Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Science of Paleo Baking

"How can I make my favorite baked goods into Paleo recipes?"  I asked myself this from the first day.  

I am a Baker.  I researched (read: nerded-out) the science of how standard baking works long before I tried Paleo.  I worked in bakeries and I competed in cake decorating and baking competitions.

There.  Now you have my credentials.  I'll try not to lead you astray.

There are a few trips and tricks with Paleo baking.  First, you have to realize that Paleo baked items are not going to be as light and fluffy as your standard recipes.  Even Gluten-free baking is different because the flours are lighter because they are highly processed.  Second, because there is no sugar, paleo items are going to taste different.  Honey is sweet.  Super sweet.  But it doesn't taste like sugar and it doesn't react like sugar when it is cooked or baked.  I don't believe in using Agave syrup because I feel it is too highly processed.  Personally, I'm trying to ease up on the honey as well as maple syrup and leaning more toward fruit as a natural sweetener (personal choice).

Let's start with sweet stuff.

Honey has natural sweetness.  It has a lot of wonderful, natural properties.  Some say it has anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, anti-allergen properties.  For more on that, Google.
In baking, honey adds moisture.  Once added to baked goods, honey will not solidify.  Honey will never set like corn syrup or sugar syrup.  It is not a good choice for candy making.

Coconut Sugar or Coconut Palm Sugar
Coconut Sugar is a sweetener but is not as sweet as regular sugar or honey and is rather dark like brown sugar.  It will melt somewhat, as regular sugar does, but will retain some larger bits.  In very light recipes (such as my Paleo Ice Cream) it will leave brown specks.  It has a sort of caramel flavor.

Banana acts as a binder in Paleo baking (meaning, it helps the other ingredients stick together after they are baked) as well as adding sweetness.  You will see lots and lots of Vegan recipes that use bananas.

Eggs act as a binder as well as adding moisture, richness and flavor.  (In standard baking, flour forms gluten to help molecules bind together.)

Flax Meal
Flax Meal works as a binder but is less effective than eggs.  Used in conjunction, Flax Meal and eggs make great partners.  It helps cut cost, also.  If you saw a recipe for muffins that needed 10 eggs, you probably wouldn't want to make it.  Flax Meal is also Vegan.

Coconut Flour
Coconut Flour is a base ingredient.  Coconut Flour is ground coconut with the oil removed.  It helps hold together wet ingredients such as coconut milk and coconut oil.  Coconut Flour is very absorbant.  More absorbant than Almond Meal.

Almond Meal
Also known as Almond Flour.  Almond Meal is ground, blanched almonds.  Like Coconut Flour, Almond Meal is a base ingredient that helps hold together wet ingredients.  It is not as finely ground as Coconut Flour.

Almond Butter
Almond Butter is ground almonds.  Similar to peanut butter, it comes in a jar and usually needs to be stirred because the oil separates out.  Never pour off the oil from Almond Butter.  You will be left with a super thick paste that is very difficult to use.  I speak from experience.  Almond Butter is more finely ground than Almond Meal.  Use unsalted, unsweetened Almond Butter.  Almond Butter does not blend well with coconut oil.  I'm not sure why, but the coconut oil will separate out and I can not get it to blend back together.

Sunflower Seed Butter or Sunbutter
Sunbutter is ground sunflower seeds.  It is similar to Almond Butter but I haven't found that it has the same separation issue.  It is good for people with nut allergies.  It does have a green tinge once it is baked.

Baking Soda
Baking Soda is a leavener, which means it helps add air to baked goods, making them less dense.  Baking Soda replaces Baking Powder, which is highly processed.  Apple Cider Vinegar helps Baking Soda react during baking.  It also helps mask the metallic flavor of Baking Soda.

Disclaimer:  with some work, you can probably convert some of Grandma's recipes to Paleo but there will be a LOT of trial and error and it will never, never be exactly like the original.  Coconut Flour and Almond Flour are pretty inter-changeable but if you attempt to replace a quantity of all-purpose flour with the same amount of Coconut Flour, it will fail.  This list is intended to help you understand how Paleo recipes work, and can help if you have a Paleo recipe that fails.


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