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    Archive for the ‘baking’ Category

    Healthify Your Baked Goods!

    toolsI find that certain weekend mornings are practically tailor-made for a muffin-and-coffee breakfast.

    Sipping freshly brewed coffee and biting into homemade baked good on a cloudy autumn morning, watching the colorful foliage slowly float down from tree branches, is simultaneously comforting and delectable.

    While many commercial baked goods are nutrition horror cliches (copious amounts of white flour, sugar, and unhealthy fats), homemade varieties can get a nutritional boost in a variety of ways.

    These tips can be used when making muffins, brownies, and cookies:

    1) Go whole or go home

    Gone are the days when “whole grain baked goods” meant a dense, rubbery concoction akin to an E-Z Bake Oven creation.

    The key to making light and fluffy 100% whole grain baked goods is to utilize either whole wheat pastry flour or whole wheat white flour.

    You can fully replace a recipe’s white flour with either of these varieties.

    Not only will the end result be higher in fiber, it will also contain more selenium, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium.

    2) Go alternative

    Alternative flours can be quite pricey, but they’re a lot more affordable if you make them yourself!

    Instead of purchasing oat flour (which, depending where you live, can be hard to track down), make your own by processing quick oats in a food processor.

    FYI: One and a half cups of quick cooking oats yields one cup of oat flour.

    Oat flour is high in soluble fiber (the kind that helps lower cholesterol and provides a feeling of fullness more quickly) and rich in phytonutrients.

    One other FYI: oat flour can only replace, at most, half of the wheat flour in a given recipe.

    Another favorite alternative flour of mine is almond meal.

    You can also make this at home by pulverizing raw almonds in a food processor or coffee grinder until they achieve a powdery consistency.

    Like oat flour, almond meal can replace up to half of the wheat flour in a given recipe.

    Like whole almonds, almond meal is a good source of fiber, protein, vitamin E, and heart-healthy monounsaturated fats.

    You can even replace half a cup of flour in a recipe with half a cup of pure wheat germ for added fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

    3) Get saucy

    Unsweetened applesauce is a healthy baker’s ally.

    You can replace anywhere from one half to three quarters of the fat called for in a recipe with unsweetened applesauce and no one will be the wiser.

    The applesauce won’t disrupt flavors, but will add plenty of moisture to your baked goods.

    4) Sprinkle away

    Whenever I make pancake or muffin batter, I like to add two or three tablespoons of oat bran and ground flaxseeds.

    Not only do they impart a hearty and nutty flavor, they also add extra nutrition in a pinch.

    5) Sugar?  Think Beyond The White Stuff

    When it comes to sweetening, think natural first.

    Raisins, blueberries, bananas, and fresh pineapple add sweetness — and great flavor — to recipes while also delivering nutrition.

    In my experience, you can halve the added sugar (whether in the form of white sugar, brown sugar, agave nectar, maple syrup, etc.) in conventional recipes and still have a tasty baked good.

    When reducing sugar, make up for it by adding nutmeg, cinnamon, and vanilla, almond, and/or coconut extract to the batter.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Oat Flour

    5106PF2KV9L._SL500_AA280_PIbundle-5,TopRight,0,0_AA280_SH20_I have a question [in regards to your recent post] about oat flour.

    I can tolerate wheat just fine, but if I were to replace whole wheat flour with oat flour in my baking, would I end up with a more nutritious product?

    — Nicole Clanham
    (City withheld), CO

    Let’s first do a simple comparison.

    One cup of whole wheat flour contains:

    • 407 calories
    • 15 grams fiber
    • 16 grams protein
    • 121% Daily Value of selenium
    • 228% Daily Value of manganese
    • 14% Daily Value of potassium
    • 41% of manganese

    A cup of oat flour, meanwhile, provides:

    • 444 calories
    • 12 grams fiber
    • 15 grams protein
    • 57% Daily Value of selenium
    • 258% Daily Value of manganese
    • 12% Daily Value of potassium
    • 81% Daily Value of manganese

    Alas, no mind-blowing differences.

    There are, however, some added bonuses to oat flour (especially if you make your own by grinding rolled oats in a food processor).

    1. More soluble fiber than any other grain.  Remember, soluble fiber helps lower cholesterol levels and triggers fullness more quickly.  Insoluble fiber — which whole wheat flour contains lots of — helps keep things moving through our digestive system.
    2. Exclusive antioxidants and polyphenols believed to promote heart health and lower diabetes risk.

    As great as that is, you can not fully replace the whole wheat flour in a recipe with oat flour.

    Since oat flour does not contain gluten, a baked good made entirely with it will not rise.

    “Wait a minute,” you may be saying.  “I thought you said oats were not safe for people on gluten-free diets!  What do you mean it doesn’t have gluten?”

