Substituting Whole Wheat Flour – a Primer

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When I first started substituting whole wheat flour for white, I had a host of problems. Nothing seemed to turn out right – my quick breads burned on the outside before they were done on the inside, or were too dry, or too wet. After reading some whole grain books and listening to the advice of seasoned bakers, I was able to change the way I looked at whole wheat flour.

Here are a few simple guidelines for substituting whole wheat flour.

Know Your Flour

I used to think that there was one kind of whole wheat flour. It never occurred to me that there were different types of wheat. After reading Whole Grain Baking, my eyes were opened. Now I use three types of wheat: hard red, hard white, and soft white. Choosing the right type of flour for a particular recipe is essential to getting good results.

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1) Soft White Wheat (A.K.A. Whole Wheat Pastry Flour)

This flour most closely resembles white flour. It is soft and light, and is therefore ideal for pastry, quick breads, muffins, cakes, pancakes, biscuits, etc. Because it has such a low protein content, it is not suitable for yeast bread without added white flour or gluten.

Purchase: {link}

2) Hard White Wheat (A.K.A. White Whole Wheat Flour)

This type of flour, because it has a higher protein content, makes good yeast bread, with a milder flavor than traditional whole wheat. It can be used in cookies, bars, muffins, etc. with fairly good results.

Purchase: {link}

3) Hard Read Wheat (A.K.A. Traditional Whole Wheat Flour)

This type of wheat has the highest protein content of the three.  It makes wonderful yeast bread with a rich, nutty flavor. However, it may result in dry, dense, or tough quick breads/pastries.

Purchase: {link}

Weigh Your Flour

When I first started substituting whole wheat flour, I noticed that everything seemed too wet. I didn’t understand why – I measured my flour carefully enough. Then someone wise told me that when flour has been freshly ground, it is lighter than when it has had time to settle. But how to get the proper amount?

Weigh your flour. If you don’t already own one, I highly recommend that you invest in a kitchen scale. It doesn’t need to be anything fancy or expensive.

So, how much should your flour weight?

Each type of wheat flour has its own weight per cup. Different sources disagree on the proper weight, but I have found these weights work well:

  • Hard Red Wheat – 5.5 ounces per cup
  • Hard White Wheat – 5 ounces per cup
  • Soft White Wheat – 4 ounces per cup

Know Your Recipe

Not all recipes will adapt easily to whole wheat flour. You may find that you will never get satisfactory results with certain recipes. Pie crust is such a recipe for me. No matter what I do, the results aren’t quite right. Other recipes adapt so easily to whole wheat flour that you will never want to use white again. Banana bread is such a recipe for me.

If you are unsure whether a recipe will turn out well with whole wheat flour, try substituting half or a quarter of the flour for whole wheat and work from there. I often use half whole wheat, half white flour for cookies with excellent results.

Experiment!

I hope this will help you to start incorporating more whole grains into your diet. Here are some of my favorite recipes to get you started!

100% Whole Wheat Bread

Pizza Dough

Banana Nut Bread

Apple Muffins

Maple Cornbread

Whole Wheat Buttermilk Biscuits

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

Maple & Pecan Banana Cake

Blueberry Cobbler

If you have any further insights/tips about substituting whole wheat flour, please share in the comments!


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36 thoughts on “Substituting Whole Wheat Flour – a Primer

  1. Thank you for this primer! I have known about the different types of wheat, but am still getting used to which one to use for different things. Thus far I’ve used whole wheat pastry flour for more delicate things like cake, cookies, and well, pastry, and white whole wheat flour for everything else. I don’t have room in my kitchen to keep a bag of hard red whole wheat flour, since I also keep all-purpose, bread four, and cake flour so I just use the white-whole wheat in place of it. Do you think this is acceptable?

    Also, I recently made a pie crust using 2/3 whole wheat pastry flour, 1/3 all-purpose flour, and butter as the fat – it turned out beautifully.

  2. Thank you so much for this primer! I’ve already bought hard white wheatberries & have been given a large bag of hard red & soft white, but I’ve been intimidated by these very issues. Thanks for clearing them up for me. You’re a gem!

  3. Although I obviously don’t use whole wheat, you hit the nail on the head for the important things to consider when converting any recipe. Gluten-free flours are different, but you still have to know them: how they work together, the recipe they’re going into and consider their weights. Lovely post!

  4. I usually do very well with whole wheat flour, but the one thing I cannot seem to perfect is Irish soda bread. The loaf turns out beautifully on the outside, and overall it has great flavor, but much of the time it’s still gooey in the middle. I’ve tried different baking times, temperatures, etc., but I think maybe I should try a different type of WW flour. Suggestions? Excellent post, by the way.

    Cheers,

    *Heather*

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  6. I had the same question as Heather regarding whole wheat flour for Irish soda bread, when I came across this rule of thumb:

    “Here’s a tip to know which wheat to use:

    For anything with YEAST, use HARD wheat.

    For anything with baking powder or baking soda, use SOFT wheat.”

