When I made the switch to Paleo, I had to teach myself how to cook all over again, but when it came to baking, I really had to learn all over. Paleo baking is a lot different from the traditional ways of baking. With traditional baking, you become accustomed to using things like all-purpose flour, sugar, brown sugar, and corn starch—just to name a few of the items I used to keep in my non-Paleo kitchen, which is scary to now look back on and admit to. (By the way, you should throw out all those things I just mentioned out.) “Traditional” baking ingredients aren’t nutrient dense, and they are definitely not Paleo. Throw them away and never look back.
Your next question might be, what you should have in your Paleo baking pantry. Well, with this chapter, I will guide you in the right direction for stocking your kitchen for successful Paleo baking. I’ve also included some insights on certain ingredients that will help you transition to Paleo baking. Let this journey be a fun one, and keep in the back of your mind that you are making changes that are going to reward yourself and those that you serve these delicious desserts/treats to.
You will find only four grain-free flours throughout Paleo Desserts. This is because I have found these to be the staple grain-free flours that work best in my Paleo baking kitchen. I’ve tried to use a balance of all flours throughout the book.
I’ve come to enjoy and prefer baking with coconut flour because it produces light and airy cupcakes and cakes. Coconut flour is made from grinding coconut pulp after it has been squeezed for coconut milk, which produces a soft flour. Coconut flour offers a gluten-free alternative to traditional grain-based flours.
It is high in fiber, protein, and fat, which makes it exceptionally filling. It’s also a good source of lauric acid, a saturated fat thought to support the immune system and the thyroid.
Coconut flour is a exceptionally great source of manganese, which helps you to better utilize many nutrients including choline and biotin (found in eggs), vitamin C, and thiamin. Manganese also helps to maintain optimal blood sugar levels.
Coconut Flour Tips:
Adjust Your Ratios:
In baking with coconut flour, you cannot substitute coconut flour for wheat or other grain-based flours at a 1:1 ratio. They are not equivalent. Coconut flour is extraordinarily absorbent, and a little goes a long way.
Generally, you want to substitute ¼ cup to 1/3 cup coconut flour for every ¾ cup to 1 cup grain-based flour or nut flour. You will need to increase the number of eggs and liquid when using coconut flour. The general ratio rule I follow is ½ cup coconut flour + 5 eggs + ½ cup coconut milk (or other liquid
s). This ratio will vary depending on the other ingredients in the recipe; for example, if the recipe calls for mashed bananas, the bananas will add extra moisture to the batter, so I’ll reduce another liquid, say coconut milk, by ¼ cup. And if I’m adding cacao powder to a recipe, I usually adjust the flour down a little or increase the liquid slightly because cacao powder also absorbs moisture.
Break Up Lumps
Coconut flour tends to be clumpy, so sifting the flour before mixing it in to a recipe will help you avoid finding clumps in your baked goods. I tend to place my batters in a food processor, which helps to break down the clumps without having to sift the flour.
Store It Dry
Coconut flour is best if stored at room temperature in your pantry.
Almond flour is made from blanched, finely ground nuts. It is quite high in protein; rich in vitamin E, many B-vitamins, manganese, potassium, calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc, and selenium; while also being lower in omega-6 polyunsaturated fats per gram than many other nuts. When baking with almond flour, you can use similar quantities to regular flour in your recipe, but keep in mind that because almond flour does not contain gluten, it doesn’t yield the elasticity or hold together the way wheat flour does. If a recipe calls for a different nut flour, like hazelnut, you can substitute 1:1 with almond flour.
Almond Flour Tips:
Pay Attention to the Grind
The finer the almonds are ground, the better your baked goods will turn out. If you use coarser ground flour, your product will be grainy and the texture will be as if you added nuts to the batter.
Nut flours burn easily so when baking with them, keep the temperatures lower by about 25°F to 50°F and bake for slightly longer. Keep a close eye on your baked goods, as all ovens heat differently.
Store It Cold
Almond flour is best if stored in your refrigerator or freezer. It will keep for a month in the refrigerator and 6 to 8 months in the freezer. If you store it in the freezer, just remove the portion you need for your recipe and let it come to room temperature for 20 minutes.
Almond meal is quite simply skin-on almonds that are milled into a coarse flour. It has a fraction of the carbs of gluten flours and provides a hearty flavor and consistency without adding empty calories. Almond meal is full of protein and dietary fiber similar to that of almond flour. I prefer to use almond meal in crumbles because of the coarser texture.
