Whole Grain Baking Guide

Baking with Whole Grains

Discover simple tips and techniques for baking delicious treats with whole grains.

Viewed one way, baking with whole grains is all about health — in the form of the added nutrition and fiber you pack into your baked goods. But looked at another way, whole grain baking is just as much about discovering a whole new world of flavors and textures — plus lots of tasty new recipes.

If you think whole grain baking is all about sacrifice, it's not. If you've experienced heavy bread and dry cookies in the past — well, those days are gone. Starting here, starting now, you'll discover that baking with whole grains isn't simply healthier; it's also a wonderful voyage of discovery, as you sample new flours, new grains, and all kinds of delicious treats.

Discover a world of whole grains

Whole grains are simply the husked berries (kernels) of grain-bearing plants that are dried and left whole; sprouted, cracked and/or rolled; or milled into flour. Their signature characteristic is "wholeness" — physically speaking, nothing is removed from the grains, and nothing is added. Nutritionally, the less processed the grain, the more of its natural benefits it'll retain.

From major players like wheat, oats, and rye to specialty grains like millet and quinoa, bakers have access to a wide array of choices when it comes to whole grains. Take a tour of the whole grain landscape:


  • Whole wheat flour — Traditional whole wheat flour is ground from red wheat berries, and like white whole wheat (below) includes the entire wheat berry: oil-rich germ, protein-laden endosperm, and fiber-packed bran. While darker in color and more assertive in flavor than all-purpose (white) flour, whole wheat flour can be used successfully in most recipes calling for all-purpose flour. If you feel family and friends might rebel against whole wheat in their favorite homemade treats, start by adding it to recipes that are naturally heartier/darker — e.g., oatmeal cookies, banana bread, bran muffins. Read More »
  • White whole wheat flour — White whole wheat is a type of wheat — just like Granny Smith is a type of apple. Nutritionally equivalent to classic red whole wheat (above), white whole wheat flour is both light in color and mild-flavored, making it the perfect choice for bakers hesitant to add the distinctive color and taste of red whole wheat to their baking. Read More »
  • Whole wheat pastry flour — This "soft," silky flour is 100% whole wheat, but is milled from soft (lower protein) rather than hard wheat berries. Baked goods made with this flour will be tender rather than chewy, and soft rather than crusty. Use whole wheat pastry flour (a.k.a. graham flour) in cookies, pie crust, pastry, and quick breads rather than yeast breads. Read More »
  • Sprouted wheat flour — Wheat berries are misted with water and allowed to sprout just until the seedling has cracked the bran layer. This sprouting process increases the availability of the berries' nutritional content. Once sprouted, the berries are dried, then milled into flour. The flour, lighter-colored than whole wheat, has a fine, soft feel, yielding baked goods with mild flavor, tender texture, and light-beige color. Try it in pancakes, muffins, biscuits, cookies, and quick breads.
  • Irish-style wholemeal flour — Coarsely ground from red whole wheat, this soft (low-protein) flour is an American version of Irish wholemeal flour, the flour used to bake that country's traditional soda and brown breads. Use this in any non-yeast recipe calling for wholemeal flour or whole wheat pastry flour: pie crust, biscuits and, of course, Irish brown bread. Read More »
  • Wheat berries — Kernels of the wheat plant are called wheat berries — and that's just what they are, berries that can be planted to grow the next crop of wheat. Since they're totally unprocessed, wheat berries contain all of the plant's natural vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Home bakers with an electric mill can grind wheat berries into flour. But more commonly, they're soaked until soft, then added to baked goods for their texture and "wheaty" flavor.
  • Cracked wheat — Wheat berries, cracked into pieces, can be soaked and stirred into the dough or batter for bread, cookies, muffins, quick breads, and scones, where they add chewy texture and nutty flavor. Cracked wheat can also be cooked into wheat porridge, just as you'd cook steel-cut oats for oatmeal.
  • Spelt — One of the "founding members" of the wheat family, the flavor of this ancient grain is often characterized as smooth, nutty, and sweeter than that of red wheat. While spelt is higher in gluten-forming protein than regular wheat, that gluten is more delicate. Thus baked goods made with spelt tend to be more fragile, and yeast breads won't rise as high. Baking with spelt is akin to baking with pastry flour: handle it gently, and things will go well.


