Are Whole-Wheat and All-Purpose Flour Interchangeable?

Baking pros like Rose Levy Beranbaum, author of The Cake Bible and The Pie and Pastry Bible, and Matt Lewis, co-owner of the Baked pastry shops in NYC and Charleston, South Carolina, say that swapping whole-wheat flour for white flour is a bad idea in most baking applications.

Unlike white flour, whole-wheat flour contains wheat bran, which Beranbaum says acts like little knives in your dough. “The bran cuts through the gluten and detracts from the airy texture of the cake or the flaky texture of the pastry, making it dense and pasty and generally undesirable.” Whole-wheat flour will also alter the flavor of your baked goods, leaving them slightly bitter. “I want my cakes to be soft and light and buttery in flavor, not dense and wheaty,” says Beranbaum. “I want my pie crust to be flaky and tender, not cardboardy.”

If you want to beef up your whole-grain consumption, Lewis suggests subbing no more than one-fourth of the white flour that a recipe calls for with whole wheat, and working your way up to a third if it tastes OK. “The white/whole-wheat combo works particularly well in tart crusts and some cookies, but I would refrain from using it in cakes,” he says.

Bread is the best place to use whole-wheat flour, says Beranbaum. She offers the following tips for working whole-wheat flour into your breads:

• You can replace white flour with whole-wheat flour cup for cup. For every cup you exchange, add five teaspoons of water. Add additional flour only when needed while shaping.
• If you are making bread with 100 percent whole-wheat flour, add two teaspoons of vital wheat gluten per cup to create a stronger structure and higher rise. For each teaspoon of wheat gluten you use, add another one and a quarter teaspoons of water.
• If using 100 percent whole-wheat flour, allow the dough to rise in volume by just one and a half times, as opposed to the typical two times.

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