    Allow me to explain.  Oats are intrinsically gluten-free.  However, many are cross-contamined in factories that also process wheat.  While the minimal contamination is significant enough to cause problems for an individual with celiac, it is not enough to have an effect on the baking process.

    Feel free to substitute half the wheat flour in a recipe with oat flour, though.

    As I always like to say, keep nutritional context in mind.  Oat flour in an otherwise unhealthy recipe (loads of sugar and calories) is a moot point.

    The best way to get oat’s health benefits is by preparing unsweetened oatmeal (and adding your own fruit and nut toppings) or adding quick-cooking oats to yogurt or a smoothie.

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    This Is The 21st Century, Right?

    Not really a nutrition topic, but a food-related one I want to rant about.

    Can Family Circle please retire the “potential First Lady cookie contest” they initially created in 1992 in response to Hillary Clinton’s “I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies,” quip to a reporter?

    It was cute — and culturally relevant — at the time, but now the whole thing just reeks of “oh, you’re savvy about foreign affairs? That’s cute, now go into that kitchen and whip up some cookies.”

    Besides, you know some poor unpaid intern is coming up with these recipes.

    In case you’re interested, this year it’s Cindy McCain’s Oatmeal-Butterscotch cookies vs. Michelle Obama’s Shortbread cookies.

    I’m still waiting for our current president to cook up a solid economic plan.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Sugar

    I know that sugar is sugar and it all does the same thing in our body, [but] can you tell me the difference between the sugars?

    For coffee and cooking, does it really make a difference to use organic cane sugar, raw sugar, or brown sugar??

    I am just uncertain of all the different types and why people are spending 3-4 times more money on these types.

    — Katie
    Via the blog

    The difference between sugars really comes down to processing method and purpose of use in baking.

    As far as our bodies are concerned, 1 teaspoon of any sugar (4 grams of sugar) provides 16 calories.

    In baking, though, different sugars have distinct properties.

    In general, sugar — no matter what kind — gives tenderness to (and is responsible for the browning of) baked goods.

    Keep in mind that table sugar, raw sugar, and organic cane sugar can be used interchangeably when baking.

    The only differing characteristic is their processing method.

    Many vegetarians and vegans, for instance, prefer raw sugar since animal byproducts are not used during filtration.

    “Raw sugar” is a misnomer, though, since it is processed (albeit minimally) to remove contaminants.

    Confectioners’ sugar is basically powdered white sugar with some cornstarch thrown in. Bakers defer to it when it comes to preparing frostings and meringues.

    Brown sugar, meanwhile, is standard sugar with molasses. It is used in baking to add a distinct flavor and provide an even softer texture.

    As for why some people spend 3 or 4 times more for things like “organic raw sugar” — chalk it up to smart marketing practices!

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    You Ask, I Answer: Low-Sugar Baking

    I was wondering if you had any advice on recipe substitutions.

    I have an excellent cookie recipe, but it calls for two cups of sugar – one cup white, and one cup brown.

    As a diabetic and someone who’s is nutritionally aware, I would like to reduce the sugar content, but I’m reluctant to use artificial sweeteners, and I don’t want to ruin the recipe, either.

    How do you go about doing that, or is it more of a trial and error sort of situation?

    — Kate (last name unknown)
    Location Unknown

    Wonderful question.

    This situation is tricky, largely because unlike cooking (where you can experiment, taste, make the necessary adjustments, taste again, make more changes, etc.) baking is an exact science.

    Every ingredient is needed, in certain quantities, for a specific reason.

    Throw in too much flour or forget baking powder and you have a recipe for disaster.

    Sugar, for instance, does more than simply sweeten the deal. It provides texture, browning properties (thanks to the Maillard Reaction), and tenderness.

    Remember, too, that sugar is also one of the world’s oldest preservatives.

    This is why chocolate chip cookies (or any food high in sugar, for that matter) can sit unrefrigerated for days and not be a source of foodborne illness (the sugar draws out moisture, thereby creating an unfriendly environment for bacteria).

    The “good” news is that baking recipes in the United States tend to be higher in sugar than their international counterparts.

    I always, as a rule of thumb, reduce sugar in cookie recipes by approximately a quarter or a third.

    In my opinion, this actually enhances flavor.

    So, you can feel free to reduce sugar by that amount without risking a botched batch of cookies.

    Since brown sugar is specifically used to contribute softness, be sure to reduce each cup of designated sugar by half, rather than cut out an entire cup of either white or brown sugar.

    Although there are substitutions for traditional sugar (ie: fruit purees), they are irrelevant to your question since they still provide grams of sugar, thereby not making a recipe any more “diabetic friendly.”

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