Most people like cake, biscuits, muffins, slices or muesli bars. There are reasons for that: they taste good, grains contain narcotic like substances, and sugar is allegedly more addictive than heroin. The sad truth is, the more cake you eat, the more you want. So ideally, even whole food baking should be kept to a minimum. It can be easier to avoid even whole food sweeteners totally and break the additive cycle, than to eat them sometimes. But for those times when you choose to bake, let’s look at how we can maximise the nutrition and reduce the harmful ingredients.
In this lesson, we’ll make some biscuits and cakes for a weekly treat, and look at Christmas cake and Easter bun recipes. We’ll try a range of recipes and techniques. The recipes are fairly quick and easy to make, and mostly gluten free so that they can be used by a wide range of people.
First, to recap on what we can use as a base for baking. Most commercial or home baking is done with wheat flour that hasn’t been properly prepared. Each alternative has pros and cons:
Soaked, whole grain flours (including gluten free ones) – eg. wheat, spelt, kamut, buckwheat, amaranth, quinoa
Pros: Works in recipes which originally use lots of milk
Cons: Can be too soggy in other recipes. Especially when converting to soaked, gluten free, whole grain flours.
Solutions: Add some arrowroot or ground nuts later on.
Whole grains that have been sprouted (see Sprouted and Fermented foods), dried and ground to flour – eg. wheat, spelt, kamut, buckwheat
~Pros: They work well and can be easily substituted for flour in existing recipes. If you’re wheat tolerant, look for bulger flour, which has already been sprouted and dried. Otherwise, buckwheat is a good one to start with if you’d like to experiment.
~Cons: It takes a lot of time to prepare the flour before you can even start baking, as you have 3 stages of preparing the flour.
“Crispy” nuts (Snacks), ground up finely
~Pros: Tasty, low carb and nutritious.
~Cons: The result can be a bit crumbly, as they don’t soak up the liquid in the same way as flour.
~Solutions: Adding arrowroot (or coconut flour, see below) works well
Coconut flour – A new product.
~Pros: Again tasty, low carb and nutritious. Also, doesn’t need to be soaked
~Cons: Not yet widely available in NZ.
~Solutions: Grinding fine desiccated coconut, in a small food processor, gives a reasonable result, and I’ve used this in a number of recipes.
~Contact me for availability, for recipes which require “proper” coconut flour.
Nut flours – eg. ground almonds
~Pros: Nice flavour / texture. Soaks up liquid better than “crispy” nuts so more solid.
~Cons: Nut flours bought already ground aren’t properly prepared so still have anti-nutrients. So they are a compromise food.
Refined gluten free flours – arrowroot, cornflour, white rice flour, tapioca, potato flour
~Pros: Can add a lighter texture to baked goods
~Cons: They have no nutrients in them so are “empty calories” – another set of compromise foods.
The best solution seems to be to use a combination of flours (especially for gluten free) and a little bit of compromise, unless serious health problems mean you need to have a very strict diet. So some of the recipes include either pre-ground nuts or starches, in combination with other “flours”.
If you’ve been avoiding baking for a while because of the fat content, or maybe experimenting with using egg whites instead of whole eggs, or cutting down the butter, you’ll be pleased to know that there’s no need for that. The fats we’re going to use in baking are all easily digested and assimilated, flavoursome and nutritious. There’s no canola oil or margarine, just butter, coconut oil and palm oil. My personal preference is to use palm oil for savoury baked goods, butter for sweet and coconut oil for no-bake slices or pie crusts. But they are interchangeable and you can choose based on your preferred flavour, or your budget!
Now let’s recap on good and bad sweeteners. There are a variety of sweeteners used here, and you can choose recipes that suit your metabolic type or specific needs. Or try experimenting with different sweeteners. The sweeteners I consider acceptable:
- Maple syrup, date sugar, molasses/treacle or dehydrated cane juice like rapadura, shakkar, palm sugar, “Billingtons” Muscovado sugars
- Raw honey – best for no bake slices, to retain the enzymes
- Fruit puree, or dried fruit in small quantities
- Stevia or glycerol for low carb
- The jury is still out on some of the non-nutritive sweeteners, but I would give a qualified OK to occasional small amounts of maltitol, xylitol and erythritol (brand name Eridex). Too much of these will have a laxative effect, and if you get that effect from small amounts, they are not for you. (Though you may be OK on one but not another.)
Sweeteners to avoid:
- White, raw or brown sugar
- Anything ending in “ose”
- Corn syrup
- Fruit juices, as they are high in fructose
- Any artificial sweeteners, including Splenda, and especially aspartame or neotame
Next, a word about chocolate. If you want something sweetish and you’re out and about and can’t get to your own home baking, the right kind of chocolate is a better choice than a muesli bar full of sugar and trans fats, or a bag of lollies with no fat to curb the sugar rush. But nutritionally, it’s not good for you, and strictly speaking it’s not a whole food. However, it is the ultimate comfort food, and I know some of you are not going to be prepared to give it up. So let’s look at the best options on the occasions you want a fix – but make it occasionally, not regularly.