Hazelnut Flour or Meal
Hazelnut flour or meal is made from pure, ground hazelnuts. Sweeter and slightly coarser than its almond flour cousin, it is a good source of dietary fiber and protein. Perfect for adding rich flavor to all baked goods, from muffins to cakes and cookies, use it the way you would almond flour or meal.
Fats and Oils
When choosing fats and oils, I avoid the darlings of the health food industry—grapeseed oil, canola oil, and rice bran oil—for these oils, despite having relatively high smoke points, are not fats their processing method by which they are made negates their healthfulness. Instead, I choose those fats that offer true nourishment in the way of fat-soluble vitamins and naturally occurring antioxidants and that are minimally processed. Here are some of my favorites to work with:
This mildly sweet, fragrant oil is deeply resonant of the tropics. Unrefined extra-virgin coconut oil provides a beautiful flavor to baked dishes. It plays an enormous role in the traditional diets of South Pacific islanders who enjoyed resilient health prior to the widespread availability of processed foods, sugars, and industrial vegetable oils. Coconut oil has been under much debate in years past due to its saturated fat content, but this medium-chain fatty acid has since been redeemed due to its health benefits. It is rich in lauric acid (a fat that has high antimicrobial properties), is quickly used for energy, and contributes to the health of the immune system. Coconut oil is also rapidly converted to energy in the liver, and it increases metabolic rate.
Coconut Oil Tips:
Purer Is Better – Seek out unrefined, virgin-pressed coconut oil in a dark bottle or heavy-duty glass or plastic container.
Use Equal Ratios – Use coconut oil at a 1:1 ratio to replace vegetable oils, margarine, shortening, and/or butter in baking.
Mind the Smoke Point – Coconut oil is a very stable oil even at higher temperatures. However, it is best not to cook beyond the smoke point (450°F) of coconut oil, as it will begin to deteriorate the oil and turn it yellow. This is mostly a concern when cooking with the oil, as opposed to baking with it, but it’s important to know.
Do Not Refrigerate – Keep coconut oil in a cool dark cupboard. Refrigeration makes the oil hard and difficult to measure. Most recipes in this book call for melting the coconut oil in order to incorporate it into the recipes, but you first have to
Grass-Fed Butter, Clarified Butter, and Ghee
Butter offers a soft flavor—sweet and comforting—and it brings an old-fashioned creaminess to recipes. Like most highly saturated fats, butter has gotten a bad rap as industrial oils have usurped its rightful place at the kitchen table. But grass-fed butter that’s free of industrial feed and hormones provides deep nourishment, and it was fit for gods.
When produced from the cream of grass-fed cows, butter is extraordinarily rich in fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K2. Further, it is a rich source of the antioxidant beta carotene, which accounts for its lush golden color.
Clarified butter and ghee come from butter, but both have been slowly melted and then filtered to remove their milk solids. The resultant fat is free from offending proteins and sugars and is often well tolerated by those suffering from dairy sensitivities.
Grass-Fed Butter, Clarified Butter, and Ghee Tips:
Mind the Smoke Point – Butter has a low smoke point of about 350°F and is therefore suitable for low-temperature cooking and baking.
Clarified butter and ghee can tolerate higher heats, up to 485°F, due to the removal of milk solids.
As with all foods, the sweeteners you choose should be whole and unrefined: raw honey, maple syrup, and molasses are all good options for natural sweeteners. You should avoid agave nectar, raw agave nectar, corn syrup, and white and brown sugars, as well as liquid and powdered stevia, xylitol, and sugar alcohols, as they are all heavily processed. And those pink and yellow packets on most tables of restaurants? Avoid those too.
You’ll find that I tend to use less “sweetener” overall in the recipes in this book. I do use the following sweeteners or the natural sugars from fruit to help in sweetening.
This wonderfully rich golden liquid is the wonderful product of honey bees and a naturally delicious alternative to white sugar. Although it is available throughout the year, it is an exceptional treat in the summer and fall when it has just been harvested and is at its freshest. Not all honey is created equally. Raw organic honey tends to have higher health benefits due its antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal qualities. This is the reason why raw honey is my choice when baking, and the one I recommend any time when honey is called for in a recipe.
