Whole grains in hiding: More fiber in every sweet bite

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So, you think you don’t like whole grains? Wait! Stay with me here. If whole wheat flour comes immediately to mind when you think “whole grains”—well, think again. These cookies prove that whole grains can be absolutely invisible in your baking.

The very easiest way to get your family to eat whole grains is via cookies. Do your kids like oatmeal cookies? Then you’re halfway there, with the oats. Substitute whole wheat flour—WHITE whole wheat flour—for the all-purpose flour, and Bob’s your uncle: 100% whole-grain cookies.

Still, some kids balk at cookies that don’t LOOK exactly right. You know, cookies that have that weird, “Mom’s trying to sneak something past me and I’m not buying it” look. If the chocolate chip cookie doesn’t look like Chips Ahoy—forget it.

And then there are the discerning friends who have very specific preferences regarding spread. Most folks DON’T like cookies that are cake-like and puffy; they want the edges crisp, the center chewy. Not quite “puddle of dough with chips like islands,” but more in that direction than cake-disguised-as-cookie.

How to satisfy all of these constituencies? It took days of experimenting, but by Arthur, I think we’ve got it!  This 100% whole grain cookie has great taste, the perfect consistency, and the right “look.”

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I know many of you try to avoid vegetable shortening, even the trans-fat free variety. So I did some work here to make an all-butter cookie that could hold its shape. Well, truth be told, a LOT of work. I went far beyond my usual “three strikes and you’re out” rule, and went through seven incarnations of this recipe before I found a version that was A), all butter; and B) spread nicely with the addition of chips, nuts, etc.; yet still held its shape without add-ins.

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And then there were the experiments with ground oats vs. quick oats; refrigerated dough vs. room-temperature dough; plain cookies vs. cookies with added chips, nuts, etc.; and adding orange juice (to assist spread), or not. At this point I figured I’d bitten off nearly more than I could chew; though the chewing was indeed quite tasty.

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Here’s the difference between using quick oats (on the left) and ground oats (on the right). I’d use ground oats if I were really trying to disguise the whole-graininess of the cookie – like, if I was making chocolate chip cookies for kids. Otherwise, I’d skip the grinding and use quick oats, as is.

So I finally settled on a series of options: ground oats, no added juice, refrigerated dough for the most attractive “no add-ins” cookies. And quick oats, added juice, refrigerated dough for the best-looking, best-texture “add-ins” cookies. Don’t try to memorize this; it won’t be on the final exam. You’ll see your options when you read the recipe.

Without further ado, let’s make 100% whole grain cookies. If you want to read the recipe as you look at these photos, here it is: Basic Whole Grain Cookies.

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So, I have to flog/blog my favorite flour yet again: King Arthur Organic White Whole Wheat Flour. Just what the bag says: lighter, milder, but still 100% whole wheat. Use in your cookies or bars or many muffins, you’ll never know it’s there. In yeast breads, this organic flour seems to give yeast a boost—maybe it’s extra minerals? Not sure, but if you want to make 100% whole wheat bread, give this flour a try.

And if you want to make 100% whole grain cookies—and why not, if your family won’t notice the difference—try white whole wheat, either organic or our regular white whole wheat.

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Let’s start with butter, brown and white sugars, vanilla, salt, baking powder, and baking soda.

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Mix till smooth.

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Add an egg…

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…and mix till smooth again. Look how much difference a single egg makes.

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Next, you get to choose: quick oats, for a somewhat chunkier cookie. Or ground oats, for a smoother, less obviously whole grain cookie. If you don’t mind the chunky appearance, use quick oats, without grinding. Quick oats are traditional rolled oats that have been chopped a bit finer. If all you have is traditional (“old fashioned”) rolled oats, give them a quick whirl in a food processor to break them up a bit.

Now, if you want a really smooth cookie, take quick or traditional oats and give them a 30-second whirl in your food processor or blender. Alternative: use 3/4 cup oat flour. Why use ground oats or oat flour? Because it makes a smoother-textured cookie with an optimal amount of spread.

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On the left, ground oats. On the right, white whole wheat flour. Not a whole lotta difference, huh? At least in appearance. Ground oats have a delightfully sweet/nutty flavor; but they also contain no gluten at all, meaning they won’t add much to the cookie’s structure. That’s the wheat’s job.

