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alternative flour baked goods

Baked goods don’t have to be off-limits in a healthy diet. This is especially true these days, as interest in alternative flours has created a burgeoning market of options beyond the standard all-purpose stuff. It’s relatively easy to find flour made with whole grains, nuts, and beans, and even gluten-free blends to satisfy every taste and dietary restriction.

Some of our favorite healthy-baking ingredients add unique flavor to a dish, like the earthy nuttiness of spelt or buckwheat flour. Leaning on these components (plus alternative sweeteners) means you can create flavorful baked goods that aren’t cloyingly sweet — and that bring vitamins, minerals, and extra nutrients to the table.

So start a new tradition this year: healthful, celebratory holiday baking that everyone can enjoy.

Healthy-Baking Pantry

Flour Alternatives

  • Coconut flour is made from the meat of the coconut after it’s been pressed to make coconut milk or oil. It is ­defatted, high in insoluble ­fiber, and gluten-free. It’s also a thirsty flour, so if you want to use it in place of a grain flour, start with a quarter to half as much and let the batter sit for a few minutes to hydrate after you’ve added the liquid.
  • Almond flour is made from almonds, either blanched (skins removed) or unblanched (the entire almond, skin and all). Unblanched almond flour is sometimes called almond meal. It’s not defatted, like coconut flour, so it is a little denser and doesn’t absorb much liquid. Look for extra-fine almond flour for light and fluffy baked goods (like our Orange Almond Cake further down), or use a coarser grind if you don’t mind the heavier texture.
  • Spelt flour is ground from spelt berries, an ancient grain from the wheat family. Spelt contains gluten, but some people with gluten sensitivities can tolerate it. (For more on the benefits of cooking with ancient grains, see “11 Ancient Grains to Try“.) Spelt flour is higher in zinc and protein than conventional wheat flour, and it has a lovely nutty flavor.
  • Buckwheat flour is ground from buckwheat groats, a seed more akin to rice than wheat. The flour is gluten-free with a pleasant earthy flavor. Because it contains all nine essential amino acids, it’s a complete protein.

Egg and Sweetener Alternatives

  • Ground flaxseed, like whole chia seeds, can be mixed with liquid and used as an egg replacement in baked goods. It’s high in fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, and vital minerals like magnesium. (Learn how to make a flaxseed “egg” at “How to Make a Flaxseed “Egg”“.)
  • Maple syrup is produced from the sap of maple trees. Although it’s mostly sucrose, it has a lower glycemic load than table sugar and may produce less of a blood-sugar spike. It also contains calcium, potassium, manganese, and other minerals. Read labels closely to make sure you’re picking up pure maple syrup — many pancake syrups are made with high-fructose corn syrup and maple extract.
  • Coconut sugar is made from the sap of coconut-palm trees. It also has a lower glyce­mic load than table sugar — perhaps because it contains some inulin, a type of fiber that may slow glucose absorption.

Recipes

Buckwheat Chocolate-Chip Banana Bread

Whole rye flour can be used in place of buckwheat, for a slightly spicy, malty flavor.

a load of buckwheat chocolate chip banana bread

Makes eight servings  | Prep time 15 minutes | Cook time 45 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 cup spelt flour
  • 1 cup buckwheat flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. sea salt
  • 1/2 cup nondairy milk
  • 2 tbs. ground flaxseed
  • 1 cup mashed banana
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup avocado oil
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips or chopped walnuts, plus more for topping if desired

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly oil a 9-x-5-inch loaf pan and line with parchment paper.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk the spelt flour, buckwheat flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt.
  3. In a medium bowl, stir the nondairy milk and flaxseed; let stand for 10 minutes, until slightly thickened. Stir in the mashed banana, maple syrup, oil, and vanilla. Add the wet ingredients to the flour mixture and stir until just combined. Fold in the chocolate chips or walnuts.
  4. Scrape the batter into the prepared loaf pan and smooth the top with a spatula.
  5. Bake for 45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean. Garnish with chocolate chips or walnuts as desired.
  6. Let cool on a rack for at least 10 minutes before lifting from the pan.

