100% Whole Wheat Cinnamon Swirl Bread: riffing a tasty favorite


This is not your mother’s whole wheat bread.

No offense to Mom, of course – but I’m guessing it’s probably better than hers.

Did your mom make you PB & J sandwiches on homemade whole wheat bread?

If so, you may well have grown up with “back to the land” parents. This social movement, which took place mainly in the decade between 1965-1975, inspired many young people to leave their urban homes and migrate to rural America, where they were determined to live off the land: growing their own food, and generally living a sustainable lifestyle.

For some, this worked out. But many didn’t realize the amount of backbreaking labor it takes to be a farmer/homesteader, and they ultimately settled into suburban life, with all its familiar comforts: running water, electricity, indoor plumbing, and supermarkets.

One particular pursuit seemed to stick, though: baking with whole wheat flour.

You could grow wheat, and grind it into whole wheat flour yourself. Thus whole wheat represented a DIY (do it yourself) culture that was satisfying to dream about, but in the end hard to sustain.

Still, the reverse migration from farm to bedroom community didn’t completely squelch those back-to-nature aspirations. And all those whole wheat recipes you’d collected… no need to abandon them.

Which is the reason you may be a 40- or 50-something who grew up eating PB & J on kinda dry and crumbly homemade whole wheat bread.

Well, times have changed. Over the past 40 years we’ve learned a lot about baking with whole wheat flour.

We’ve found, for instance, that substituting orange juice for some of the water in a whole wheat bread recipe tempers any potential strong flavor in the wheat.

And that whole wheat dough shouldn’t be kneaded as long or vigorously as dough made with all-purpose flour; whole wheat’s bran particles are sharp, and can potentially cut the developing gluten strands if the dough is handled roughly.

But the very best thing we’ve learned about whole wheat flour is that there’s a tasty new variety out there, one that was born just 20 years ago:

Unbleached white whole wheat flour, a lighter, user-friendlier 100% whole wheat flour.

OK, folks, we’re going to explain this mystery once and for all: What’s the difference between regular whole wheat flour and white whole wheat flour?

Nutritionally, none. But as for taste and color – quite a bit.

Wheat grown in America has traditionally been high-protein red wheat. It’s dark tan in color, and often somewhat gritty feeling in texture. You’ll recognize it as the whole wheat flour you grew up with – if your mom was one of those attentive moms intent on feeding her family whole grains.

About 20 years ago, we received a sample of a new flour, white whole wheat flour, from a consortium of farmers in Kansas (now known as The American White Wheat Producers Association). This new flour was milled from a hard, high-protein wheat, effectively the same strain as red wheat. But it was lighter-colored than red wheat. And after we’d baked with it, we knew we had something really exciting on our hands.

Please understand, right up front: both red and white whole wheat flours have the same nutritional value. White wheat isn’t bleached; nor have any of its integral parts (germ, bran, or endosperm) been eliminated.

But we found that white wheat’s baking characteristics are just a bit better than red wheat’s; yeast loaves baked with white whole wheat, especially organic white whole wheat, seem to rise higher.

And the real difference is in flavor. While traditional whole wheat flour can sometimes have an unpleasant bitter or tannic taste, the cause of that taste – phenolic acid, which lends red wheat its color – has been bred out of white wheat. So white whole wheat has a pleasingly mild taste, one that allows you to substitute it for all-purpose flour much more easily than subbing traditional whole wheat flour.

After all, we know that the real litmus test is this: can you sneak whole wheat flour into your baking without your family knowing it?

With white whole wheat flour, the answer is a resounding yes.

Bottom line: White whole wheat flour is nutritionally equal to red whole wheat flour. But it bakes up lighter colored; often lends lighter texture to breads; and for most of us, it simply tastes better.

Keep in mind, white wheat flour is still whole wheat flour. Because of its bran, it’s more of a challenge to make a light-textured, high-rising loaf.

But it can be done – as this cinnamon-swirl loaf demonstrates.

On the left, all-purpose flour. On the right, white whole wheat flour. Little difference in color, or taste.

Try substituting white whole wheat for the all-purpose flour in cookies, brownies, and muffins. In yeast bread, start by substituting white wheat for half of your regular unbleached all-purpose flour, and work up from there if you like the result.

