Always Ready to Bake: A full pantry makes me happy
I fully admit being addicted to the grocery store. It is my happy place. I could spend hours walking up and down aisles looking at labels, reading about different products and usually buying things that I think could be fun to bake with. So I never really have an empty fridge or pantry; if anything I have way too much.
There is a mish-mash of things that I use sporadically along with staples that I will always have on hand, in various forms, trying them out to see which I like best.
Baking for dietary restrictions means that I have to have a pretty well stocked pantry full of nutritious ingredients, stored correctly and waiting to be used.
First things first, when it comes to baking, the type of ingredients you use matter. One almond flour can bake differently than another, so whenever you use a new ingredient, don’t discouraged if things don’t go as planned, just take a step back, think and see what you can fix. Don’t be afraid to experiment and don’t get discouraged. It is all a learning experience.
Get ready for a whole lot of text, but I promise that there is some good info in here. One of the things that makes baking so much easier is making sure you have all the ingredients you need and know how to use them.
For me, my default is to bake gluten-free; so, my pantry is always stocked with my three favorite gluten-free flours:
Bob’s Red Mill All Purpose Measure-for-Measure Gluten-Free Flour
I have tried lots of gluten-free all purpose flour blends, but this one bakes up as close to regular wheat flour and doesn’t contain any dairy. While I love Cup4Cup, it contains milk powder, which means that you can’t use it baking dairy-free or vegan. Bob’s does contain Xantham Gum, but I will say it is hard to find a store-bought brand that does not contain a binder. Even if you do make your own gluten-free flour blend, I would recommended adding guar gum or potato starch. Both are binders and act like the gluten to give your baked goods body.
One of the big reasons why I love this gluten-free blend is that is not enriched. Have you ever read the ingredients in flour? In brackets, there is a long list of things like calcium carbonate, riboflavin and a slew of others. Apparently this is for our benefit, but often times these things are added because the wheat has been stripped of its nutritional value. Bob’s Red Mill is one of my favorite brands because it does not mess with stuff. This mix is not enriched, you just get the grains, potato starch and xantham gum.
Yup, more Bobs. What can I say, I love Bob. I adore oatmeal. In my mind it is a magical food. When I was sick with a Crohn’s flare, oatmeal was the only thing I ate. It is full of good fiber, protein, antioxidants, magnesium, zinc and so much more. So I love being able to put that nutrition into baked goods. Oat flour is gives a great, slightly nutty flavor to baked goods too. Bob’s Red Mill has always been a favorite and their oat flour is perfect. It is finely milled, ready to use and only contains 1 ingredient: oats.
Thrive Market Organic Almond Flour
First, I love that this almond flour is organic. Second, on Thrive, it is so much cheaper than in grocery stores, but of no lesser quality. This almond flour is finely ground, blanched (meaning the brown skins of the almonds were removed before milling) and bakes so well. I only wish that I could buy a whole case at a time.
(I am not sponsored by Thrive, but I highly recommend them. It is a great way to eat healthy without spending a fortune. There is a membership fee, but it is worth it when you see how much you save. Here is a link for 25% off your first order)
Bring on the Gluten
While I do not eat gluten, I have some friend who have other dietary restrictions and would prefer to have traditional wheat flours. I will say that sometimes, I have days where I just want that delicious nuttiness of a whole wheat loaf of bread or scone.
Four Star Farm Whole Wheat Bolted Pastry Flour
When I can, I shop local and small. This flour is milled right in Massachusetts; I know where it was made and by who. Ok, so, bolted, what does that mean? The flour has been sifted after milling to remove any larger bits. This process gives you a finer flour, more like a pastry flour. Pastry flour is more finely milled; therefore, you get a more tender, fine crumb. It is great for pie crusts or shortbread. I used it in my Molasses Spice Cookies and it was so good; the cookies came out so tender.
I know not everyone lives in Massachusetts, but take a look around your area to see if there are any local mills. I promise you it’s worth it. If you can’t do that, then just find a good, organic wheat flour.
One Degree Organics Spelt Flour
Spelt is a great alternative to traditional wheat flour. Spelt is considered an ancient grain (it’s also called dinkel wheat which I find adorable). Unlike wheat today, Spelt has more protein and flavor than most wheat breeds today so it’s worth trying. Typically, I won’t use just spelt flour in a recipe, but mix it with wheat flour.
One more thing:
If you are going to keep gluten-free flours and glutenous flours in your kitchen, KEEP THEM SEPARATE. Do not keep them on the same shelf, cabinet, whatever. Keep them each tightly sealed and never have them both open on your counter. You want to avoid any cross-contamination. While some people chose to be gluten-free, others have a serious allergy to it, so I take storing and using them pretty seriously and do everything I can to avoid and contamination. I even have a whole separate set of baking equipment for gluten-free baking. You certainly don’t have to do this, but if you don’t, make sure you have mixing bowls, whisks, etc. that are all dishwasher safe so you can get them really clean.