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I’m using parchment to pour the wheat and oats into the bowl. Parchment is my best friend in the kitchen.

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Next, decide whether or not you’ll be adding any fruit, chips, nuts, etc. to the cookie dough; your decision makes a difference going forward. No, not adding anything? Skip down a few photos. Yes, adding? Continue reading here.

I’m very partial to the dried cranberry/dark chocolate combo, so that’s what’s going into my mixing bowl here—along with some orange juice. And what, pray tell, is the OJ for? We’ve found, over years of whole wheat experiments, that orange juice tempers any possible tannic taste added by whole wheat. Don’t worry, your cookies won’t taste like orange; they’ll simply taste mild, not assertively whole-wheaty.

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And here’s the next key step in assuring the correct spread: refrigerating the dough overnight. Here’s the dough with fruit and chips; notice how wet it looks.

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And here it is without add-ins. Into the fridge they both go. Refrigeration not only solidifies cookie dough, it adds another level of richness to the cookies’ flavor.  See our chocolate chip cookie post for more information on this.

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Next day, the dough will be quite stiff. Drop it by teaspoonfuls (1” round balls) onto a parchment-lined (or lightly greased) baking sheet. A teaspoon cookie scoop works very well here. And why teaspoon-sized balls, rather than tablespoon? Well, a “teaspoonful” of dough, in its classic sense, is actually about 2 level teaspoons of dough. That size dough ball will spread into a 2 1/4” to 2 1/2” cookie—a nice size for our diet-conscious lives. We don’t need to enjoy BIG cookies, when smaller ones are just as tasty and easier on the waistline. For kids and adults both.

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Here’s another mini-experiment: notice that some of the cookies I flattened, and some I didn’t. Would it make a difference?

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The answer is no—no need to flatten cookies. At this point I was holding my breath: would both types of cookie—with add-ins, and without—spread nicely?

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Yes indeed. I didn’t leave quite enough room between the non-chip cookies, but they spread to an optimal thickness.

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And the chip/fruit version did just fine, too. The simple addition of 2 tablespoons liquid to the chip/fruit cookies ensured their spread.

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Let’s backtrack. These cookies are a great candidate for the freezer. Once you’ve deposited the dough onto the cookie sheet, place the cookies close together.

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Cover with plastic wrap, and freeze. I actually used a quarter sheet pan here, as it takes up very little room in the freezer; and I covered it with an elasticized shower cap. Once the cookies are frozen (after a couple of hours), simply dump them into a sealable plastic bag. They’ll store nicely for several months. When you’re ready to bake, remove as many as you like, place (frozen) on a cookie sheet, and bake for a minute or so longer than the recipe calls for.

Take your pick: plain or fancy.

Cold milk is my preferred beverage – especially since I understand how vital calcium and vitamin D are for your health.

Read, bake, and review (please!) our recipe for Basic Whole Grain Cookies.

Print just the recipe.

Buy vs. Bake

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Buy: Pepperidge Farm Chewy Granola Cookies, fruit and nut, made with whole grains, 78¢/ounce

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Bake at home: Basic Whole Grain Cookies, made with raisins and dried cranberries, 19¢/ounce

Ingredients: butter, sugars, salt, baking soda, baking powder, vanilla, egg, King Arthur whole wheat flour, oats, orange juice, raisins, dried cranberries.

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel was born in Wisconsin, grew up in New England, and graduated from Brown University. She was a journalist in Massachusetts and Maine before joining the King Arthur Flour Company in 1990, where she's been ever since. Author or co-author of three King Arthur ...

comments

  1. PJM

    These look totally awesome! I will make them with my kids this weekend.