The following recipe uses 100% white whole wheat flour. And it’s absolutely delicious.

So, let’s get started – with a starter. No, not sourdough; an easy mixture of flour, water, and a small amount of yeast.

Did you know that by clicking anywhere on this block of pictures, you can enlarge them to full size? Go ahead, give it a try; it’ll work for any of our photos.

Why use a starter to make this bread? It’s not sourdough, not particularly “artisan…”

We find that a simple overnight starter both enhances bread’s flavor AND its keeping qualities; the short amount of “extra” fermentation raises the bread’s acidity level just enough that it stays fresher longer.

So, step #1: Combine the following in a mixing bowl large enough to hold the entire recipe of dough:

1/2 cup cool water
1 cup (4 ounces) King Arthur White Whole Wheat Flour or Premium Whole Wheat Flour
1/8 teaspoon instant yeast

Stir until the flour is evenly moistened (photo, upper left). Cover the bowl, and let the starter rest overnight at cool room temperature, for up to 16 hours or so; it’ll become a bit puffy, and flatten out (upper right).

Add the following ingredients to the bowl with the starter:

2 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast or active dry yeast
1/2 cup lukewarm milk
1/2 cup orange juice*
5 tablespoons melted butter
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup Baker’s Special Dry Milk or nonfat dry milk
1/4 cup potato flour or 1/2 cup instant mashed potato flakes
2 3/4 cups (11 ounces) King Arthur White Whole Wheat Flour or Premium Whole Wheat Flour

*Use 2 tablespoons less orange juice in summer (or in a humid environment), 2 tablespoons more in winter (or in a dry climate).

Why use OJ at all? Because, while it doesn’t add its own flavor to the bread, it’ll mellow any potential bitterness in the whole wheat. Don’t bother heating it to lukewarm; you can use it straight out of the fridge.

The amount of liquid you use to make the “perfect” dough will vary with the seasons. Flour is like a sponge; it absorbs water during the humid days of summer, and dries out during the winter. Your goal should be making the dough as it’s described (e.g., cohesive, soft but not sticky), rather than sticking religiously to the amount of liquid.

Mix and knead – by hand, mixer, or bread machine – until you’ve made a cohesive dough.

If you’re kneading bread by hand, it’s tempting to keep adding flour until the dough is no longer sticky. Resist the temptation! The more flour you add while you’re kneading, the heavier and drier your final loaf will be. Note that 100% whole wheat dough will never become smooth and supple like dough made with all-purpose flour; it’ll feel more like clay under your hands, and may appear a bit rough.

If you’re using a stand mixer, knead at low speed for about 5 to 7 minutes.

Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl (or 8-cup measure, as I’ve done here), cover it, and allow the dough to rise until it’s expanded and looks somewhat puffy (though not necessarily doubled in bulk), about 90 minutes.

Note that dough kneaded in a bread machine will rise faster and higher than bread kneaded in a mixer, which in turn will rise faster and higher than one kneaded by hand. So if you’re kneading by hand, you may want to let the dough rise longer than 90 minutes.

And as for rising times, here’s a good general rule for yeast bread: Let the dough rise to the point the recipe says it should, e.g., “Let the dough rise until it’s doubled in bulk.” Rising times are only a guide; there are so many variables in yeast baking (how you kneaded the dough; what kind of yeast you used) that it’s impossible to say that bread dough will ALWAYS double in bulk in a specific amount of time.

Next, make the filling. Mix together the following:

1/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour

Lightly grease a 9″ x 5″ loaf pan.

That’s right, a 9″ x 5″ pan, not the usual 8 1/2″ x 4 1/2″ yeast loaf pan. This is a larger loaf than most.

Gently deflate the dough, and transfer it to a lightly oiled work surface; a silicone rolling mat is a help here. Shape the dough into a long, thin rectangle, about 16″ x 9″.

Beat 1 large egg, and brush some onto the dough. Sprinkle the filling onto the dough. Note: Scramble or microwave any egg you don’t use; the dog will appreciate it!

Beginning with a short edge, gently roll the dough into a log.

Pinch the side seam and ends closed.

