Healthy baking can mean many different things. What is right for you may not be right for someone else and it is all about exploring the options to find your own balance.
What is Healthy Baking?
Baking, by default, encompasses the very things that we aren’t ‘supposed’ to eat when following a healthy diet. Bread is the big one, and the subject of its place in our diet is an emotive one. Do we give up bread entirely? Or do we buy better bread, make our own bread, buy better flour, go gluten free? Maybe sourdough is the way to go?
Sticking with the savoury theme, we enter territory that for many of us may not even come under the radar. Most of us can get through life without a cheeky sausage roll or slice of quiche. Right? By and large, when it comes to the savoury stuff we are talking pastry.
And then there is cake. And possibly biscuits. In fact, definitely biscuits. ALL the sweet things.
What do these things all have in common? Well there’s flour. And there’s sugar. There are also vegan considerations such as fats, dairy, and eggs. Already a minefield of possibilities right there.
Yet there is one good rule of thumb that covers all healthy baking. Actually, there are two.
- Making it yourself. Baking as a verb, not a noun. An action, not a thing. Not only does this give you full control over what you put into it, but it instantly becomes more mindful.
- Use whole, unrefined, natural ingredients. Organic where possible. From there, you can pick your own poisons; as it were.
First and foremost, healthy baking is all about real food.
Ingredients for Healthy Baking
Most classic baking is centred around refined flour and refined sugar. Not only do these create structure and texture, but they also provide a blank canvas of neutral flavour on which to build. Which is great. But the fact that they are entirely devoid of nutrition is not.
We need some new building blocks for our bakes. Exploring unrefined flours and unrefined sugars seems like a good place to begin. And so it follows that these will involve entirely new textures and flavours. As well as impose some structural limitations.
Sugar in Healthy Baking
Bread aside, when it comes to the question of healthy bakes, finding alternatives to refined sugar is often the number one priority.
The entire philosophy of healthy baking rests upon whole, natural ingredients which automatically excludes artificial sweeteners, even those with ‘natural’ credentials such as stevia or xylitol. We like to use honey or maple syrup, and dried fruits such as dates or raisins, but when actual crystallised sugar is required then coconut sugar is an excellent alternative. It is wise to remember that all forms of sugar (unrefined or otherwise) are still just that. Sugar.
Refined sugar, especially alongside refined flour and other nutritionally empty ingredients, causes blood sugar to spike dramatically. Easy to overconsume, this excess then gets stored as fat. More natural forms of sugar still impact blood sugar levels, and still come with the same amount of calories, yet alongside other ingredients such as nuts, wholegrains and seeds, the sugar will be absorbed more slowly and provide more nutritional benefits.
Couple this with the fact that if you consciously remove all sources of unrefined sugar (hidden and unhidden) from your diet then you will find that your taste for sweetness changes. It will take far less sweetness to satisfy your taste buds (and your cravings) which means you can add far less sugar to your healthy bakes.
Natural alternatives to refined sugar
*Just as a quick note for comparison below white sugar has a GI of about 65.
Although available as both a crystallised sugar, and a liquid syrup, coconut sugar really comes into its own when you need a direct replacement for sugar. It has a deep golden colour that gives a toffee like sweetness. Its flavour is not as robust as you may expect from the colour. Whilst it looks almost like dark muscovado, the taste is more similar to golden caster sugar. It has far more depth though. Coconut sugar has an abundance of trace nutrients and a lower GI (35) than most sugars and many fruits.
Honey is very sweet, and has a GI (50) to match. A little does go along way, and whilst it will not behave as sugar in all instances, it will caramelise nicely if you want to create something like caramelised almonds for a praline. Because honey is a syrup it will add sweetness, and moisture, to bakes but won’t add structure. Like in a meringue, for example. Or a Victoria sponge.
Maple syrup has a higher GI than honey, and has a more robust flavour. It is also more liquid, than viscous honey. In recipes, the same rules as honey apply and other than changing the flavour profile they can be used interchangeably. They also work well together, if you wanted just a hint of the maple flavour for example.
Whole dates, because of their fibre content, have a much lower GI (40) than sugar but this does increase once they are pureed. Dates have stellar nutritional credentials however and are an excellent addition to bakes, adding fibre as well as a toffee like sweetness. Although dates can be added chopped, they are particularly useful when made into a puree. In this way they add sweetness, moisture, and act as a binder too. Interestingly you can use raisins in the same way.
Dates do need to be matched well with bakes that suit, as they can be quite robust and are always noticeably date.
Other Dried Fruits
Adding dried fruits directly into your mix also increases the sweetness of the final bake, and may even mean that you can cut down on the amount of other sugar that may be in the recipe. Many dried fruits benefit from soaking in water for 10 minutes to make them soft and plump.
Flour in healthy baking
There are two sides to the question of flour in healthy baking and, nutritionally speaking, three camps that you can fall under. The two sides are obviously gluten-free and not gluten-free.
Yet it is not always that simple. If you can tolerate gluten (even just to a certain degree) then this poses a possible dilemma. Do you simply give up gluten anyway as, let’s face it, you feel great without it. Or do you experiment with other, better quality wheat and gluten grain flours? Because going completely gluten free can be really challenging; especially when it comes to the finer things in life (most of which involve flour). Maybe sourdough is actually the answer to all your breadmaking prayers. All of the above are reasonable considerations when exploring your own nutritional boundaries and food preferences.
Gluten Free Flours
We cover this subject in detail in our guide to gluten free flours.
Alternatives to Refined Wheat Flour
There are options beyond refined modern wheat flour, with its dodgy DNA, unrecognisable additives and ‘improvers’. Not gluten-free, yet with far better credentials. And if you can tolerate them, then why not. They certainly offer the benefits of gluten which, in our haste to eliminate it, are often overlooked. At the end of the day, the goal is to find real, good food, that nourishes and supports us in both body and mind. Swings and roundabouts.
Rye flour has a unique sour flavour that can add real character to your baking. A good source of both soluble fibre (the same as in oats) and resistant starch, rye is said to be excellent for gut health. Rye has less gluten than wheat and can be tricky to work with so is best used as an additional flour in your bakes rather than the star of the show. Once you get used to working with rye, you may find it creeps into many of your recipes.
White spelt flour is a great alternative to wheat flour, that allows for the lightness of a white flour whilst still boosting the nutritional profile and with a bit of extra flavour and texture thrown in. You can always replace a portion of your white flour with wholemeal spelt and find the perfect balance between white and wholemeal for you, or your particular recipe. Replacing a quarter, or even a third is a good compromise. Just remember that the wholemeal portion requires not only a little more liquid, but it will take a good few minutes to absorb.
Spelt performs in the same way as wheat flour, with a flavour that adds more character yet will not overwhelm. It is said to be easier to digest than wheat, as well as more nutritious. The weaker gluten makes it ideal for cakes and pastry, but spelt is great for bread too.
If you are not entirely avoiding gluten yet want a better solution than modern wheat, then spelt is defo the way to go.
Stoneground Wholemeal Flour
Wheat flour is not always the enemy, and when it comes to baking (especially bread) nothing performs quite like it.
Choosing an organic, sustainably grown, and stoneground wheat flour will give you a far better chance of finding wheat flour that is closer to the traditional wheat flour that nature intended.
In this article we have explored healthy alternatives for just two of the key ingredients in baking. We hope that this serves as a useful introduction to the possibilities that are out there when it comes to using more natural ingredients that better support your health.
Check out our other ingredients for healthy baking.
This article was reproduced on this site with permission from operafoods.com.au the “Healthy Baking Suppliers”.
See original article:- Getting Started with Healthy Baking