Sunday, February 2, 2014

Healthy Baking Basics: Flours

This post right here is going to be the first installment of your guide to healthy baking.  What the staples are, what different ingredients do, what the heck a flax "egg" is: you can find it all in this Healthy Baking Basics series.

Today's topic: Flour

There are tons of flours other than your typical all purpose and the goal of this post is to introduce you to some of my favorites.  Healthy baking can be intimidating, and the goal of this post is to help you understand a bit more about some of the less common ingredients.

Spelt Flour

Healthy Homemade Oreos
What It Is: Spelt flour is a popular and readily available non-wheat flour.  It's made from spelt, a cereal grain in the wheat family, and has a higher protein content and fewer calories than other wheat flours.  Spelt flour does, however, contain gluten- albeit a lesser amount that all purpose flour- so it's not suitable for those who follow a gluten free diet.

When To Use:  I use spelt flour like "normal" bakers use all purpose.  It is, quite obviously, good for all purposes.  You can use it in cookies, cakes, brownie, and pretty much anything else that uses flour.  The one warning I'll give you is that spelt flour does lend a slightly different taste to baked goods; not in a bad way, just be prepared to notice a slight change.

Where To Buy:  I buy Bob's Red Mill spelt flour from Amazon.  If you're looking to buy in bulk, this is a great option.  The price is cheap ($0.16 per ounce) and there's even an option to have a new order delivered to you automatically every couple of months.  If you're worried that 4 bags of spelt flour is too much, you can find individual bags at Whole Foods or the organic section of your local grocery store (Bob's Red Mill and Arrowhead Mills are two popular brands).

Recipes To Get You Started: About 75% of the recipes on this blog use spelt flour, but I'll share a few of my favorites here.
  1. Chocolate Beet Layer Cake - This cake is fluffy, moist, and absolutely full of rich chocolate flavor.  Despite it's healthy ingredients, a slice of this cake wouldn't look at all out of place in the window of a bakery.  Spelt flour is the only flour used, so this recipe is a great place to give the new flour a try.
  2. Healthy "Brookies" - A Brookie is a mix between a cookie and a brownie, making this the perfect recipe to illustrate the versatility of spelt flour.  A dense and fudge brownie makes up the bottom of this baked good, and a gooey chocolate chip cookie can be found on top.  What's not to love?
  3. Homemade Oreos - Oreos are known for being super addicting, and this recipe definitely lives up to that expectation.  But unlike the infamous store-bought cookies, you can eat a couple of these healthified ones without feeling guilty.  If you don't wanna use a ton of your new spelt flour, these cookies are a good choice because the recipe only requires 1/2 cup flour.
Oat Flour

Oat Flour Chocolate Chip Cookies
What It Is:  Oat flour is flour made from oats.  That's pretty easy, right?  Specifically, oat flour is made from rolled oats or quick oats.  Think Quaker brand.  This flour is gluten free if made from certified gluten free oats, so it proves an easy and cheap flour option for people with a gluten intolerance.  that being said, even if you do eat gluten, it's still a great flour option because of it's natural sweetness and lower calorie count.

When To Use:  Oat flour is a bit trickier than spelt flour in terms of usage because it's lack of gluten makes it behave a bit differently.  In my experiments, I've found that oat flour is a good option for when you want a softer texture or when there are already oats used in a recipe (ex: Oatmeal Cookies).  I've occasionally had some problems with oat flour baked goods rising, so that's something to keep in mind for the future.  Oat flour also has a really nice sweet flavor that comes through when there are no other strong flavors to hide that.  As a general guide, oat flour is great for soft cookies, breads, oatmeal cookies and granola bars.

Where To Buy:  I don't actually buy my oat flour; I make it!  My family loves oatmeal, so we've always got rolled oats of some kind on hand.  Whenever I need oat flour for a recipe, I just grind up rolled oats in a coffee grinder (or blender or food processor) until they reach a fine, flour-like consistency.  Ideally, I would make a whole jar of flour at once so it would last me well into the future, but I'm usually not that organized.  The good thing is, oat flour is easy enough to make that you can just grind it up on the fly.  If you're really opposed to a homemade version, you can buy prepackaged oat flour as well.  Check the organic aisle of your grocery store.