Pat the log gently to shape it into a smooth 9″ cylinder, and place it in the prepared pan. Cover the pan (a shower cap works well), and allow the loaf to rise until it’s crowned over the rim of the pan by about 3/4″, about 90 minutes.

Don’t let it rise too high; it’ll continue to rise as it bakes.

Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 350°F.

Bake the bread for 10 minutes. It may rise quite precipitously, as mine did here.

Lightly tent the bread with aluminum foil, and bake for an additional 40 to 45 minutes, or until the center registers 190°F on an instant-read thermometer.

Remove it from the oven…

…and turn it out of the pan onto a rack.

Run a stick of butter over the top of the hot loaf, if desired, for a softer crust.

See this “shred” on the side? This sometimes happens when bread rises very quickly in the oven, and the crust doesn’t expand as fast as the interior.

It’s not pretty, but hey, gives it kind of a rustic look, don’t you think?

(Yeah, right, good excuse!)

Allow the bread to cool completely before slicing.

Toast, glorious cinnamon toast!

Trust me – you’d never suspect this is a 100% whole-wheat loaf.

And neither will your family.

[Heh heh heh…]

Read, bake, and review (please) our recipe for 100% Whole Wheat Cinnamon Swirl Bread.

Print just the recipe.

PJ Hamel

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 ...


  1. "Dawn DeMeo"

    I might have to make this for my dad. I make cinnamon swirl bread for him sometimes when I’m making white sandwich bread (the Walter Sands version). I divide the dough, and make one loaf with a swirl of your baker’s cinnamon filling, leaving the other loaf plain. I’ll probably cheat and use the baker’s cinnamon filling with this recipe too. It’s so easy and SOOO tasty!
    I know what you mean about the filling mix Dawn. Someone in our house devoured nearly a whole loaf in 2 days just because of that filling. (don’t judge me, it was GOOD!). ~ MaryJane

  2. korova

    Argh, I only have the 8 1/2″ x 4 1/2″ loaf pans. Is there no way to make this work in the smaller size?
    Sure, try cutting the recipe down by 25%. Let us know how it goes! Elisabeth

  3. maryjobo

    PJ, this looks great! Can I use my small pain de mie bread pan?
    What is the purpose of brushing the beaten egg on the bread before the filling?
    No, you should probably cut the recipe by 1/3 to fit in the smaller pain de mie. The beaten egg helps the filling adhere to the dough. Have trying this recipe. Elisabeth

  4. glpruett

    Okay, PJ, I’ll confess…I’m one of those moms who DID start baking with 100% whole wheat flour…in 1971! And my kids did take their pb&j to school on homemade whole wheat bread…and they still love me! I’ve learned a lot in the past 41 years about baking with whole wheat flour, and I would have to agree that the addition of the option of using WHITE whole wheat has made the biggest difference in the results.

    However, I’d also like to suggest another product that has also made a HUGE difference in the quality and our enjoyment of my home-baked goods: my home mill! I live not far from Amish country in Ohio, and my husband and I go out and purchase 50 pound bags of wheat berries two or three times a year. I NEVER grind and store my flour; the berries are always weighed just prior to grinding for a particular recipe and I have the other ingredients ready to mix it together as soon as the flour finishes grinding. I purchased my mill in the fall of 1997, and I cannot begin to imagine how many pounds of flour it has ground in those 15 years! Because my flour is always fresh, I don’t ever have to deal with the slightly rancid flavor from the oil in the wheat germ that gives whole wheat its bad reputation. Many friends who claim to be ONLY white-bread eaters have eaten and ENJOYED my whole wheat products.

    Now to this recipe. I can’t wait to try it! It’s intriguing to me to try your suggestion of brushing the raw dough with beaten egg before sprinkling the sugar, cinnamon, flour mixture atop. Certainly brushing the dough with butter does not work, as the swirl separates and heaven help the poor soul who tries to put a slice of separating swirl bread in a pop-up toaster!