The Sweet Life
I love sugar. Love it. I have a gigantic sweet tooth. However, I do not love all sugars. As someone with an autoimmune disease, I avoid all highly processed foods, especially processed sugars like granulated sugar, corn syrup, etc. All of these have been highly refined, meaning they are harder for your body to break down, send your blood glucose soaring and lead to a super sugar coma.
There are so many other great options out there and these are my constant favorites.
Thrive Organic Raw Honey
Honey is delicious. Raw honey is even better. The great thing about honey is all you have to do is harvest it from the hives and it is ready for you. I highly recommend raw honey over filtered honey. Most commercial, filtered honeys are pasteurized, which strips the honey of its natural nutrients and some flavor. We want all that flavor and goodness.
When you are replacing white sugar in a recipe, it is 1/2 cup honey for 1 cup of sugar. Also keep these two things in mind:
Add half a teaspoon of baking soda (honey is naturally acidic).
Pull back slightly on the liquid in the recipe or add a little more dry ingredients like flour
Organic Maple Syrup (Grade B)
Maple syrup is my favorite syrup. The flavor is unbeatable and its aroma irresistible. Maple syrup is a great paleo-approved sweetener since it is minimally processed. The only processing that happens with maple syrup is boiling down the sap that is collected. Again, I recommend getting organic to avoid anything funky getting added to your syrup. And always make sure you are buy pure maple syrup, not maple flavored syrup.
Also, the darker the better in my opinion. I always have Grade B; it is darker in color and has a richer flavor. When replacing sugar with maple syrup remember:
For 1 cup of cane sugar, use 2/3 to 3/4 cup maple syrup
And, as with honey, maple syrup is a liquid, so if you are adding it to a recipe in place of sugar, pull back on other liquids.
Organic Coconut Sugar
I really didn’t want to like coconut sugar. Strange I know, but coconut and I would classify our relationship as complicated. First, coconut is not made from coconuts. Already I like it. It is made from the sap of the palm flowers (coconuts are the fruit of palm trees). So let’s call it tropical maple syrup.
Coconut sugar is a measure-for-measure replacement for cane sugar (white or brown), gives a rich flavor and deep amber color to baked goods. An added bonus is that it is a low glycemic sugar, meaning your body does not need to work as hard to process it.
Organic Cane Sugar
I do not shun cane sugar all together, but chose to use a less processed version of it. Organic cane sugar is coarser texture, darker in color since some molasses is left in the sugar (meaning it is less processed). You’ve probably seen it as raw cane sugar.
If you are buying cane sugar, make sure it is organic and vegan. I realize that this sounds obvious, but not all cane sugar is vegan. That sugar in the yellow box has bone char added to it to accentuate the white color. And that yellow box is not the only one, so make sure to read the labels. Two brands that are guaranteed vegan are Wholesome Sweet and Whole Foods’ 365 Brand.
I do not usually bake with sugar substitutes like Xylitol, Stevia, Monkfruit or Erythritol for a few different reasons. First, the flavor is just not the same, despite what the packaging says. For the most part they mix and bake a bit differently than other sugar alternatives. But mostly, they are expensive. A small bag, which is only enough for one or two recipes, is the same price as a bag of coconut sugar that is twice the size.
However, if I am going to bake with a sugar substitute, I use Swerve Sweetener, which is made from Erythritol and other saccharides. All are plant-derived, so there is no aspartame or Sucralose-like stuff in there. It measures just like regular sugar, caramelizes and is keto-friendly. For the most part, it works really well. BUT, you will taste a slightly floral, slightly artificial aftertaste in your final baked goods.
Fat is Your Friend
All baking requires fat. Fat adds moisture, structure and flavor to everything you make. Some fats are better than others.
Butter does make it better. However, not all butter is created equal. As with milk, you want to avoid butter with added hormones, artificial flavorings or colorings. The best butter you can get is made from grass-fed cows cream. You’ll notice is deeper yellow color and richer smell.
Why grass-fed? Most cows in the US are fed corn and soy beans and a cows milk is a result of what it eats. You will taste it. But really, cows are meant to eat grass, roam the fields and be happy creatures. More importantly, grass-fed butter is richer in nutrients like fatty acids than grain-fed butter.
Organic Olive Oil
I do not use coconut oil. It is a hydrogenated oil that is actually not all that good for you. I use olive oil instead. I am not talking about the expensive extra virgin olive oil, but the virgin olive oil. Both virgin and extra virgin olive oil are made from the first press of olives and contain no refined olive oil. Extra virgin is thicker, has a higher acidity, stronger flavor and is expensive.
