While all-purpose flour is often treated as a flavorless blank slate in breads and pastries, whole grain flours present an opportunity to layer complex aromas and textures into dishes. The best results come from recipes written specifically for whole grains, as these are designed to showcase their pleasantly hearty texture and rich, nutty flavor. But even your oldest family recipes can be converted to whole grain with a few tips and tricks.

Substitution ScienceIn breads and other yeast leavened doughs, 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. However, according to P.J. Hamel, King Arthur Flour’s veteran baker/blogger, “if you go 100% [whole grain], you usually change the outcome.”

Fortunately, Hamel has the solution. When replacing all of the white flour with whole wheat flour, she recommends an additional “two teaspoons of liquid per cup of whole wheat flour,” since whole grains tend to absorb more moisture. Additionally, she recommends allowing the dough to rest for about 20-25 minutes before kneading. Hamel also suggests replacing 2-3 tablespoons of the liquid in the recipe with orange juice, because it “helps temper the flavor of whole wheat.”

On the other hand, scones, cookies, quick breads, and other baking soda or baking powder leavened goods are fairly adaptable to whole grain flour, and Hamel insists you’ll “scarcely know the difference” when whole grains are substituted in.

Choosing Whole Grain FloursHamel favors white whole-wheat flour for its lighter color and milder flavor. 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. This stealth health superstar still offers all of the whole grain benefits, as its bran, germ, and endosperm are left intact. 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.”

For this reason, sprouted grains (grains that have been soaked and allowed to sprout, then dried and milled into flour) are also gaining popularity in baking. According to master baker Peter Reinhart, “sprouting neutralizes or denatures the oils, so that the flour doesn’t have to be used right away.” This is an attractive option for home bakers who want to capture the scrumptious flavor of freshly milled whole grains, but don’t have the capability to mill their own flour. Additionally, Reinhart explains that the sprouting process “has preconditioned [the grain] to be ready to give up its full flavor.” This means that your baked goods will be “sweeter” and “much lighter tasting.” Sounds like a win-win!

If you’re ready to experience the “whole” taste of your baked goods, then branch out to whole grain flour today. -- by Kelly Toups, MLA, RD, LDN / Program Manager

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