    I’m about to go mix up my sponge and let it set until tomorrow morning. It sounds like it will be GREAT, and I thank you once again for helping to make us home-bakers even better than we would otherwise be!
    You have raised your bread baking to a whole new level with grinding your own flour. What dedication! I hope your own children will be making their own bread some day, too. My mom also made our sandwich bread, but it took until I was an adult to be able to appreciate the love and hard work she put into it! Thank you for sharing. Elisabeth

    What goes around comes around, eh? Thanks for being a steady whole wheat baker for the past 4+ decades… I agree, freshly ground ww flour is very different than bagged; I find it behaves quite differently, and tastes delicious. Since it’s impractical for many of our readers to grind their own wheat berries into flour, I’ll continue to develop recipes using flour from the mill; but I’m glad you’ve been able to enjoy fresh-ground, all these years. Thanks for sharing – PJH

  5. leslie.writerider

    Why not make a free form loaf and put it on a baking sheet?
    Sure, you may try that. It will probably spread more out while rising rather than up as it will not have the support of a pan. Let us know how it goes! Elisabeth

  6. Anne

    I really appreciate the way KAF gently guides its home-bakers to higher levels of baking. In the area of yeast bread, not long ago there was PJ’s post on brewing your own sourdough starter – without using yeast. (Just to test her method, I started a new batch of starter following the discarding/feeding schedule. It worked!) This time we have something like a ‘poolish’, one sure way to make better yeast bread. Isn’t it great that the mysteries of Great Breads are gradually unveiled so that we all could make delicious breads at home?

    The more I experiment with baking the more I want to learn about baking. Many books I read and own, but this KAF website is still the first place I check for baking info. I am rather new to this, however, so I am delighted when I come across some hidden gems: recipes not so popular but we enjoy them a great deal!

    Tell your friends, don’t miss this most home-baker friendly blog!
    It is really nice to hear you are enjoying and appreciate our blog and site. We have some very talented baker/bloggers posting both their success and failures. Happy baking, Anne! Elisabeth

  7. "Trudy H."

    Could you use starter you already have and if so how much?

    No, sourdough starter is not what is called for in this instance. This recipe needs to be made with the starter described. Frank @ KAF.

  8. bakeraunt

    I have a question about the orange juice. I have used it in the whole wheat cinnamon rolls in the KA whole grains baking book and it was fine. I recently made the Honey Whole Wheat rolls, using a recipe on the KA site, and I was disappointed in the bland taste. I think that I am one of those people who loves the whole wheat taste, and thus do not want to tame it with orange juice. Would it work if I cut the orange juice by half in this recipe? I may try those rolls again and do that as well.
    As long as you replace the other half of the orange juice with water or milk, it should work out just fine. ~Amy

  9. Nutrilisa

    Dear PJ,
    OMG! It came out so good! I did not get the rise in the oven you did, and I am not sure why. But the first 2 rises went very well so after baking it was a fair height. But the crumb and texture were perfect and the taste was great! Thanks for making my first try at cinnamon swirl bread a wonderful success! Nutrilisa

  10. Aubrey

    Hi PJ,

    I’ve noticed that a lot of KA bread recipes contain potato flakes as an ingredient. What is the scientific purpose for this? It’s seem like it came out of nowhere.

    Thanks for sharing this recipe–I’ll try it out this weekend.

    Aubrey, I’ve been using potato flakes, or mashed potatoes, or potato water (water in which potatoes have been boiled), or potato flour in bread for years – it’s all about the starch. Starch holds water; so adding starch to your yeast bread makes it moister, and keeps it fresher longer. Try it – I think you’ll like it. PJH

  11. glpruett

    Here’s an update to my previous comment: I made this bread, brushing the dough with the beaten egg prior to sprinkling with the sugar/cinnamon/flour mixture, and it is FANTASTIC! That raw egg trick is one I will use over and over! Thanks, PJ!

    Now, I’ve recently seen an advertisement for a Strawberry-Banana bread from a major bakery that supplies grocery stores. The next swirl bread I make is going to be done with this KAF bread recipe, and I’m going to use pulverized freeze-dried strawberry powder, as Susan Reid did in the Strawberry Cream Cheese Cookies in The Baking Sheet, Summer 2012, page 10. I realize I could also use a combination of strawberries and bananas, but I prefer my strawberries without other flavors! I think it should work well, and I can’t wait to taste this “new” sensation!

    Thanks again to all of you at KAF who inspire us at home to try new things!

  12. Dianecm24

    Image this bread yesterday, and had to through out the bread, failed to rise, it was very doughy and did not cook in the center, What did I do wrong? Been making breads a long time, but not with starters.

