Change One Ingredient in This Pound Cake Recipe, Get a Whole New Cake

October  3, 2016

One day, over a dozen years, ago I stopped while walking past the end of the baking aisle where the "other," non-wheat flours lived. Staring at the Bob’s Red Mill and Arrowhead Mills shelves, I saw a world of new and interesting ingredients that I knew nothing about. Since I didn’t care about gluten one way or another, I took home a variety of wheat and non-wheat flours including corn flour, kamut flour, oat flour, spelt flour, and later some chestnut flour. I knew these flours were perfect for hearty wholegrain breads, but I was thinking about cookies and cakes. It was never about health (stealth or otherwise), or the idea that we should all be eating more whole grains either—although I do love my whole grains. I was just curious about using delicious new-to-me ingredients in unexpected ways.

My strategy was to try swapping a portion of the all-purpose (wheat) flour in for a new and interesting flour, hoping to get enough flavor and character from the new flour without destroying the structure of the original cake (or cookies) that was provided by the gluten in the wheat flour. I made shortbread and butter cookies and tuiles and pound cakes—and some really terrific chestnut-flour meringues. Not all recipes were successful with all flours, but I was generally fired up by the experiment. The best of my early results were published in Pure Dessert and ultimately lead to the idea of using the same flavorful flours in new types of gluten-free recipes for Flavor Flours. And I’m still experimenting.

The recipe that follows is easy and rather foolproof so you can focus on the flour swap. I’ve already made the cake with spelt, kamut, rye, corn, and buckwheat flours and I see no reason why you can’t continue the experiment with other flours. You can try oat, sorghum, teff, amaranth, or even cricket flour, or non-grain flours like apple or squash flour. Each flour lends its color, texture, and flavor—nuanced or outspoken—to the cake. Choose a flour, taste the results, and then imagine it with other enhancements: a handful of finely chopped nuts, toasted seeds, ground spices, or grated chocolate. You can trade a tablespoon or two of the milk for spirits like bourbon or brandy or rum. You could even vary it by using a little less of the accent flour and more of the cake flour.

Top with jam and a spoonful of crème fraîche, if you like! Photo by Linda Xiao

You may notice that the amount of the accent flour is 1/2 of the weight of the cake flour (or 1/3 of the total flour weight), and you might realize intuitively that the volumes ratios will vary because different flours have different weights per cup. Sometimes swapping ingredients based on volume works better than swapping based on weight (a long story for another time) and sometimes things work out either way. This cake is slightly flexible. If you do not use a scale, try 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon (instead of 50 grams) of the accent flour. No matter which way you do it, once you’ve made the cake with a chosen accent flour, you might be moved to fine-tune it the next time by increasing or decreasing the amount of the accent flour by as much as a tablespoon (7 to 9 grams). Just don’t forget to take notes: It’s all in the spirit of experimentation, after all.

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P.S. Anyone who uses cricket flour should report back immediately because that one’s still high on my list!

Alice Medrich is a Berkeley, California-based pastry chef, chocolatier, and cookbook author. You can read more about what she's up to here.

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Top Comment:
“Oat flour is another favorite. Makes dense and moist baked goods. ”
— Susan O.

What other uses have you found for alternative flours? Tell us how you bake with them in the comments.

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  • CookingforLife
My career was sparked by a single bite of a chocolate truffle, made by my Paris landlady in 1972. I returned home to open this country’s first chocolate bakery and dessert shop, Cocolat, and I am often “blamed” for introducing chocolate truffles to America. Today I am the James Beard Foundation and IACP award-winning author of ten cookbooks, teach a chocolate dessert class on, and work with some of the world’s best chocolate companies. In 2018, I won the IACP Award for Best Food-Focused Column (this one!).


Anne B. October 18, 2016
I started years ago substituting whole wheat flour by volume for 1/3 white flour. Just trying to get a little more whole grains into my kids' diets. There's lots of useful info here! Time to get more creative...
Barbara R. October 9, 2016
I have made pound cakes with chestnut flour and added candied orange peel. Sooooooooo good!
Susan O. October 9, 2016
Good to know one's knowledge is useful for another! That butter will come in handy as almond meal can be quite dry. The cake will be airier then with regular flour. So ample use of butter is suggested, as well as cutting back in the use of eggs. Try egg yolks instead. It will still be lighter and fluffier. Oat flour on the other hand will be dense. More eggs there with whites. I usually mix it. Part oat or almond flour and part wheat. Also for wheat flour I use Eikorn. Far superior than regular wheat. Sorhgum would be yummy, it would more holidayish.
Cecilia G. October 9, 2016
Thank you Susan - there is nothing quite like a tasty experiment. I milk cows and have chickens so i have PILES of eggs and home made butter so pound cake (I use 8 eggs in mine! and more butter than I care to admit) is one of my favourite ways of preserving the eggs and butter. I make the cake and freeze it. NOW you have opened a whole range of possibilities for me. I have those flours loitering about in the back of my flour shelves and maybe today I will get them out and try them in a pound cake - for the life of me I never thought of that before! Thank you - cecilia
Susan O. October 9, 2016
Please see above! It seems it's a bit of a Sunday. Your answer is above.
Susan O. October 9, 2016
Excuse auto correct, * was discussing with
Susan O. October 9, 2016
I've been doing this for years! Was just dices sing it with Slow Food members who suggested I note all of my experiments. Lately I have been using almond meal. Makes yummy brownies. Oat flour is another favorite. Makes dense and moist baked goods.
CookingforLife October 4, 2016
Would this work with plain (all-purpose) flour instead of the cake flour? We don't have the equivalent of US cake flour in the UK.
Rebecca October 9, 2016
You can make cake flour by taking a cup of plain (AP) flour and replacing two tablespoons with corn flour (cornstarch). This reduces the gluten content in the cake flour, resulting in a more tender bake.
CalamityintheKitchen October 3, 2016
But which one is which in the photos?????
Sarah J. October 3, 2016
From left to right: teff, corn, buckwheat!
Susan O. October 9, 2016
Corn sounds yummy, how was the texture? Anything like cornbread?