  • Steel-cut oats — Variously known as Irish, Scottish, or pinhead oats, steel-cut oats are oat berries that are husked, then coarsely chopped. The resulting pieces ("groats") are quite hard, and should be soaked or simmered to soften before using. Once softened, steel-cut oats add toothsome texture and wonderful flavor to yeast bread and rolls. Steel-cut oats also make delicious porridge.
  • Rolled oats — Husked, steamed oat berries are run through rollers to flatten and tenderize. This process makes them ready to use in any and every kind of baked treat, from cookies to bread, scones to granola, and muffins to cake. Quick-cooking rolled oats are made from oat berries that have been cut into pieces first, resulting in smaller flakes.
  • Oat bran — While technically not a whole grain (since its germ and endosperm have been removed), high-protein oat bran is a flavorful way to add fiber and nutrition to your meals. It makes a wonderfully creamy breakfast cereal. Or bake it into breads and scones, swirl it into a bowl of yogurt with jam, or blend into a smoothie.
  • Oat flour — Oat flour is husked oat berries, ground to a fine powder. While oat flour does contain gluten, it's fragile in structure; thus oat flour is best used as a supplement in tender baked goods like muffins, cake, and cookies, where it can be substituted for a portion (not all) of the all-purpose flour in the recipe.


  • Pumpernickel flour — The equivalent of whole wheat flour, pumpernickel flour (or whole rye, also sometimes called dark rye) is the basis for all kinds of flavorful yeast breads. Since it's very low in gluten-forming proteins, a 100% pumpernickel loaf will be very heavy and dense. But combined with all-purpose or bread flour, pumpernickel makes moist, hearty, relatively high-rising bread. Read More »

Other types of rye flour — including white, medium, and sometimes dark rye — aren't whole grain, as they have their germ and bran removed.

Whole grain blends

  • Harvest Grains Blend — Whole oat berries, millet, rye flakes, and wheat flakes, plus flax, poppy, sesame, and sunflower seeds add crunch, chew, and a nutty, nuanced flavor to baked goods of all kinds. Add up to 3 tablespoons Harvest Grains Blend for each cup of flour in your recipe. Read More »
  • Six-Grain Blend — This coarse blend of barley flakes, rolled oats, rye chops, malted wheat flakes, rye flakes, millet, and quinoa flakes is packed with protein and fiber. Use it in any recipe calling for rolled oats. Read More »

More whole grains

  • How do you bake with barley or buckwheat? Brown rice, millet, or quinoa? There are many other whole grains you might experiment with, though most are more suitable for cooking than baking. For everything you ever wanted to know about whole grains — plus tips, techniques, and hundreds of whole grain recipes — check out our comprehensive cookbook, King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking.

How to bake with whole grains

Many recipes you've loved for years are naturally whole grain: think morning glory muffins, oatmeal cookies, and pumpernickel bread. But you can also add whole grains — particularly white whole wheat flour — to most of your favorite recipes calling for all-purpose flour. Find out how in our blog series, From White to Wheat: A Baker's Guide:

Getting started

These tips from our test-kitchen experts will jump-start your success:

  • For added fiber in your favorite treats, substitute white whole wheat flour for up to 50% of the all-purpose flour in the recipe. Aside from somewhat darker color in light-colored baked goods (e.g., sugar cookies, yellow cake), any difference you'll notice is slight.
  • If you're hesitant about the flavor of whole grains in your favorite recipes, try substituting orange juice for a small part of the liquid called for in the recipe. While it doesn't lend any flavor of its own, orange juice seems to temper the potentially stronger flavor of whole grains.
  • Whole grain flours absorb liquid more slowly than all-purpose flour. Pancake, cake, brownie, or muffin batter may look thinner. Cookie dough may seem softer. Yeast dough will feel stickier. There's no need to make any liquid adjustment. The only change you might consider, for convenience's sake, is to let yeast dough rest for 20 to 30 minutes before kneading; this will alleviate its stickiness.
  • It can be a challenge to produce high-rising 100% whole grain bread. The bran in whole grains is sharp, and can cut the gluten strands responsible for a good, strong rise. To help whole grain breads rise more fully, try kneading them a bit less than you would a loaf made with all-purpose or bread flour. Also, adding a few tablespoons of vital wheat gluten or Whole Grain Bread Improver will help mitigate the effects of the bran.
  • When substituting whole wheat flour for 100% of the white (all-purpose) flour in your yeast recipe; or in a cookie recipe that calls for the dough to be chilled before scooping, add 2 teaspoons additional liquid per cup of whole wheat flour used.
  • Some plain, moist bars (e.g., brownies, blondies) made with whole grains benefit by resting overnight once they're baked, to soften the grain's bran and temper any potentially rough texture.
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