    (From http://www.friedalovesbread.com/2012/01/soft-white-wheat-bakers-best-keep.html)

    So I’ll be grinding soft white wheat for my Irish soda bread today; wish me luck! lol

    Hope this helps someone 🙂

  7. Hi Erica,
    I used white whole wheat flour to make almond shortbread cookies a few weeks ago and just today, shortcakes for fresh berries. Both times resulted in not a very good flavor or texture. Any ideas????? I love using the flour in everything else I have tried, and I haven’t even purchased regular processed flour for over a year. I thought maybe you’d have advice about this, like after reading your info maybe the soft (pastry) version would be best or maybe I need to adjust ingredients (although as I’m sure you know, shortbread/cakes have very few ingredients). Thank you!!! 🙂

    • Andrea: Hmmm…there could be a few reasons the shortbread/shortcakes didn’t work out. Sometimes whole wheat flour can be bitter – was this part of the flavor problem? Also, whole wheat flour can go rancid much more quickly than white, so it’s best to put it in the freezer as soon as you bring it home. Also, as you mentioned, whole wheat pastry flour would be best for things like shortbread, muffins, pastries, etc. Let me know if you have any more questions! 🙂

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  11. Erica! Your whole blog is wonderful. This post is my favorite. I love how clearly you explained the flours and their differences. So far, everything I’ve made has been a success thanks to your tutorial! No trial and error yet. I accidentally threw the wrong kind of flour in a recipe, & it came out awful but I know exactly what I did wrong. The whole time I thought I was using white whole wheat for my chocolate chip oatmeal cookies but I was using whole wheat pastry flour. I had made them before off my mom’s old recipe with white whole wheat and they came out delectable.
    I enjoy reading your posts, thanks a bunch! 🙂

  12. This is brilliant, thank you Erica. I recently had the good fortune to get shares in a local community-supported agriculture project, which means I now have 20kg of flour sitting in my kitchen. I had never used such freshly ground flour before, and was struggling a bit with the differences in the soft white wheat and hard red wheat. I feel much more prepared now!

    I found my go-to bread recipe turned out too heavy using half soft white wheat and half hard red wheat, but I have a feeling my yeast was not at its best. More experimenting is in order.

  13. What a great bit of useful information; thank you. In one of your responses you mention that whole wheat flour goes rancid more quickly than all purpose white flour. Will you please elaborate on the reasons for this. I keep my red wheat berries stored in Mylar bags that are sealed and especially designed for long term storage. I have opened a bag at a time and stored those wheat berries in an air tight Tupperware container. When I want whole wheat I scoop the berries into my wheat grinder and use the flour right away. My recipes are usually terrible. I have only the red wheat berries and I have a lot to learn. Based on what I have told you of my process where should I be most concerned about rancid wheat? Thank you in advance for your thoughts.

    • Jennifer: So glad you found my post useful! Whole wheat flour turns rancid more rapidly than white flour because whole wheat has more oils than refined flour. These oils are delicate and can turn rancid when oxidized. Wheat berries have a very long shelf life if kept cool and dry. Once you expose the oils to air by grinding your flour, however, the clock starts ticking. Whole wheat flour can turn rancid within 72 hours of grinding! It’s best to use your flour right away or store in the refrigerator or freezer. That’s too bad that your recipes don’t turn out well. Perhaps you could try different kinds of wheat for different kinds of recipes? Or you could try using half white flour, half whole wheat and working your way up. Hope that helps! ~ xoxo Erica

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  15. Hi, I just did a quick google search on how to use whole wheat flour and found this page! After reading, I have two questions I hope you can help me with…

    Question one: In the comments you say that whole wheat flour goes rancid fast — I bought a bag of pre-ground flour about 4 months ago, poured it into a glass container which sits on the counter, and haven’t touched it since. Is it any good?

    Question two: How can I tell which type of wheat flour it is? The bag just said “Whole Wheat Flour” as far as I can remember.

    Thanks!

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  17. Hi,
    Thank you, this is very informative!!! I used whole wheat for the 1st time today in cupcakes. I was wondering if you have ever heard of these chinese methods: water roux and mashing? I’ve used the water roux in making bread and it really makes a moist bread. In researching these techniques I saw it mention that it is best used with whole grains. I don’t know a lot on the subject but I think if you like to experiement I would love to see what you find out about using this method in your baking:)

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  19. Hello! I’m so new in whole wheat things , I just bought in the supermarket and is whole wheat???? But which is the usual one? , Do I have to refregeret it ?
    well I think I have the same questions as Sarah …
    Can you pleeeease , help us?
    Thanks, And Have a nice day!

    • Gaudi: If you purchased it in the supermarket, unless it’s labeled as “hard white wheat” or “soft white wheat” or “whole wheat pastry flour,” then it’s probably hard red wheat. I would suggest freezing any flour you purchase – wheat flour goes rancid VERY fast.
      Hope that helps!
      Erica

  20. I just found this! Started with 1/2 WW, 1/2 white in a baked banana donut recipe….they took SO long to bake. After they were still a bit over moist inside, but ok enough to eat. Thanks so much for these tips and recipe links. It sure helps a novice like myself.

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