A Healthy Baking Primer
Almost everyone is irresistibly attracted to baked goods (and, for those of you who aren’t, who even are you anyway?!). It’s not just that these things taste good. It’s in our biology. We have evolved, thanks to our hungry human ancestors, to seek out sugar not just because it’s a quick source of energy, but because sugar also helps our bodies store fat. This was a great advantage for starving cavemen who needed to store up body fat in order to survive. For the average modern Westerner, however, who is more likely to hunt for deals on Amazon than for food, storing up extra fat is really not a priority.
So what now? Never make your mom’s chocolate chip cookie recipe again? Avert your eyes and think of kale salad when presented with a plate of brownies? Actually, there are a few strategies you can use to enjoy sweet treats without going crazy on the sugar and animal fats. It may take some practice to send your favorite recipes through healthy baking bootcamp, but it is more than possible.
White flour is basically just sugar in grain form. When whole wheat has the bran and germ stripped away to make white flour, you’re left with starch. Starch is a carbohydrate, which is similar to white sugar in that it gives your body a boost of quick nutrition but not much else. Wheat bran is loaded with fiber, and the germ contains healthy fats and protein, all of which are nutritional bonuses that will prevent sugar highs and their subsequent crashes.
White flour is used so much in baking because it produces a light, tender result. Baking with whole grain flours alone can lead to very heavy, even bitter-tasting baked goods, and no one wants that. One trick if you’re just starting to work with whole grain flours is to work with lighter whole grain flours like whole wheat pastry flour or white whole wheat flour. These flours are milled from soft wheat, which means that your baked goods will turn out lighter and softer as well.
Another trick is to substitute part of the flour in a recipe for a whole grain flour. Take that chocolate chip cookie recipe for example: substituting whole wheat flour for half of the white flour will yield cookies that are a little darker, a little heartier, and nutty-tasting, and whole grain flours pair beautifully with dark chocolate. If you would like to try substituting a gluten free flour like buckwheat for some of the flour in a recipe, never substitute more than ⅓ of the amount as a general rule.
Sugar is the latest ingredient in the doghouse for being horrible for you, and, sadly, almost all baking relies heavily on it. Sugar doesn’t just make baked goods sweet; it also keeps them moist and tender and helps them brown nicely during baking. Many alternative sugars also do these things, but they pose other problems. For instance, honey and agave keep baked goods moist and will promote browning, but because they’re liquids you can’t just swap them in for sugar. Honey and agave also taste slightly sweeter than sugar so you need less. Molasses can be delicious in baked goods, but it isn’t a neutral sweetener so it changes the whole flavor profile and can cause baked goods to brown faster.
To be clear, most alternative sweeteners are still essentially sugar, but the benefit to using them is that they provide more nutritional value than plain white sugar. To swap in alternative sweeteners for white sugar, see the chart below.
|Sweetener||Best used in||Amount to use per 1 cup white sugar||Tips|
|Honey||Quick breads and some cakes, puddings, ice creams||⅔ cup
– For every 1 cup honey used, subtract ¼ cup other liquids in the recipe
– Add a pinch of baking soda
– Reduce oven temp by 25° and bake slightly longer
|Molasses||Quick breads and spice cakes, some cookies||1⅓ cups||– Pair molasses with another sweetener, like maple syrup, for balanced baked goods
– For every 1 cup used, reduce the amount of liquid by 5 tablespoons
|Maple syrup||Quick breads, candies, ice creams, some pies and cakes||¾ cup||For every 1 cup used, reduce the amount of liquid by 3 tablespoons|
|Turbinado sugar||Cookies, for adding crunch on top of desserts||1 cup||When using in baked goods where the butter and sugar are creamed, add a few minutes to the creaming process|
|Date puree||Bar cookies, ice creams, no-bake desserts, dense cakes||1 cup||Puree 1 cup packed pitted dates with ½ to ¾ cup water to make a thick paste|
If you’re really looking to healthify your baked goods, you can get rid of animal products entirely. For baked goods made with butter, substitute vegan margarine (look for a brand that is non-hydrogenated). For baked goods that use oils, you don’t need to make any changes to the fat, but consider swapping healthier oils, like extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil, or melted virgin coconut oil, for the vegetable oil usually called for. Keep in mind that extra-virgin olive oil and virgin coconut oil will impart their own flavors.
For eggs, there are a few different tactics you can try. A flax or chia egg is a simple substitution. Combine 1 tablespoon ground flax or chia seeds and 3 tablespoons water for each egg and let sit for 5 minutes. Flax or chia eggs are great for cookies, but if a recipe uses eggs to trap air (like meringues), this will not work. Another option is to use pureed silken tofu or mashed banana or applesauce. Substitute 3 tablespoons silken tofu per egg and ¼ cup mashed banana or applesauce in recipes that use eggs for moisture, like dense cakes, brownies, and quick breads.
Now that you have a basic understanding of how to make your baked goods better, check out the recipe below for an example of how delicious healthy baking can be.
Ginger Apple Quick Bread With Kombucha Glaze
1½ cups whole wheat pastry flour or white whole wheat flour
1¼ teaspoons ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
½ cup molasses
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup maple syrup
¼ cup applesauce
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1 teaspoon vanilla
1½ cups chopped tart apple
For the glaze:
1 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons Brew Dr. Kombucha Ginger Turmeric
- Preheat the oven to 350℉. Lightly oil a 9×5” loaf pan.
- In a medium bowl whisk together flour, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder, ginger, salt, cloves, and pepper. In a large bowl whisk together molasses, oil, maple syrup, applesauce, fresh ginger, and vanilla. Fold dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and fold in chopped apple.
- Scrape mixture into the prepared pan and bake until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Let cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then transfer to a rack to cool completely.
- In a small bowl whisk together powdered sugar and kombucha. Pour the glaze over the bread, letting it drip down the sides.