whole wheat flour in a pile with wheat stalks

Substitute whole wheat for all-purpose flour

So here we are, sheltering at home during the Spring 2020 Covid-19 Pandemic, and of course I want to bake. So do lots of other people, which then means that the grocery store is gasp! out of all-purpose flour. And bread flour. Clearly, I needed to rely on my pantry for a while. I had whole-wheat flour. For that matter, I had about 25 lbs of actual wheat, which I could mill into flour at home. So how should I substitute whole wheat for all-purpose flour?

whole wheat blondies sqTo start with, recipe choice makes a difference. I wouldn’t choose a delicate cake to make with whole wheat flour, which has a coarser structure. But cookies, muffins, breads? Absolutely yes.

The blondies shown at right are a perfect example: the whole wheat flour added a bit of nuttiness and chew that was perfect.

3 key differences

Whole wheat flour will make three key differences in baked goods: flavor, color, and rise. Your item may taste, well, wheatier. It will probably appear darker. It will most likely rise differently.

These differences are going to be most apparent in a simple yeast bread. But for quick breads or cookies, which usually include sugar, butter, eggs, and various mix-ins, these differences are not going to seem as obvious, and they might even be added assets.

things to keep in mind

  • whole wheat flour is much denser than all-purpose flour. Stir the flour well before you measure it to make sure you don’t cram in too much.
  • whole wheat flour absorbs liquid more slowly than all-purpose flour. You may need to add a bit more liquid to your mixture. You should definitely let the dough or batter stand while you bring the oven up to temperature – standing lets the flour hydrate, absorbing the liquid of the recipe. This will make the finished product more tender and moist.
  • if you’re making 100% whole wheat yeast bread, add vital wheat gluten to help it rise properly. For every 2-3 cups of flour, add 1 tablespoon of the gluten.

finding flour

At the time I write this – May 2020 – grocery stores shelves are better stocked than they were a month ago. Still, you might have troubles finding flour. Here are some local sources you might not have considered:

  • bakeries – call and ask if they sell flour, as well as their cookies, cakes, and breads. My bakery was happy to pack up 5 lbs of flour for me, and not only did I get flour, I supported a local business.
  • restaurants – some restaurants put together ‘provision boxes’ to sell alongside their carry-out meals. Check your locals to see if they might include flour.
  • restaurant supply stores – some of them are open to the public, and most of them stock flour. Their bags of flour might be much larger than you’re used to, though, so you might want to share with a friend.

You can also look online for flour. I’m not even going to try to write a comprehensive list of small mills, but here are three I’ve used. King Arthur flour is my go-to both in the grocery store and by mail. Sunrise Flour and Janie’s Mill are smaller specialty millers, with astounding varieties of flour, and based close to me.