Baking is a hard science. It is a combination of a never ending array of techniques, precise measurements, a firm belief in preheating the oven to the exact temperature, and endless possibilities. With new technologies and man-made substitutions, baking is more complex than ever. They say everyone has their own recipe, and it’s 100% true. No two recipes can be the same and yet, they will still yield identical delicious results. Now, I stated that baking is usually some combination of a starch(-es), a sweetener(-s), and a type of binder(-s). The rest is just flair. Following this equation, healthier baking is easy. All you are doing is looking for substitutions that are equivalent to the original variants of the recipe.
So, what are substitutions? Substitutions are alternative ingredients that perform similarly to the originals in the recipe. For example, most baking recipes use all purpose wheat flour. So, what do you do if you want to find a substitution for AP flour? You have many options. You can either:
A: Purchase a premixed gluten-free flour substitute or
B: Make your own combination of flours.
Here’s why I usually avoid the premixed flours. In order for that substitution to rise and bake like AP processed flour, a lot of brands tend to add potato starch and other non-nutrient dense flours/ starches. If I’m trying to avoid gluten, I’d rather use flours that are healthier and will fill me up. Potato starch is just as empty as AP flour, so you’re not really baking as healthy as you could be. That’s not to say that I don’t understand why people use it. For those who have a gluten allergy but want to experience a taste and texture that is gluten-like, these are perfect. When I first started experimenting with gluten-free baking, these premixed flours made it so easy. All you have to do is follow any recipe and use the same measurement of gluten-free flour mix as you would with AP flour. I highly recommend Bob’s Red Mill for any form of alternative flours and grains (but I’m not picky when it comes to buying off brand. Quinoa is quinoa, chia seeds are chia seeds, and oats are oats for me.)
Making your own combination of flours comes with your own personal preferences. I know that I personally love the texture, earthiness, and health benefits of using either oat, quinoa, or chia seed flour. It doesn’t bake the same as the premixed flours, but each grain has a significant texture when baked with. For example, when cooked or soaked, chia seeds and oats tend to form this very gelatinous texture, which make them perfect for making puddings, custards, or anything that requires that jelly-like texture. The quinoa, when ground and cooked, gives off this fluffy texture. It expands, but not to the extent that gluten does. Plus, it adds a really earthy flavor to whatever you put it in. Now, if I’m feeling impartial to gluten, I will add some AP flour just to help bring it all together and give whatever I’m baking some structure. Or, if I’m not feeling any of my flour combos, I’ll substitute that substitute for blended cooked beans (black beans are very popular because they are neutral in flavor, they react similarly to gluten, and they are full of protein. I love using them in anything involving chocolate.) That’s why I like making my own flour (or bean) combinations. After learning what type of flour brings what kind of attribute to whatever I’m baking, I can personalize the mixture to suite my wants every the time.
Now, how do you actually start baking healthier?
You start by doing your research. Look up recipes, both healthy and not so healthy. Look up already proven food substitutions. If people have already done the research, why not use what they’ve already figured out? You are saving yourself time, money, and your taste buds. Seriously, nothing tastes worse than not using the right ingredients in the right quantities. It throws everything off, from the texture to flavor. It can be very discouraging. So here are a few websites that will lead you into the right direction.
- For all of your baking, cooking, seasoning, and food substitutions. This one has some of everything, but it’s not focused on being healthier. This one just literally points out various substitutions. This is more for if you are missing an ingredient, not trying to cook/ bake healthier.
- This one is great for all of your health conscious baking needs. From flour substitutions to sweet alternatives to perfect swaps for oils and butter, this list is very informative.
- Joy of Baking made the perfect list for BAKING ONLY substitutions. I highly recommend taking a look at this one.
Once you find the right substitution to suite your needs, you can move onto the experimentation part of the process. It really is trial and error, but the best part is when you find the perfect combination for you, you can create your own flour blend and keep it on hand for future use. It really is super rewarding when you find the perfect mixture and you can show off to everyone. Be like, “LOOK! I made this!”