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

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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.

Flour-Swap Pound Cake
Flour-Swap Pound Cake

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!
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.

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

Flour-Swap Pound Cake

Flour-Swap Pound Cake

Alice Medrich Alice Medrich
Makes 1 pound cake
  • 3 tablespoons milk, at room temperature
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 cup (100 grams) sifted (before measuring) cake flour (see note above)
  • 50 grams kamut flour, corn flour (or a combo of kamut and corn), spelt flour, whole wheat flour, rye flour, buckwheat flour, or other flour (volumes vary depending on the flour)
  • 3/4 cup (150 grams) sugar
  • 3/4 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 13 tablespoons (184 grams) unsalted butter, softened
Go to Recipe

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

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

Automagic Spring Menu Maker!
Automagic Spring Menu Maker!

Tags: Bake, Tips & Techniques, Food Science