- For a chocolate bar, look for dark chocolate with a high % of cocoa butter (preferably 70% or higher). It will have less fillers, and also you’ll be satisfied with 1 or 2 pieces. Look for those sweetened with dehydrated cane juice, or maltitol is acceptable in small quantities. Cavalier and De Spa do maltitol sweetened chocolate, and De Spa also have cooking chocolate available.
- For a chocolate drink, make your own with quality cocoa, a natural sweetener and cream.
In lesson 13, we’ll look at a couple of decadent chocolate desserts made with cooking chocolate, but keep those for special occasions.
In the snacks lesson, we looked at using a little cocoa in bars and in this lesson we’ll make some chocolate muffins. But feel free to replace cocoa with carob, or mix them half & half.
Finally, remember that these are treats – they are not health foods, but they are the special little something that you need sometimes for your mental health.
- If you are a protein metabolic type, have candida, or a serious illness, you will need to be very careful of your intake and will probably need to limit yourself to the low carb recipes made with nuts, stevia and glycerine
- If your family is used to eating lots of baking or sweet snacks, substitute these recipes for a start, and then gradually reduce the frequency. If you’re in reasonably good health, and eat well the rest of the time, this should be fine. But look out for signs of reactions – for example, feeling hyper after eating them, being unable to stop after one piece, or waking up the next day thinking about eating more. If you have allergies, you’ll know what you can and can’t eat and may have to adjust recipes accordingly. (If you’re allergic to nuts, email me for ideas.)
This section is for those are working through the lessons of the cooking course. Otherwise jump straight to the recipes
~Sweeteners: Nourishing Traditions P536-537 or re-read my article on sweeteners
~Weston A Price article on Artificial sweeteners
~Weston A Price article on Fructose
~Weston A Price article on Aspartame
- Source a good sweetener. In NZ, maple syrup is expensive, but if your local supermarket, health food shop or ethnic stores has none of the options, you can order shakkar or other natural sweeteners from www.commonsenseorganics.co.nz or www.organicfresh.co.nz
- Choose 2 of these to make this week.
- Coconut almond cookies
- Peanut brownies
- Ginger crunch
- Biker bikkies
- Almond macaroons
- Chocolate Afghans (Low carb)
Scones, cupcakes and muffins:
Cakes and loaves:
- Hot Cross-less Easter buns: Spelt, breadmaker or Gluten free
- Grain free Tropical Christmas fruit cake
- Dark Gluten Free Xmas Cake
Do some research and see if there are any pre-baked goodies available locally that are made with good ingredients and economical.
- If time permits, do some baking each weekend for school lunches.
- Experiment with your old favourites – see which ones you can convert to whole foods
Special Occasion Recipes
Hot Cross-less Easter buns
What is it that makes a hot cross bun different from any other fruit bun? I think it’s these things:
- The flavour of citrus peel
- The texture – a bit like bread, but moister; with some spring, but not too doughy.
- Toasting it – so that the butter melts and runs off a little onto the plate
It’s not easy to make a good hot cross bun at home, especially wheat or gluten free. If you have a health food shop that stocks a good range of baked goods, you might choose to buy some ready made buns just for this one day. But if you’re feeling adventurous, try one of these recipes.
Version 1: Spelt breadmaker buns
- Make the spelt breadmaker bread recipe (lesson 4) with these adjustments:
- If desired, make with half wholemeal spelt and half white spelt. This might mean you need to adjust the amount of arrowroot (see step 4)
- Add a lightly beaten egg, and reduce the water by the same amount (ie. so that the egg and water together comes to 200ml)
- Replace the treacle with rapadura
- Add 2 Tbs mixed spice or allspice
- Add 2 Tbs grated orange or lemon rind
- Use the raisin dough cycle of your machine
- Add ½ – 1 cup sultanas, raisins or currants (or a mixture) at the appropriate stage
- When the cycle finishes, if the dough seems too wet, add some extra arrowroot and knead it in till smooth
- Divide the dough into 16, form into buns and place on a greased baking tray.
- Cut cross shapes into the top of each one (optional).
- Let rise again for 60 mins at 30-35C.
- Then bake at 200C (400F) for 20-30 minutes.
Version 2: Whole grain, gluten free
- Make the fruit loaf recipe above, and add 2 Tbs grated orange or lemon rind
- Place in muffin trays that have been very well greased and floured, or lined with pattie pans (paper liners)
- Bake at 175C (350F) for 20-30 mins, depending how many you make (12 large, or 18 smaller).
This version isn’t really the right texture for a hot cross bun , but it still quite tasty. Be careful to get the mixture thick enough, or you might not be able to get them out of the pans. They come out easier when cold.