    I’m sorry to hear of the difficulty. From your description, it sounds like the dough was a little too dry. I know it sounds counter intuitive to add more water to a loaf that has a doughy center. But the bran in the whole wheat will continue to absorb liquid through the rises. As the bran locks up the water, the yeast can’t do it’s job. The dough should be to begin tacky/damp to the touch. Frank @ KAF.

  13. Sue

    I made this bread and everyone loved it. My bread did not rise once it was in the oven. It deflated a little. Any suggestion what I might have done wrong?

    How many days is the bread good for on the counter if it is wrapped in plastic wrap?

    Thank you.
    This is a very common, Sue. What probably happened is your bread rose too long while in the pan. The dough is like a balloon and just popped in the oven causing it to deflate. Next time, poke the bread with your finger and if the dough bounces back slowly, it is ready for baking. Homemade bread is usually good for about 3 days wrapped in plastic. If you want to buy more time, the freezer is best! Elisabeth

  14. Kirsten

    I am making this bread for a second time, because the first batch was so wonderful. It is by far the best 100% whole wheat bread recipe that I have found.

    I just have one question: are the measurements for the “starter” correct? Both times I have made it, the starter does not look like the first or second picture at all, it is not as moist as the pictures. In fact I have to knead the starter a little to incorporate all the flour. If that is normal, then great. As I said, the first batch was wonderful :)

    Kirsten, you might just be measuring your flour a little bit differently; or maybe your house is air conditioned, whereas I bake somewhere very hot and humid during the summer. Since flour is like a sponge and absorbs moisture, my starter could very well look wetter than yours. But it really doesn’t matter; if a drier starter works for you, stick with it. Glad you like the recipe! PJH

  15. Karen

    Hi, I am a simple girl with simple tastes. This bread looks so good, but I am turned off by the use of OJ, potato flakes and dry milk. Have you tried baking this without those ingredients? If so, how was it? I will try it myself, but hate to waste the time, energy and money on this bread if I don’t have to. I feel this recipe should have less ingredients.

    Unfortunately we have not tried this recipe without our specified ingredients. If you’d like to speak to someone about possible ways to change the recipe then please call our Baker’s Hotline!-Jon 855-371-2253

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      I would suggest to add about 1 cup in total of mix ins to this dough. If you are adding dried fruit then I would soak them, otherwise they may make for a drier bread. Jon@KAF

  16. Maureen

    Hi, do you think I can substitute lemon juice for orange juice? Also, I only have buttermilk dry powder can I use that? Will I need to use baking soda in addition? Thanks.

    1. MaryJane Robbins

      Small world Maureen, I heard you on the phone with Yvette just now. So, yes to the buttermilk but no to the lemon juice. You can just use water instead. Happy baking! ~ MJ

  17. Kirsten

    I live in Denver and bread baking can be difficult. I typically add more liquid, more salt, and less yeast to account for dryness and altitude in most bread recipes. How would you recommend adapting this recipe for Denver?

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Kirsten – we have some greathigh altitude tips on our site. What I have found that helps is to slow the fermentation down is to allow the dough to rise in the frig. Please call our bakers hotline for more assistance (1-855-371-BAKE)! Elisabeth@KAF

  18. Sophia

    This recipe is great! However I have trouble finding dry milk where I live. Can you suggest a substitute? Also, I was wondering whether I could use corn starch instead of potato flour or flakes.

    1. MaryJane Robbins

      HI Sophia,
      You can actually leave out the dry milk and use regular milk as your liquid in a recipe instead of using water. Dry milk and water is often more convenient, but liquid milk is just fine to use. If you don’t have the potato flour/ flakes, you can use 1/3 cup of cooled, unseasoned mashed potatoes in the recipe. Happy baking! ~ MJ

    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Sure; understand that it’s probably a different grind and may absorb liquid differently, so add liquid gradually until you see how it’s absorbing. Good luck – PJH

  19. Thalisa

    The starter calls for instant yeast and the dough says either instant or active dry yeast. I only have active, can I use it for the starter or should I buy the instant as well?

    1. Susan Reid

      Thalisa, active dry is perfectly fine for any starter. Not to worry, go ahead and use it the same way. Susan

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