    Question about flour: I like the 100% white wheat for pastry flour OK, but I have had trouble using it in bread; my dough ends up with a sort of play-dough texture and smell. Am I doing something wrong? Should I be handling it more like spelt (less kneading)? Am I not kneading enough? Or is it just a matter of taste? I like 100% whole wheat bread just fine without trying to make it more like white bread, but my children’s tastes are changing a bit more toward the white-bread side now that they’re older and have had a greater variety of breads in their lives. Iwill send you an email and we will work out the problems then post the solution here. Mary @ KAF

    Reply
  2. jamie

    Thank you for this post! I have been trying to HIDE whole grains in my baking, so my hubs could still enjoy a treat, albeit a healthier one. I have your whole grains baking book and use it constantly, but also enjoy your baking experiments on this blog. I will make these cookies this weekend, for sure :)

    Whole grains got a bad name in baking while we all were trying to come up with recipes to make the best use of them! Glad you found this cookbook and that you’re having success with it! Irene @ KAF

    Reply
  3. kate

    ooh i love this! i have been using plain old (Arthur’s of course) whole wheat flour in my cookies and brownies anyway – no on has noticed haha :)

    though I am excited to learn now how to give them better spread/lift whatever (mine tend to pool with islands of chips/fruit!)

    Perhaps my memorial day weekend will involve making these!

    Our blog is a wealth of tips and tricks to make your home baking the best it can be! Irene at KAF

    Reply
  4. Mags

    What an excellent post. And the photos are so helpful as visual aids. I really learned a lot and can definitely tell where I’ve gone wrong in the past when I’ve used whole grains in my cookies. With the information you’ve provided here, I know I’ll be successful next time. Thank you. You guys rock!

    Reply
  5. AnnaMarie

    You are officially my saviors!!! I’ve been about to embark on my own day of experiments for cookies for the Farmer’s Market which starts this weekend! and I really wanted to be able to do a marathon day of mixing, freezing and then be able to just pop in however many pans the day before market. This recipe will be PERFECT! I also don’t like using shortening, it’s far more expensive than butter these days for organic, transfat free shortening.

    I just LOVE, LOVE, LOVE you guys!

    p.s. I also make sure *everyone* knows I use KA products in my baked goods. No warehouse ingredients in this house!

    Kudos to you for the research part of your adventure. You’re so smart to have a trial day and then off to market! We wish you well in your baking endeavors. Irene at KAF

    Reply
  6. Candace

    Thanks so much! You solved a pesky problem that I’ve had for years – getting dry stuff into the bowl without clouds everywhere. I have a collar thingy for my Kitchenaid but never figured out how to use it – I must be missing something. Works great to put stuff in but gets in the way big time if you want to stop and scrape down. Will mix and freeze these for our class reunion this summer.

    Reply
  7. Erica from Cooking for Seven

    So glad to see a recipe using whole grains and all butter. You are so right about using white whole wheat flour. It makes such a big difference. I also like to freeze some of my cookies for later use. There’s nothing like a hot cookie fresh from the oven.
    Thank you for all the notes, they are very helpful.

    Reply
  8. Kathleen

    I really appreciate all the hard work that the test kitchen does to bring us recipes like this. All the pictures, especially the comparisons help a whole lot. I have always likes whole wheat so I don’t think I would use the orange juice and if others don’t like it without the OJ than to bad, more for me. But seriously guys and gals, my must try folder is getting a little to big, guess I’ll just have to bake more.

    Kathleen, just remember if you don’t use the OJ in the cookiees with add-ins they won’t spread the same, OK? And yes, we’d appreciate it if you’d make a dent in that folder! PJH

    Reply
  9. Kimberly D

    Ok, you should know someone is going to eventually ask this question, but could I use butter flavor shorten? LOL I like baking with it.

    Yes, you absolutely can use butter-flavored shortening, Kimberly. Your cookies will be a bit crisper/crunchier. And they may not spread quite so much. I think they’ll be just fine. PJH

    Reply
  10. --Deb

    They look fabulous. Thank you for going above and beyond the call of duty! Now, I wonder if I’ll have time to bake this weekend…

    Deb, ALWAYS time to bake! Isn’t the hour worth it, to make your family so happy?? PJH

    Reply
  11. C is for...

    If milk is substituted for the orange juice, will the cookies spread the same way? Is there a particular type of milk that should be used? I can’t have citrus due to GERD, but I would like to try these to compare to the whole wheat chocolate chip peanut butter oatmeal cookies I currently make.

    Yes, you should be okay. Sharon @ KAf

    Reply
  12. Nel

    You wrote: “In yeast breads, this organic flour seems to give yeast a boost—maybe it’s extra minerals? Not sure….”