Organic Avocado Oil
While I use olive oil most of the time, sometimes I want an even more neutral tasting oil. Most people would use canola or safflower oil; both are fine, but I tend to stay away from them because they are not as nutrient dense. Avocado oil can be pricey, but it is worth it in my opinion. Avocado oil is rich is oleic acid and fatty acids (similar to olive oil), which you don’t get from canola. (Here is a good break down of healthy/not healthy oils)
It is very rare that I don’t have some form of almond butter in my pantry. I always have to go packets from Wild Friends, Justin’s or Barney Butter, but I always have a good, organic unsweetened creamy almond butter. Thrive makes a great, less expensive, organic almond butter, which I always have, but another favorite is from Wild Friends.
Almond butter is a great paleo-friendly replacement for butter, perfect for adding topping any baked good with, or just eating from the jar.
I did not always like tahini. It has a very distinct, savory flavor. But I was trying to make something for a friend who was allergic to most nuts, I used it in place of peanut butter in a recipe and loved it. The savory flavor balances out the sweetness and it works just like almond butter in replacing any butter in a recipe. If you want to flavor it in any way, it’s so easy too. I sprinkle some cinnamon in mine or mix a little maple sugar in and its so SO good. My all time favorite is Soom Foods single source tahini.
Bits and Bobs That Come in Handy
Gluten-free baking can be tricky. Baking is all chemistry and gluten is an essential part of it, so when you take it out, you need to find something that can take over gluten’s role: enter Potato starch. Potato starch binds and builds. Gluten-free flours can be crumbly, potato starch helps bind it together. You need the structure for other ingredients to ‘grasp’ onto ensuring you get a good crumb, chew and rise. I usually use 1 teaspoon per 1 cup of gluten-free flour, sometimes more if using almond flour. Bob’s Red Mill makes a great one that’s inexpensive and resealable (very important). It’s great for when you making cookies, brownies, blondies or cakes.
Psyllium Husk Powder
This powder is not just for fiber supplements. This little powerhouse is like potato starch, basically acting like gluten would usually in baking. If I want a more chewy gluten-free cookie, I add psyllium husk powder in addition to potato starch. This super powder is also keto/paleo friendly and a good alternative to Xanthan Gum. I would not just go buy some Metamucil though; that usually has some other bits added to it that we don’t want. My good friend Bob makes some excellent Psyllium Husk Powder. I should just move to Bob’s Red Mill.
Flax Meal (Ground Flax Seeds)
I used to take flax supplements when my mom decided that Omega 3’s would be the thing to cure my Crohn’s (not so easy it seems). While I don’t take it as a supplement anymore, I keep in my pantry because flax meal is a great substitute for eggs. One of my best friend’s daughter is allergic to eggs. Since I adore her, I wanted to make sure I could make sweet treats for the sweetie. Since flax has fat and protein in it, when it is mixed with water you get a gelatinous goo that is similar to eggs. I tried many egg replacements, but the flax egg works the best and is a simple swap: 1 tablespoon flax meal + 3 tablespoons warm water = 1 egg. Again, Bob has the goods.
Malted Milk Powder
I was shopping for ice cream (a daily task) and saw a malted chocolate flavor. I was immediately intrigued. I bought, ate it and LOVED the flavor. Malted milk powder, which some will associate with Ovaltine, is a combination of malted barley powder, milk and a few other things. It is not gluten-free, but when you add it to a cookie recipe, the flavor you get in the end is unbelievable. Malted milk powder is like the umami of baking.
Nonfat Dry Milk Powder
I was reading Christina Tosi’s Milk Bar Life cookbook (one of my favorites) and her recipe for the classic chocolate chip cookies included nonfat dry milk powder. Pretty much all her cookie recipes included it. Turns out milk powder gives you such a rich, chewy, slightly fudgy cookie center. Now I keep it in my pantry and add it to almost every recipe (unless dairy-free).
Chocolate in Various Forms
When your brother and sister-in-law own a chocolate company, you get spoiled in terms of chocolate. I think pretty much anything is made better with the addition of chocolate. However, not all chocolate is created equal. I always have a good dark chocolate around, at least 60% cacao content, This is the absolute lowest. My favorite dark chocolate is Taza Chocolate; it’s stoneground, direct trade and made right in Somerville. Also it is not roasted to as high a temperature as European style chocolates. The lower roasting temperature gives it s fruiter flavor.
For milk and white chocolates, I avoid the Hershey’s of the world. These typically have a lot of other additives that aren’t so appetizing. I buy blocks of Callebaut or Valrhona white and milk chocolates from Whole Foods and chop them up myself. It’s extra work, but worth it.
So for allergen-friendly chocolate, there are two brands that I love and can’t pick between: Enjoy Life and Pascha. Enjoy Life is my favorite for those dark chocolate morsels you want in cookies. Pascha is great for melting down and using in a brownie since it is seriously dark.
I know that this is a lot (and it is not even all I have in my kitchen), but I am a bit of a food nerd. When I taste something, I want to know what is in it and why it is in there. I was that kid that just asked my mom “why” a million times a day (and probably drove her insane).