N.B. I use the words “Healthy” and “Gluten-free” interchangeably in my baking scenarios sometimes, but I do not label “Gluten” as “Unhealthy”. I left refined flour due to its limited nutritional value. I always prefer unrefined whole wheat flour, but when it did not give a good texture in my baked goods, I switched to other nutritious unrefined flours which turned out to be gluten-free by chance.
What is Healthy baking?
A baking practice which does not contain any refined flour, refined sugar, and refined oil. In other words, healthy baking involves using nutritious flours, natural and unrefined sugars in less quantities and good fats (no trans fats especially).
Let’s admit it. No-refined-flour baking is not straight forward. It takes a contentious effort to master this art. In my case, even after working on it for months, every baking experience brings a new deal of learning. This is what I love about healthy baking – there is so much to learn which keeps my enthusiasm alive.
The presence of refined flour in baked items is a blessing in disguise. Even though the flour does not have much nutritional value and it is a big NO for me, the gluten in it takes care of most of the things – structure, body, texture, rise, elasticity etc. – for which gluten-free bakers, like us, struggle to get them right.
But, where there is a will, there is a way. Once you understand the essentials of healthy baking (without refined flour), things do not look mysterious anymore. In other words, it is crucial to understand the reasoning behind every ingredient; you must get your basics right.
Remember – Baking is a pure science. There is a rational to every step.
Do not copy a recipe blindly in healthy baking. Majority of the times, it will turn out disaster. Understand the basics first because once you get those right, you can easily develop your own recipes.
But before we move to 5 essentials, let’s discuss two important points.
What is Gluten?
Gluten is a general name for the proteins found in grains such as wheat, refined flour, barley, semolina etc. Gluten helps baked products in maintaining their structure, shape, strength, and elasticity by acting as a glue to bind the ingredients.
So, when wheat flour is mixed with water, the gluten proteins form a sticky network providing a structure and body to the dough. Gluten develops only when you mix flour with water; else, it lays dormant.
It also gives cakes and muffins a beautiful rise by locking gases created by leavening agents – Baking Powder and Baking Soda. In other words, it does not let carbon dioxide escape from a baked item; hence, it helps in maintaining a soft and fluffy texture.
Some people develop gluten sensitivity which means they become allergic to gluten. Their body cannot digest this protein and reacts in a negative way. Hence, these people come in the category of “Gluten Intolerant”. In this case, they have to maintain a completely gluten-free lifestyle – No wheat, No Refined Flour, No Barley etc.
But I am not gluten allergic……
Hey hey hey……. Do not jump into conclusions. I have no gluten allergies. In fact, I love wheat which is my staple food. I eat Paranthas (Indian bread) six times in a week for breakfast. So I cannot imagine myself living a gluten-free life.
My baking is gluten-free because of one big reason – Limited nutritional value in refined flours. Provided that whole wheat flour is a much healthier option, it did not give the right texture in my case. Hence, I switched to nutritious unrefined flours to make my baking practice wholesome and guilt-free. Here are some products which I use to maintain my Healthy Lifestyle.
Baking with nutritious flours opens a whole new world; I am all set to take you all to this odyssey.
Five essentials to Healthy Baking:
You need to add starch in gluten-free baking because starch helps in holding the baked goods. Added Starch plays an important role, especially when there is no gluten, as it helps in binding the ingredients and set them once they are cooled. Starch also makes baked goods light rather than dense and heavy.
So when you use refined flour, you do not need to add starch as the presence of gluten in refined flour takes care of everything.
The Starch I use – Tapioca flour. You can go for Potato Starch as well.
From where to buy – It is a tad difficult to find this Starch. I buy it from Mills & Browns
2. Blend of different flours
When you ditch refined flour (no gluten), you must understand that you will have to use a blend of different gluten-free flours to get good texture. In gluten free baking, people complain about the dense look and feel of baked goods which generally happens with the usage of heavy flours.
Hence, in a no-refined-flour baking, you cannot rely on one flour to achieve the beautifully risen and fluffy gluten-free cakes or muffins or breads.
