Paleo, Grain-Free Baking Tips
It really has not even struck me that it is Thanksgiving next week. It's probably because we don't have any particular plans this year, but I do feel like Thanksgiving has crept up much quicker than usual. This also brings up the sad realization that, although Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays (I mean, it's a day completely consumed by an overabundance of food), I haven't had a proper Thanksgiving dinner in about 3 years since we have been traveling abroad! This year we are keeping it very low key since we have big travel plans in December, but I'm looking forward to our quiet holiday. With the holiday season is officially upon us, holiday baking will keep many of us busy in the kitchen. Just because you've eliminated gluten and dairy from your diet, it does not mean you can't still bake delicious treats for you and your loved ones! Baking can be tricky (it is science, after all), but paleo baking presents a whole new world of challenges. So, I've come up with some helpful tips to help you create delicious and nutritious paleo-friendly treats!
Not All Flours Are Created Equal
Paleo baking often uses flours made of nuts or tubers, which is typically easier to digest and more nutritious than regular wheat flour. However, various paleo-friendly flours are not interchangeable and must be substituted with caution. For example, coconut flour cannot substitute almond flour 1:1 as coconut flour is very absorbent and requires additional eggs/liquids in the batter. I prefer to use a combination of flours, typically mixing higher fat flours (i.e. almond, cashew) with starchier flours (i.e. arrowroot, tapioca), which produces a lighter texture than using only one type of flour.
Also, paleo-friendly flours tend to vary significant by brand, especially for almond and coconut flours. Test out various brands to see which results you prefer. For lighter baked goods, like cakes, I use a finely ground blanched almond flour whereas almond meal (with skin on) provides wonderful texture for pie crusts or chewy cookies.
Weigh Your Ingredients
Please, before you do anything else, order a food scale if you do not already own one. It will change your life. Okay, maybe not your life, but it does make a world of difference when it comes to baking. I refuse to read baking books (yes, I read baking book for pleasure) that do not list the ingredients by weight because I don't feel like they're taking it seriously. Measuring ingredients by cups is highly unreliable - it varies depending on whether you scoop, spoon, or pour into your measuring cup and even measuring cup sizes can vary by brand! A kitchen scale is relatively cheap ($10 - $20 on Amazon), lightweight, and much more reliable. You're welcome in advance for this huge improvement tip in your life.
Sift Your Flours
Ok, now that you are now a proud owner of a food scale and are measuring out your ingredients accurately, we can approach the next step in the baking process - sifting. Due to the oil content in nut flours, they tend to clump up more than regular wheat flour. I always sift my flours with a fine mesh sieve so that all clumps are broken up prior to adding any wet ingredients to the batter. Yes, it is a hassle, but no one wants to bite into a lump of dry coconut flour in their muffin.
Start With Ingredients At Directed Temperatures
If a recipe calls for eggs at room temperature or melted coconut oil, be sure to follow those directions. Eggs at room temperature will emulsify better into the batter and whip up with much more volume into more delicate cake batters. Also, if a recipe calls for melted coconut oil, but the eggs are still cold, the colder temperature of the eggs will cause the coconut oil to harden and not distribute evenly into the batter. Plan ahead - take out the eggs about an hour before you start baking and melt or soften fats as directed.
Chill Your Cookie Dough
At Real Food Kitchen, we always chill cookie dough for at least 24 hours prior to baking. Chilling the cookie dough allows the flavors to develop and drastically improves the texture of the cookies. I have found that many paleo cookies flatten out quite a bit and are either rock hard or too soggy. Chilling the dough, especially those made with coconut oil, hardens the fat and keeps the cookie from flattening out too much in the oven. It also creates the crispy, crunchy edges and the soft, moist center that we love in our cookies.
Best of luck with your holiday baking! Leave a comment with any paleo baking questions you have and I will try my best to answer them! Happy baking!