Pure Maple Syrup
Maple syrup is one of the many wonders of the world. This amber liquid with its earthy sweet taste is made from the sap of the sugar, black, or red maple tree. Maple syrup contains fewer calories and a higher concentration of minerals than honey. When baking, I prefer to use pure Grade B maple syrup, as opposed to Grade A, because of its great flavor and high level of sweetness, which means you can use less and still achieve the flavor you are looking for. Another benefit is maple syrup doesn’t break down during the baking process the way artificial sweeteners do.
Dates are a fruit that are sweet in taste and rich in minerals and vitamins such as B1, B2, B3, and B5 along with A and C, and high in iron and potassium. In fact, ounce for ounce, dates have more potassium than a banana.
Fresh Medjool dates can add a natural form of sweetness to a dessert. You will be surprised by how a few dates go a long way to create dishes similar to the sweetness of your pre-Paleo desserts, but without the guilt.
Mash-Up – If your dates are not soft or are a little dry, add enough boiling water to just cover them and allow them to sit for a few minutes. Then drain all but a tablespoon of the water and mash the dates with a fork. The hot water will add the moisture you will need to bring them to a puree/mashed form for a recipe.
Keep the Pits – Remember to purchase pit-in-dates, as they contain more moisture than their pitted counterparts. Before using, simply remove the interior pit by dividing the date in half.
Keep Them Fresh – When searching the aisles of your local health food store, look first in the produce section for your dates. This is where you will find the freshest options. For optimal use, store dates in the manner they were stored when you purchased them.
What follows are some other essentials that I keep on hand in my Paleo pantry; they don’t fall into any exact list as the previous ingredients. If you keep the following ingredients as well as those in the herbs and spice section on hand, you’ll be able to jump into many of the recipes in this book without a special trip to the grocery store. I recommend buying small quantities and replacing them often.
Pastured Free-Range Eggs
I buy eggs from local farmers with chickens that are free range and allowed to eat and live the way they are meant to live. The eggs come in a variety of colors and sizes, and they have amazing deep-orange yolks. They are delicious! It is my dream to one day have enough land to raise my own chickens, but until that day becomes a reality, I will keep getting them from the local farmer because they truly are nothing like those at the supermarket.
Coconut milk is produced by combining the flesh of coconuts with water. It is great to bake with as an alternative to regular dairy. In my recipes, I use canned, full-fat, unsweetened coconut milk. As it sits, the fat and water separate, so before opening a can make sure to shake it to bring it back together. But in some of the recipes in this book you’ll see I ask you not to shake the can before opening because the solid part on the top can actually resemble heavy cream and can help in creating a delicious coconut whipped cream.
Chocolate (Cacao Powder, Cacao Nibs, Dark Chocolate)
All the recipes involving chocolate in this book use pure cacao powder or pure baking dark chocolate, both unsweetened. I suggest always buying 100 percent cacao, which is unsweetened. Anything less than 100 percent has sugar added, and sugar is not Paleo. I prefer to buy unsweetened dark chocolate so I can sweeten it using a Paleo friendly sweetener. If you can’t get your hands on 100 percent dark chocolate try to use a dark chocolate that is 85 percent or higher, without soy lecithin or other additives.
Cacao powder is 100 percent pure chocolate and dried; it may also be labeled as “pure cocoa.” If you can’t get your hands on unsweetened pure dark chocolate in bar form, you can substitute it using cacao powder: For every ounce of unsweetened dark chocolate, use 3 tablespoons pure cacao powder + 1 tablespoon coconut oil (melted) and stir to combine.
Baking Soda and Baking Powder
Baking Soda is the only Paleofriendly leavener to help you get great results in your baked goods. It loses its potency over time and should certainly be replaced every two to three months. Baking powders on the market have traces of gluten in them. There is only one recipe in this book where I suggest baking powder, and I only recommend it if you are using a grain-free and aluminum-free product made in your own kitchen. To make your own use 1 part baking soda + 1 part cream of tartar + 2 parts arrowroot. I usually make and store it in a leftover glass spice jar.
Fine Sea Salt
This is my everyday salt in both my cooking and baking. I prefer to use Celtic sea salt, which is harvested by hand from a coastal region in France. It is minimally processed and very high in minerals. I like how it evenly distributes in baking recipes.
Gelatin is a colorless, flavorless thickening agent that helps give body to certain desserts. Gelatin must be softened before using. All of the recipes using gelatin will walk you through this step, but commonly for every 1 tablespoon of gelatin you must use ¼ cup liquid to dissolve it. Look in the Resources section for the brand I prefer to use.