One of my favorite ways to transform a recipe and make it my own is by substituting a portion of the flour with another flour that has more flavor or depth.
It’s also a good way to use up any random bits of flours you might have hanging out in your pantry.
Understanding flour substitutions can take a lot of trial and error. Unless you’ve got hours to devote to figuring it out yourself, allow me to save you the time by giving you a starting point, taking out some of the confusion, and showing you my process.
For the sake of this post, I am strictly talking about substituting a portion of wheat flour (all-purpose, cake, pastry, bread flour) with an alternate flour meant for flavor.
Where to start and what flours to use.
Whenever I substitute alternative grains in recipes, I start small until I get a feel for how the flour will change the final product. A good starting point is 15-25% of the total flour weight. This is where weight measurements in grams come in handy and why they are the only unit of measure I use. More on that later…
There are two types of alternate grains: Wheat grains (containing gluten) and naturally gluten-free grains. Below are some of my favorites.
When it comes to wheat-based flours, because they still contain gluten, you CAN substitute them more heavily. I still prefer, when testing for the first time, to remain within the 15-25% range, then gradually increase the amount if I want more of the flavor/texture.
In regards to naturally gluten-free grains, substituting more than 25% can sometimes compromise the structure of your baked goods, especially those that heavily rely on gluten for structure. I prefer to start with my substitution around 15% on the lower end of the spectrum and gradually work my way up.
Consider WHAT you are making.
I always like to think about 2 things: What flour I want to use and what I want to bake.
Some flours lend themselves to specific baked goods and vice versa.
Naturally gluten-free flours work extremely well in items that don’t heavily rely on gluten development. Think streusel, cookies, cakes, quick-breads, biscuits, scones, pancakes, waffles, crackers.
For example, I love to sub 15% corn flour for the AP flour in my biscuit recipe- it keeps the biscuit extra tender and makes it taste like cornbread that has the texture of a biscuit.
You CAN add these flours to bread, just know that they will be for flavor only, so stay on that low end of the spectrum, or risk compromising the structure.
Wheat-based flours are also great in the above-mentioned baked goods, but you can also substitute more liberally in bread recipes. Again, stay within the 15-25% range to start, but notice how the flavor and texture change. For example, rye flour (especially dark rye) has a deep flavor and can lend a chewy texture to baked goods. Not only is it great in cookies, but it can also add flavor and chew to cinnamon rolls, flatbread, bagels, and English muffins.
Find a process that works for you.
My most recent substitution was a scone recipe I’ve been wanting to make. I have a bag of oat flour that I have been wanting to use up and thought the flavor of oats would go well in scones.
My process for any new recipe is writing the base recipe on the lefthand side, then writing what I changed/added on the right. I always keep a separate notebook just for R&D and I make as many notes as possible, especially after the fact to determine any changes I want to make next time. Was it too dry and needs more hydration? Did it turn out exactly how you wanted? WRITE IT DOWN because you will.not.remember.
I write everything down, especially whenever I’m trying out new recipes or making changes. Then, whenever I’m happy with the result, the recipe gets a smiley face and gets copied into my favorite recipes notebook.
Learning how to successfully substitute flours in a recipe is just another step closer to unlocking your creativity and developing your unique style. Follow the guides I’ve given you, make note of your changes and thoughts along the way, and bake something different.
You can totally do this!
I know baking by yourself at home can be overwhelming and lonely, and that is why I'm so excited to start sharing what I know with you! Let's get started with this free Flaky Pie Crust Guide...