Cake & cupcakes: from white to wheat, a baker's guide

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And now, for our grand finale, the magic trick you’ve all been waiting for:

With a wave of my magic wand, I’m going to turn yummy chocolate cupcakes into just-as-yummy WHOLE WHEAT chocolate cupcakes.

Well, actually, there’s no magic involved here – revelation, perhaps, but nothing miraculous.

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Unless you count the miracle of white whole wheat flour, which manages to skillfully walk the line between all-purpose (white) flour and whole wheat, combining signature attributes of both: white flour’s ease of use and mild (read: neutral) flavor; and all of traditional (red) whole wheat’s fiber and enhanced nutrition.

Pictured above is our organic white whole wheat; we also carry a standard version.

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These cupcakes are whole wheat? Really?

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Well, some of them are 100% white whole wheat (WWW). Some are half all-purpose (AP) flour, half white whole wheat; and some are 100% AP flour.

The point is, it’s nearly impossible to tell which is which. Once I’d finished my tests and mixed them all up, there was absolutely no way to tell them apart.

And isn’t that the goal, when you’re trying to convert a recipe from all-purpose flour to whole grain?

Now clearly, chocolate cake benefits by its dark color, which hides whole wheat’s deeper hue. But what about a simple yellow cake?

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Here are some pictures of Plain & Simple Golden Cake, made with various combinations of white and whole wheat flour.

At left, that’s 100% AP flour on the top; 100% WWW flour beneath it.

In the photo at upper right, the lineup reads 50% AP/50% WWW; 100% AP; and 100% WWW.

And at bottom right, a couple of half-moons: 100% WWW on the left, 100% AP on the right. You may be able to see in this picture that the 100% whole wheat cake has a slightly rough surface, and tends to crumble more easily than its white-flour counterpart. The bran, with its sharp edges, shreds the cake’s gluten (the substance that holds baked goods together). Thus, a bran-packed cake might crumble a bit, especially when baked in full-size layers.

The solution?

Cupcakes!

So cupcakes it is, as I test substituting whole wheat flour for all-purpose in the following three types of cake: a dense, moist, oil-based carrot cake; a lighter, pound-cake type lemon cake; and a typical “cream the fat, sugar, and eggs, add the flour and liquid alternately” devil’s food cake.

Let’s start with the carrot cake.

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I decide to use King Arthur’s Carrot Cake Cupcakes, since it earns high marks from you, our readers.

Here are the various flour combinations I’m testing. The tests will be the same for all three recipes, so keep them in mind:
•100% all-purpose (AP) flour
•50% AP/50% white whole wheat flour (WWW)
•50% unbleached cake flour/50% WWW
•100% WWW

I begin by stirring together the batter – literally. This is one of those “stir it up” cakes: no creaming, no alternate additions of flour and liquid.

Bake the cupcakes – no difference in color.

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A slight difference in rise, however. Notice how the cake flour/WWW cupcake rises similarly to the 100% AP one. And the 100% WWW cupcake (at left, in the top picture above) is rather flat across the top.

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Texture-wise, another interesting (though somewhat expected) result: the cupcake made with cake flour, even though it’s also 50% whole wheat, has the finest texture.

And how about the taste? All taste exactly the same: delicious. I love this recipe because it’s not overly sweet.

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Which makes it perfect for its crown of cream cheese frosting.

Next, let’s move to a tougher challenge: a light-textured, light-colored cake.

One recipe for Lemon Bliss Cake cupcakes, coming right up!

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I put together four variations of batter. The recipe calls for creaming the butter and sugar, beating in the eggs, then adding flour alternately with milk. I dutifully do just that – for each of the four batters.

I’m telling you, doing tests like this is not for the easily distracted. Luckily, my husband and dog disappear for the morning – blessed silence!

Notice the difference in color between 100% AP (left), and 100% WWW (right).

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That color variation carries all the way through.

WW7But the rise? No real difference.

And the texture of all four is very similar, too.

The only difference? The slightly grainy “mouth feel” of the 100% WWW cupcake. Rather than being melt-in-your-mouth smooth, the bran gives it a bit of bite.

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Lemon glaze is the perfect final touch. I dip the top of each cupcake into the glaze repeatedly – until it’s gone, absorbed into the moist cupcakes.

And now, what we’ve all been waiting for: Devil’s Food Cake, reincarnated as cupcakes.

This recipe, printed in our King Arthur Flour 200th Anniversary Cookbook, makes an old-fashioned, shortening-based cake. I figure it’ll be a good test to see how well an older recipe takes to whole wheat conversion.

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Four batters – like the lemon cake, made using the “creaming” method.

No noticeable difference in batter consistency, nor in rise during baking.

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Nor in texture – though the cake-flour version might be a tad finer-grained.

Again, the 100% WWW cupcake has a detectable graininess; not unpleasant, just noticeable.

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But heck, once you add that ganache on top – who cares?!

Wait a minute: where’s the spongecake? The angel food?

