Tips for Pastry Baking with Fresh Whole Grain Flours

Boston Creme Pie / baking with Fresh Whole Grain Flour /

A few weeks ago, I posted a link to a cake recipe on our Localgrain Facebook page, and one of the comments asked why I’d posted it, since surely it would have to be made with white flour.  It was a really good reminder for me that the 70s stigma of whole-grain brick bread and gross pastries lives on, and that many cooks hesitate to use whole grain flours because they don’t want a “healthy” but inedible creation.

I’ve baked many, many cakes, cookies, scones, muffins, breads, etc with 100% whole grains and freshly milled whole meal flours both in my home kitchen and in a commercial bakery.  I can assure you they did not suck.  In fact, many people who try a muffin or bread made with 100% whole meal flour light up and start asking lots of questions about what’s in it and why it tastes so good.  The answer is pretty simple  – all of the goodness is still there, and your body and taste buds can tell.

What’s whole meal?  “Whole wheat” or “whole grain” flours sold in the store are, in fact, not whole.  They have been partly sifted, to take out the germ (which would go rancid sitting on the shelf) and to remove some of the bran.  Whole meal flour is what you get when you mill a grain and don’t sift it at all.  Some of the nutrients in grains are also sensitive to oxygen, so if you mill grains and don’t use them quickly, you lose some of the nutrients simply by exposure to air.  For folks who are concerned about phytates and grains binding up nutrients in your digestive system, soaking grains or using sourdough in your batter can neutralize those.  Freshly milled flour also has significantly lower amounts of phytates present, and is more digestible (which just makes plain sense, too).

Baking with Freshly Milled Whole Grain Flour /

Baking bread with fresh whole meal flour deserves its own discussion, so today I’m just focusing on pastries.  Whole meal flours are ideal for pastries, because the tiny flecks of bran “shorten” the gluten strands, making your pastry tender.  You don’t need to worry so much about “overworking” your dough and developing gluten.  White flour has tons of gluten, which can make it rise higher but also taste tougher (And as you can see from the photos, my cake is far from flat – I estimate you only lose 15-20% of volume when you use all whole meal, and if you want you can always mix white and whole meal flours, of course.)  Freshly milled flours are usually moister, so you may need to hold back a bit of your liquid, but I don’t usually find this to be an issue with pastries.  So, no fancy tricks are required here – just substitute freshly milled flour for the flour called for in your recipe, and enjoy!

Baking with Freshly Milled Whole Grain Flour /

Enough of the nitty gritty and more of the yummies.  Last week, we celebrated our daughter’s seventh birthday.  She asked for a Boston Creme Pie, which I made with 100% freshly ground local wheat – I’m going to share the recipe and photos so you can see how lovely whole meal baking can be (and I can tell you that cake disappeared so fast I only got to eat half a tiny piece!).  At the last minute, we had a bunch of wheat-free guests show up, so I’ll tell you how I magically made dessert for them appear a la minute, as well.

Boston Creme Pie

As always with my baking recipes, please please for the love of the gods, please use a scale and weigh your ingredients.


3/4 cup half & half

1/4 cup (50 g) natural cane sugar (or substitute maple syrup if you prefer)

2 eggs

1/4 cup (50 g) natural cane sugar (or substitute maple syrup if you prefer)

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

(plus 1/2 cup heavy cream for whipping, for gluten free bonus if desired)


2 1/2 cups (250 g) freshly milled flour (wheat, spelt, barley, emmer, or a mixture would all be delicious here)

2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

3 large eggs, room temperature (warm in a bowl of water if need be -temp is important!)

1 cup (8 oz) milk, room temperature

1 tsp vanilla extract

6 oz (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature

1 1/2 cups (300 g) natural cane sugar (or substitute maple syrup if you prefer)


6 oz good quality dark chocolate (I prefer Callebaut), in chunks

3 oz (6 Tbsp) unsalted butter

(make double if you want the gluten-free bonus)

I recommend making your custard first, and while it’s cooling in your fridge, making your cake and glaze.

Custard:  Pour the half and half into a saucepan, add first 1/4 cup of sugar, and stir.  In a bowl, whisk the egg and remaining sugar together.

Heat the half & half over med-high heat until small bubbles appear around the edges but don’t boil.  Remove from heat, and slowly whisk half of the hot liquid into the yolk mixture, whisking to combine.  Pour the yolk mixture back into the pan (this is called tempering the eggs), and bring it to a simmer, stirring gently but constantly.

When it is smooth and thick (5-10 minutes), removee it from the heat, pour into a glass bowl and put into the fridge to cool.  Good job!


 Preheat your oven to 350 F.  Grease two 8 inch spring-form cake pans with butter.

Sift together into a large bowl your flour, baking powder, and salt.  Crack the eggs into a small bowl and whisk together just to combine the yolks and whites.  Add the vanilla to the milk.

Place the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer (or use a bowl and hand held mixer).  Beat the butter until it gets satiny and clings to the sides of the bowl (about 30 secs).

With the mixer on, add the sugar in a steady stream.  When it’s all added, stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl.  Continue to cream for 4-5 minutes, until light and fluffy.

With the mixer on, pour in the eggs, very slowly at first like you’re making mayonnaise.  Continue to cream until the mixture is white, fluffy, and increased in volume.  Remove from the mixer – stir in the flour by hand.

Add 1/4 of the flour mixture, stir it in, then add 1/3 of the vanilla milk and stir to combine.  Continue until you’ve used all ingredients (ending with the flour).  Mix until smooth after each addition.

Spoon half of the batter into each pan, and smooth with spatula.  To get a flat cake round, make a slight indent in the center of the cake and push extra batter towards the edges.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, until springy and it measures 190 on a digital thermometer.  Cool in pans for 5-10 minutes, then run a knife around the edge and release from pans.  Cool before assembling.


Place the butter, then the chocolate into a double boiler, or right into a saucepan if you’re staying nearby and being careful.  Put over very low heat and stir occasionally, until mixture is smooth, shiny, and liquid.


Once you have all your pieces prepared, it’s time to assemble!  Place down one cake half, spread custard evenly all over it.  Gently place second cake round on top, and spoon on the glaze, gently pushing it towards the edges with a spatula or butter knife.  Bon Appetit!


Gluten Free Bonus:  As I mentioned, I made this cake for my daughter’s birthday and suddenly a lot of wheat-free guests showed up.  First, I panicked, then I did this:  I remembered that the recipe I was following had recommended folding whipped cream into the custard.  I hadn’t assembled the cake yet, so I quickly whipped a bunch of cream, folded it into the custard (thereby doubling it), and made another batch of chocolate glaze.  I used half the custard in the cake, and served the rest with the extra chocolate glaze (and bowls were licked clean, I can tell you).  You can do the same, and then you’ll have a delicious cake, and a delicious gluten-free option.

5 Responses to “Tips for Pastry Baking with Fresh Whole Grain Flours”

  1. 1

    this sounds delicious. Thank you!

  2. 2

    This is a great post… I have been very intimidated to bake with my whole meal flours (I use them regularly in pancakes, waffles, but never cakes!) I didn’t realize the “science” behind it and am anxious to try it out.

  3. 3

    Awesome, have fun! let me know how it goes, and if you have any questions :)

  4. 4

    Thanks Tonya!

  5. 5

    I wish I had something to mill fresh flour at home!
    I would really like to try and taste the difference!

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