Flours are generally divided into three categories:
Starch – Such as Potato Starch, Tapioca flour etc. (as explained in the Starch section above)
Medium – Millets, Sorghum, Oats, white rice etc.
Dense (Heavy) – Almonds, coconut, buckwheat, brown rice etc.
Using 100% starchy flours will provide you with very less nutrition whereas by using 100% dense flours, you might get disheartened by looking at the heavy and dense texture of the finished goods; hence, I use a blend to balance my starch and nutrition in the recipes.
The blend I use – This is the blend which has worked like a charm for me:
Sorghum (Jowar) – 1/2 cup
Tapioca flour – 1/4 cup
Rice flour – 1/4 cup
From where to buy – I buy Jowar from 24 Mantra Organic, Tapioca flour from Mills & Browns, and Rice flour from a local store. Jowar and rice flours are easily available.
Jowar is nutritious, and I love using it in my recipes. Tapioca flour and rice flour give a fantastic texture to my baked goods.
Okay; before I say anything, let me clarify one point. You do not kill anyone by eating eggs. This message is especially for the people who think eggs are pure non-vegetarian and eating an egg means killing a living being.
Nope; that is not the case. Most of the eggs which are commercially available are unfertilized. Yes, “Unfertilized” which means that those eggs are almost waste products. There is no living being in an unfertilized egg.
In addition to the nutrition, eggs provide fat, flavour, and richness to the baked goods. They also add moisture and helps in giving a soft texture.
You can replace eggs by Flax seeds meal also known as Flax Seeds powder. Soak one tablespoon of Flax Seeds Powder in three tablespoons of water and leave it for 10-15 minutes. The resulting mixture will be equivalent to one egg.
But, I do not recommend egg-less baking unless you are allergic to eggs because they bring a wonderful texture and rise to a baked item.
Gluten-free baking does not go well without eggs; hence, they are a super important part of my pantry.
I use organic eggs which are available at a local super market. I look for the label “Cage Free Hens”.
4. Xanthum Gum:
Initially, I baked without Xanthum gum, and, trust me, I was not happy. At that time, I was using only Jowar; the absence of Xanthum gum and starch made my products fragile and crumbly. It was even difficult for me to lift my finished products as they used to crumble in my hands.
So the problem was – without any starch (Tapioca flour) and Xanthum gum, my products were falling apart.
I understood the power of gum in gluten-free baking, and there was no looking back since then.
Xanthum gum and starch are added to hold the ingredients together so that they do not break and fall apart.
Again, gluten in refined flour takes care of binding element; hence, you do not need any gum or starch in case of refined flour.
A caveat – Too much of Xanthum gum can make your finished products dry and hard.
What I use and from where to buy – Sattvic Foods Xanthum Gum
Mashed bananas and apple sauce are also used for binding the ingredients. Bananas are my all-time favourite, and I use at least one banana in my every recipe consisting of 1.25 cups flour. Based on my experience, bananas bring a subtle natural sweetness too.
But these fruits cannot be used alone. You need to combine them with the above mentioned ingredients to get the right texture.
A caveat – Too much of mashed banana can make your finished goods dense.
You must be thinking that this article is all about binding the elements, and almost every ingredient discussed above is doing the same job.
Getting a perfect texture in gluten-free baking is a difficult task, and people struggle to achieve a light and fluffy body in baked goods in the absence of refined flour. So, we have to use 4-5 different components to save our finished products from – falling apart and letting them dry.
As already mentioned, baking without refined flour is not simple, but once you understand some basic techniques – the points which I mentioned above – and bake regularly, you can master this art.
Even though, I am working on no-refined-flour baking from the last one year and have learnt a plethora of things, every baking experience brings a great deal of learning for me. For example: when I change the blend of flours which I have mentioned above, the finished product is so different and my baking time also changes.
But the best part of my work is – Happiness. It gives me immense pleasure to inspire people about healthy baking. It is all about making people believe that baking can be nutritious and that is how you inspire others 🙂