Baking With A Twist

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As you can tell from my previous articles, I’m a vegan, and I prefer to eat as healthy as I can. This does not mean I am always healthy; honestly I do have a sweet tooth. But how can I indulge in all the sweets I like so much without hating myself later? Easy, put a healthy twist on them. In my quest for new and interesting recipes that still taste wonderful, I have discovered an entire new world of baking. Just because they are also vegan, don’t think the food tastes like cardboard, I have tested some of these on non-vegans, and they were a hit.

In any case, vegan or non-vegan, healthy or not, baking appears to be one heck of an art form, not to mention, pure chemistry. You have to have just the right amount of any ingredient, and in my case, substitutions or additions, to have the dough or batter come out the way you want it to. Depending on what you are changing, the oven temperature and even baking times have to change as well. With certain sugar re-placers, it causes the item to brown faster, with egg and butter re-placers, sometimes you need more dry ingredients to make up for the extra moisture. It may sound a little tough, but once you get the idea of what you are doing, you don’t even notice the change.

The first ingredient I changed up was the flour. Most recipes call for all purpose or white flour because well, as its name states it is a very versatile flour. But other than the enriched vitamins and minerals, which are added back in due to the loss of them in the processing of the flour, it really has little to no nutritional value. Switching over to whole wheat flour gave me a bit more nutrition, but I was still looking for more. I discovered substituting part of the flour for ground flaxseed added a good amount of omega 3 fatty acids to my baked goods. Still, I find that I wanted to make it even healthier so I could get away with eating more of it. Rice, rye, oat, arrowroot, quinoa, barley, and millet-flours, mixed or alone, gave me an incredible amount of vitamins and minerals that are still naturally in the flours and not lost during the processing. I still use wheat flour mixed in there and the all-purpose still comes in handy when I am rolling dough out. No other flour seems to have that non-stick ability on the rolling pin or rolling surface. I have found that some of the liquid a recipe calls for needs to be adjusted for the other flours, just adding a little bit more. There are still many more flours out there, I just haven’t tried them all yet.

Next, the one ingredient that, let’s face it, makes us gain weight very quickly. Sugar. And when I say sugar, I mean your typical white table sugar. What is it about sugar that we crave? That glucose that our body transforms into energy, but let’s face it, that means using that energy and not just sitting around, which most people spend a great deal of their days doing. We know sugar is the main thing keeping us going back to that baked good that calls our name. But when we look in the mirror, that same sugar is what is making us loosen our belt and buy a larger size in the clothing department. So, how to keep it sweet and lose that weight gain? The glycemic index is a comparative measurement of the amount of glucose released from your sugar, or substitute, over a two to three hour period. And we have all been on that sugar roller coaster, have sugar in the morning, and suddenly we are crashing by noon, we need more sugar. So let’s keep the glycemic index lower and we won’t get that sudden crash. There are a lot of substitutes out there, but not all of them have any nutritional value to them, and there may be other factors that should make us avoid those substitutes just as much as trying to cut out regular table sugar. With baking, I have read many a recipe that suggests maple syrup, honey (which is out for me since vegans do not use this), brown rice syrup, Coconut-sugar and so on. I have personally chosen agave nectar. It is low on the glycemic index, with a ranking of 15 to the white sugars 80. Now with agave nectar, you have to do some measurement adjusting. Typically for every 1 cup of sugar the recipe calls for, you adjust down to either 2/3 or ¾ of a cup of agave nectar, depending on how sweet you want it. I have done the same recipe with both amounts, and I really didn’t notice a big difference in sweetness to the different ratios, and I notice no difference in sweetness vs. white table sugar. With agave nectar, you also need to adjust your liquid down about 1/3 cup and your temps to about 25 degrees lower and bake for about 10 to 15 min longer.

For egg and butter, ground flaxseed mixed with water, applesauce or even yogurt make excellent re-placers. Adding things like oats, nuts, seeds or cranberries add an extra kick of healthy to any baked good. Who says healthy can’t be fun and taste great? Send them my way and let them try something from my kitchen and then tell me they don’t like it. Not everything comes out great, but a little adjusting goes a long way. So get to baking, take the guilt out of it and enjoy your new healthier sweets! ~