Recipes To Get You Started:
  1. Dried Fruit Granola Bars - A classic granola bar filled with all of your favorite mix-ins, these bars use a mix of rolled oats and oat flour.  The special flavor of the oats definitely comes through, which I love.  If you're looking for an easy homemade snack bar, this is the recipe for you.
  2. Healthier Chocolate Chip Cookies - I love love love this cookie recipe.  It may not yield a classic CC cookie, but the resulting dessert tastes so good that I promise you won't care.  It's the oat flour.  I'm telling you, that stuff is magic.
  3. Classic Banana Bread - There isn't much that beats freshly baked banana bread, and there's even less that beats a slice that you don't have to feel guilt about.  This version of banana bread is made completely with oat flour, so it's 100% gluten free!
Whole Wheat Flour

Chocolate "Waterfall" Brownies
What It Is:  Most likely, you're a bit more familiar with whole wheat flour.  It's made from grinding the whole grain of wheat, hence the name 'Whole Wheat'.  Whole wheat flour is relatively popular and most people have used it at some time or another.

When To Use:  If you're looking to add some more whole grains to your favorite recipe, there are a couple ways you can to do it.  One way is replacing some, or all, of the flour with whole wheat flour.  This is where you have to be careful.  Whole wheat flour is famous (infamous?) for weighing down baked goods and making them dense and hard.  No one want's that, so I'm going to tell you how to avoid it.  First of all, a really easy solution is to stick to recipes that already use whole wheat flour.  There are tons of experienced bakers out there who have spent months perfecting the perfect whole wheat recipe; skip the stressful testing and use of of their recipes instead.  However, if there's a specific recipe you'd like to use, you can try replacing 1/2 of the flour with whole wheat.  That won't always work perfectly, but it's usually pretty successful.

Where To Buy:  Whole wheat flour is super easy to find.  Just head over to the flour aisle in any store you shop at and pick up a bag.  I buy King Arthur whole wheat flour.

Recipes To Get You Started:
  1. Chocolate Pumpkin Muffins - The texture of these muffins is amazing, so they're great for someone who want's a whole wheat recipe that doesn't seem whole wheat.  These muffins use half spelt flour and half whole wheat.  They make a wonderful breakfast with some yogurt and fruit.
  2. Tater-less Tots - Finally, a recipe for something other than dessert!  For all the flours listed on this page, including whole wheat, desserts aren't the only way they shine.  These faux tater tots are a perfect example.  The whole wheat flour helps to hold them together while adding some whole grains as well.
  3. Chocolate "Waterfall" Brownies - This is one of my favorite brownie recipes on the blog: they're bite-sized, super fudgy, and have a 'waterfall' chocolate filling.  However, despite my love for this recipe, I had forgotten it even had whole wheat flour in it.  That's the true test, ladies and gentleman, and these brownies passed with flying colors.
Whole Wheat Pastry Flour

Whole Wheat Blueberry Pancakes
What It Is:  Whole wheat pastry flour is high-starch and low protein flour.  It's softer and has a finer texture than regular whole wheat flour, so it's less likely to yield a dense baked good.  The texture of baked goods made with whole wheat pastry flour will usually be the same as the texture of the baked good when it was made with white flour.

When To Use:  Switching all purpose flour out for whole wheat pastry flour in your favorite recipe probably won't hurt the texture.  It may, however, alter the taste.  Most of you probably know that "whole wheat" has a pretty distinct flavor.  If you're looking for that flavor (like in whole wheat bread), whole wheat pastry flour may help to yield a fluffy result with the same taste.  If that's not a flavor you're looking for, you have two options:  Use half white flour and half whole wheat pastry flour or use all whole wheat pastry flour in a recipe that has big flavors to cover up the wheat-y taste.  Big flavors are things like peanut butter, chocolate, etc.

