographer covering rural living with more than 20 years of experience, contributing to Successful Farming, Country, and Farm & Ranch Living. She lives on a 37-acre hobby farm in Pennsylvania. Read all of Lois’ GRIT posts here.

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