I decided not to go there. Just like some words are best left unsaid, some recipes are best left unadulterated.

But hey, if you want to make an angel food cake with whole wheat flour, be my guest – and please let us know how it goes.

Me? I’ll stick with my white-flour jelly rolls and angel food – and pick up some extra fiber in these cupcakes.

So, there you have it: the final installment in our White to Wheat, a Baker’s Guide series. Interested in converting more of your favorite recipes from all-purpose to whole wheat flour? Check out these additional “white to wheat” guides:

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. Betty

    Love all these white to wheat comparative studies! Such helpful information. I have a white whole wheat and a KAF whole wheat bag that I need to use. Maybe I’ll use my WWW for Devil’s Food cupcakes.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Betty, go for it! I was surprised how easy it actually was to substitute whole wheat flour; the 1:1 blend of ww and AP, in particular, was just seamless. Enjoy – PJH

  2. mumpy

    i’ve been adding white wheat to lots of my cake recipes for a while now, using the 50/50 AP/WWW mix …..but after seeing these results, i think i need to add cake flour to my collection…(sigh)…himself laughs at my assortment of flours…his mother kept only AP flour in the house, and very little of that, as she used mixes, so he’s both amused and slightly bewildered by the need for bread flour and potato flour and the rest….he is, however, always willing to eat what i bake!….and the cake flour/www combo looks like a winner….i love the white wheat flour for so many things, but never thought of combining it with cake flour….thanks for the testing and the info!

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Our pleasure, Mumpy – enjoy! And tell your husband if he wants to keep eating in the high style to which he’s become accustomed, you need to keep buying flour – all kinds of flour. :) PJH

  3. Lorraine Stevenski

    I have been trying to use the white whole wheat flour more successfully in my baking recipes. I used half white whole wheat and half KA cake flour blend in my carrot cake and it worked perfectly. The rise, taste and texture of the cake was the same as using regular AP flour. Thanks for a great baking tip once again.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      And thanks for your feedback, Lorraine. Always nice to see your name here – PJH

  4. Susan

    I love that you’re addressing this topic, as this has been a big focus for me for a while. Question: Regarding your comment, “a bran-packed cake might crumble a bit, especially when baked in full-size layers,” is there an solution you’d recommend other than making cupcakes? I’d like to find a way to adapt layer-cake recipes. Thanks!

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Susan, I’d suggest using the 50% blend – half white wheat, half all-purpose or cake flour. While others might get different results, the two white cakes I baked as 9″ layers, using 100% whole wheat flour, were a bit crumbly – not terminally, but enough to be annoying. If you add vital wheat gluten, you also start to toughen the cake, so that’s probably not a good option, either. Sorry I can’t be more definitive here – but baking is always a work in progress, isn’t it? PJH

  5. Kim

    Thank you! I’m new at the white whole wheat and whole wheat flour baking, and these recipes were just what I needed! I appreciate any baking and substitution tips for wheat flour verses all purpose. Would you consider giving us the breakdown of fats, protein and carbohydrates for these recipes?

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Kim. we’d love to, but don’t currently have the software nor the personnel to make that happen. We’re definitely working on it, though – thanks for letting us know it’s important to our readers. PJH

    2. Jennifer

      Search for “recipe nutrition calculator” and you’ll get a bunch of choices. Fill in your recipe and it gives you the nutrition information. I don’t know if they are 100% accurate, but you’ll have an idea.

  6. Kathy

    PJ – instead of using cake flour mixed with the WWW, have you ever played with using WW pastry flour, which has the low gluten content of cake flour? I have always used WW pastry flour for my muffins & pancakes and the texture is always very light.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Susan Reid (editor of the Baking Sheet) has done a lot of experimenting with WW pastry flour. She has used it in cakes, muffins, quick breads, etc. Often she uses the WW pastry flour in conjunction with some bread flour if you can believe that one! The bread flour gives it some extra rising power while the WW pastry helps to keep the texture as tender as can be. Elisabeth@KAF

  7. Sally

    I absolutely LOVE~ LOVE ~ LOVE these posts! You do all the hard work for us & explain “why” it does what it does. Thank you!!!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      We are so happy the blogs are useful, Sally! Thank you for your kind words. Elisabeth@KAF

  8. Elma

    Thanks for the white to wheat comparison. WWW has been my favorite for a length of time because as you say the “combining signature attributes of both: white flour’s ease of use and mild (read: neutral) flavor; and all of traditional (red) whole wheat’s fiber and enhanced nutrition”. Most places I take rolls or loaf I do 50/50 and they are certainly well received. (none left!) Again. Thank you.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Julie- We actually have a wonderful blog, posted by one of our test baker’s with a great tutorial on gluten-free bread baking: http://www.kingarthurflour.com/blog/2010/03/02/tender-high-rising-gluten-free-sandwich-bread-heres-how. If you have any questions after reading through the article, feel free to contact out baker’s hotline at 855-371-2253 and we’d be happy to try and help you talk through the process over the phone. Happy Baking! Jocelyn@KAF

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