    I wonder if the organic white whole wheat simply has more naturally occuring wild yeast in it than other flours? I read somewhere that whole wheat flour has more wild yeast in it than more processed flours.

    Last year I made a sourdough starter with ordinary all-purpose flour, and it was OK; a little sour, a little bubbly, but nothing to write home about, and when I used it, it took hours and hours for a dough to rise. I got a package of whole-wheat flour that my father had grown and ground, and added a half a cup of that to my starter, and it exploded into life and became a much faster-acting ‘leavening agent’ than it had been before. Was it wild yeast in the home-ground whole-wheat flour?

    Even now, when I’ve neglected my starter for awhile and want to give it a kick-start, I add whole-wheat flour to it and it comes back to life faster than when I use all-purpose.

    So maybe there’s just wild yeast in your organic white whole-wheat flour.

    It is more likely because it is a whole grain, there is more food from the starches in the flour, that are activating/feeding the the wild yeast. Sharon @KAF

    Reply
  13. Joni M

    Just a note on refrigerating the dough the day before baking (which I agree is absolutely a must!)–if you form the dough into balls the day you mix it, cover and then refrigerate it, I find that works the best for me as then I don’t have nearly as hard a time the next day fighting the chilled dough and trying to scoop it…Just scoop, chill, and the next day you are ready to bake! Absolutely LOVE all the great tips and ideas you all share, so thank you! A day without baking is sorta like a day without sunshine!

    Joni, great idea – I hadn’t thought of that, thanks. And I agree about the day without baking – I’m away from the kitchen right now and missing it! :) PJH

    Reply
  14. Heather

    I love the whole white wheat flour. My mom has made wheat bread since I can remember and the white wheat makes a big difference. Now I make it for my family and they love it. I’ll have to try the OJ in my bread and see what difference that makes. I am looking forward to trying these cookies. I often want to add oatmeal to my cookies, any easy way to figure out how much to use? or is experimentation the best route? Thanks for a fun and informative blog.

    Cookie recipes vary so much, Heather… Try substituting double the amount of oats for flour, e.g., 1/2 cup oats for 1/4 cup flour. Start with that amount, and go up if it works – let us know how it goes! PJH

    Reply
  15. Lee

    I ground the oats, added the OJ and two cups of dried friut, chilled the dough overnight, and they didn’t spread much at all. We have some soft chewy (and delicious) cookies, but I’d really to figure out why they won’t flatten for me.

    BTW, does anybody know how to make a 100% oat gluten-free cookie? We have a friend who can’t tolerate gluten, and I would love to figure out something other than meringues.

    Hi Lee – How do you measure your flour? Too much flour can definitely affect cookie spread – take a look at our flour measuring tips. As for gluten-free cookies, try Sin-Free Chocolate Chews for a nice (chocolate) change from meringues. Also, I believe there’s a 100% oat cookie in our King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion book – you might try taking a look in the library for it. PJH

    Reply
  16. Lish

    These are so yummy, and easy. My husband hates baking but like making these cookies, and he and my kids loved them. I feel much better giving these to my kids rather than commercially produced chemical laden trans fat cookie junk. Healthy easy and tasty, can’t ask for more than that!

    Reply
  17. kathy

    Love the cookies, Love the sausage scones, Love the strawberry rhubarb pie from your pie making class a few years ago. White whole wheat flour in them all. It was a total KAF Memorial Day!

    Reply
  18. Deanne

    These were really terrific! I made the dough a couple days ahead. The texture on bake day was perfect, but they did soften up by the second day.

    Reply
  19. myrna sossner

    OK, so I am cheating or whatever. I just read your blog about the whole grain cookies and do not have the time to read all the comments … I want to mix up a batch but have questions that may have been answered already…
    I have the regular rolled oats and (non-white) whole wheat flour on hand. I want to make these cookies for adults, no children so “hiding” the healthy stuff is not an issue. May I go ahead?
    As I often say “I love KAF” because it is just a superior product and brings back memories of my father’s western Mass. grocery store. Thank you. Have fun with it. Mary @ KAF

    Reply
  20. Martha

    Thanks for such a great post. I always pick up a tip or two every time I stop by the King Arthur site and can’t wait to give these cookies a try.

    Reply
  21. danielle

    These were EXCELLENT!!! I used dried cherries and choc chips. I used 2T. milk instead of oj-very yummy! Thanks for a great recipe!