Where To Buy:  Whole wheat pastry flour is pretty easy to find.  If you can't find it in the regular flour aisle of your grocery store, check the organic aisle.  Also, Bob's Red Mill makes it and so does the 365 brand from Whole Foods.  I buy from both of those places.

Recipes To Get You Started:
  1. Whole Wheat Blueberry Pancakes - These pancakes are hearty, filling, and still fluffy, thanks to the whole wheat pastry flour.  There's definitely some whole wheat flavor to these guys, but it goes really well with rest of the ingredients, so I'm sure you won't mind.  If you're looking for a breakfast to jumpstart your day, this is it!
  2. Nutella Swirl Banana Muffins - Made with half spelt flour and half whole wheat pastry, you'll hardly be able to tell these muffins are whole wheat.  And there's nutella in them.  Really, how could you say no?
  3. Extra Fudgy Brownies - This recipe doesn't even make brownies, it makes fudge.  A whole pan of it, and somehow it's actually healthy.  Woohoo!  Obviously, the pastry flour in these doesn't help to keep the texture light.  Instead, it adds some secret whole grains.
White Whole Wheat Flour

Picture belongs to Texanerin Baking
What It Is:  Here's where things get a bit confusing.  This flour has both the word 'white' and 'wheat' in the name; What?!  It's not just a marketing scam to make white flour seem healthy.  White whole wheat flour is ground from a varety of white-wheat.  It has the same nutritional benefits of whole wheat flour, but it's milder and lighter in color.

When To Use:  The rules of substitution for this flour are pretty similar to those of whole wheat flour.  I'd recommend you scroll up and check those out again.  In a nutshell, to avoid altering texture, substitute half the flour in a recipe out for white whole wheat flour.  If a recipe already calls for whole wheat flour, you can use white whole wheat flour to replace it.  For people who don't like whole wheat taste or color, this could be a good idea.  If you want to make cookies, brownies, or another baked good that doesn't rely too much on texture, feel free to try using all white whole wheat flour.

Where To Buy:  As with other whole wheat flours, check the flour aisle of your local grocery store.  If you don't have any lucky there, head to the organic section or a specialty food store.  There's also the online option, if bulk doesn't bother you.

Recipes To Get You Started:
I've just started experimenting with white whole wheat flour, so I don't have any recipes specifically made for it on the blog.  Instead, I'll link to some delicious looking recipes I've found
  1. Healthier New York Times Chocolate Chip Cookies by Texanerin Baking - She made the famous NY Times recipe healthier!  That takes talent.  It's partly thanks to white whole flour, I would presume.  Check out this recipe, and pretty much everything elso on her blog for some delicious whole wheat treats.
  2. Whole Wheat Waffles by King Arthur Flour - If you look at the picture next to this recipe, the waffles don't look whole wheat, but they are.  That, my friends, is the beauty of white whole wheat flour.
  3. Macaroon Cherry Tart by 101 Cookbooks - Cherries are on of my favorite foods, and in the dead of winter, I miss them so much.  Words can't express how good this tart looks.  Actually, words can't express how good every recipe on 101 cookbooks looks.  Go look at all of it.
Congratulations!  You made it to the end of this super long post.  Hopefully the information here was helpful and can aid you as you as you continue your adventure into the wonderous world of healthy baking.

Next up in the Healthy Baking Basics series:  Sugars!

Pin It!


  1. Oh my goodness, this is such an awesome guide--I always wondered about white wheat flour. I had always avoided those recipes because I thought they were not whole grain. Thanks for all the great information!

  2. This is great! I am a big fan of using whole wheat flour. I usually sub it fully and it turns out great! I've also recently bought some Soy flour and Coconut flour ... trying to figure out how and when to use those!

  3. i want to use more healthy flours. this is a great resource!