    Reply
  22. Maggie

    I’m always trying to get more whole grains in my baking and your blog inspired me. I modified the KAF Oatmeal Cookie recipe using some of your tips. It is pretty similar to your recipe, but not exact. My final recipe was closer to the other. I used the white whole wheat flour instead of AP, used old-fashioned oats without processing (we like oatmeal!) and put the dough in the fridge (2 days since that was convenient). My son who requested the cookies prefers his oatmeal cookies plain, so no add-ins. They turned out better than any oatmel cookie I’ve ever made! Thanks for the motivation to try more whole grains! P.S. I also used my new tsp cookie scoop from KAF for the first time. It made it extra fun and easy to get evenly sized cookies!

    Reply
  23. Shannon

    I use WWW flour almost exclusively in my baking and love it, but haven’t been happy with most of the cookies I have come up with so far – looking forward to trying this out. One of my kids is allergic to oats, though, so do you have a suggestion for making the cookies with only wheat flour? I could substitute 3/8 cup WWW for 3/4 cup oats, but I imagine I might also need to add more liquid?

    Or you could try Barley Flakes, item 1593 perhaps? Frank @ KAF.

    Reply
  24. LauraB

    Hi there:

    I’m wondering if you have a recipe for white whole wheat pancakes. I tried the flour this weekend and the pancakes didn’t come out very good. Very flat.

    Sorry this didn’t work out for your WWW pancakes. There are many recipes on line under the heading of pancakes that may be more successful for you. The Whole Grain Baking Book is also another source of whole grain recipes that many rave about. Maybe your local library can help you while this is added to your wish list? Irene at KAF

    Reply
  25. Corey

    I made these cookies a few days after this post went up and they are killer!! I used chopped up dark chocolate, almonds, and a mix of dried cherries and cranberries, gave some old fashioned oats a quick pulse in the blender, and skipped the OJ since 1) I don’t care much about spread and 2) I just couldn’t bring myself to add orange to chocolate despite the promise that the flavor doesn’t come through. They were great! Actually, they are still great since I pre-portioned and froze the dough. Just had another one this evening (which is what prompted me to post) and it was as perfect as a cookie can be — no whole wheaty taste or bitterness at all. Thanks!!

    Corey, love the flavor combo of add-ins you came up with… PJH

    Reply
  26. Lish

    I love these cookies, have made them once a week since the blog. Unlike Corey, I added extra orange flavor with the dark chocolate, cranberry, cherry, pecan combo I did, using the orange oil. To me nothing is as rich or yummy as the combo of orange and chocolate. I have also done a coconut, walnut, butterscotch chip combo and a dried pineapple, coconut, macadamia nut combo that was a big hit. I also have a question. How long is too long to keep the dough in the fridge, and by that I mean how long before it will adversely affect the spread of the cookie. One batch sat for near a week, due to a crazy week and the cookies did not spread at all. Is it because of the prolonged fridge storage? Thanks!

    Yes, Lish, I think maybe 3 days would be your outside limit, though I haven’t tested this. I think the starch just degrades too much, the leavening loses its punch… lots of stuff happens. Just throw it in the freezer if you can’t use it after a few days. PJH

    Reply
  27. Shami

    These look fantastic. I’m generally not too big into the cranberry taste, but they look so good I might just have to try them with cranberries. Thanks for the tips and for the great recipe. And I can’t wait to see if anyone notices I used whole wheat flour for a healthier alternative :)

    Reply
  28. millerp9

    I want to stay away from white sugar. Can I use honey or agave instead of white sugar? I am very excited about making these cookies.
    Both of these substitutions are much sweeter than sugar. I recommend only using half the amount for both ingredients. ~Amy

    Reply
  29. vejordan

    This recipe is VERY similar to one I developed about a year ago. I double the recipe, add coconut, lightly ground oatmeal, cranberries and chocolate chips to the whole grain flour mixture (white whole wheat and all purpose flour). I drop the mixture onto parchment paper and have never had any trouble with the cookies spreading, even without chilling. These are a hit and so easy to vary. Sometimes I add dutch process cocoa to the mix for a little variety, or golden raisins or walnuts. They are always a hit.

    Reply

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