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Coconut Cutout Cookies

Use coconut sugar and a whole egg for a softer cookie, or try granulated sugar and egg whites for a cookie that stays crisp longer.

a tray of coconut cut out cookies

Makes about 30 cookies | Prep time 25 minutes | Cook time 12 minutes per batch

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup coconut flour
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. sea salt
  • 6 tbs. unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup coconut sugar (or 1/4 cup each granulated sugar and coconut sugar)
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp. almond extract
  • 1 large egg (or 2 egg whites)
  • Maple Cream-Cheese Frosting (below)

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and line a sheet pan with parchment paper.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk the coconut flour, baking powder, and salt.
  3. In a large bowl, using an electric hand mixer (or a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment), cream the ­butter until pale yellow, light, and fluffy, about two minutes. Beat in the sugar and ­extracts until incorporated, then add egg or egg whites and beat until smooth, about another two minutes. Add dry ingredients and mix until just incorporated.
  4. Place a square of parchment paper on the counter and scoop the dough into the center. Use your hands to shape it into a square about 1/2-inch thick and 5 inches long on all sides. Wrap and refrigerate for 10 minutes.
  5. Unwrap the dough and sprinkle with coconut flour. Roll out with a rolling pin, sprinkling more flour as needed and pressing the dough back together if it breaks. Roll out very thinly, about 1/8-inch thick.
  6. Use a cookie cutter or drinking glass to cut out cookies, then transfer to the prepared baking pan, leaving an inch between cookies.
  7. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until the edges of the cookies are golden brown. Transfer to a rack to cool completely.
  8. Frost with cream-cheese frosting just before serving, as the frosting will soften the cookies. Store in an airtight container for three to four days.

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Orange Almond Cake

For a two-layered cake, double the recipe, use cream-cheese frosting between the layers, and top with whipped cream and orange zest.

orange almond cake

Makes 12 servings | Prep time 10 minutes | Cook time 30 minutes

Ingredients 

  • 1 1/2 cups extra-fine almond flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. sea salt
  • 1 tbs. orange zest, plus more for garnish, if desired
  • 4 large eggs, separated
  • 2 tbs. orange juice
  • 3 tbs. unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
  • 1/2 cup coconut sugar, divided
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp. cream of tartar
  • Maple Cream-Cheese Frosting (below)

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Place an 8-inch circle of parchment paper in the bottom of a lightly oiled 8-inch cake pan.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk the almond flour, baking powder, salt, and orange zest. Add the egg yolks, juice, and butter, and stir well to mix.
  3. Using a stand mixer fitted with the whisk ­attachment (or a separate bowl and electric hand mixer), beat the egg whites, half the sugar, the vanilla, and the cream of tartar on high speed until the whites form soft peaks, about one minute. Beat in the remaining sugar gradually.
  4. Scoop half a cup of the beaten egg whites into the almond-flour mixture, and fold in gently. Repeat to make a light batter.
  5. Transfer batter to the prepared pan and smooth the top with a spatula.
  6. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  7. Place the pan on a rack to cool. Run a knife around the sides of the pan to loosen, then place a cake plate on top, hold firmly, and flip to invert the cake onto the plate.
  8. Peel the parchment paper from the cake, then top with cream-cheese frosting and orange zest.

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Maple Cream-Cheese

cookies and cake frosted with maple cream cheese frosting

Makes about 1 1/2 cup, enough for one layer of cake or a batch of cookies | Prep time 10 minutes, plus 4 hours chilling time

Ingredients

  • 1 8 oz. block cream cheese, room temperature
  • 2 tbs. unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup

Directions

  1. Place the cream cheese and butter in the bowl of a food processor. Process, scraping down a few times, until very smooth. Make sure to scrape the bottom and corners of the bowl so there are no lumps.
  2. Add the vanilla and maple syrup and process again, scraping down and repeating until well mixed.
  3. Transfer to a storage tub and refrigerate for at least four hours, until thickened and spreadable.
  4. Spread on cooled baked goods, and refrigerate after frosting.

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This article originally appeared as “Flour Power” in the December 2021 issue of Experience Life.

Photography by: Andrea D’Agosto; Prop Styling: Alicia Buszczak; Food Styling: Paul Jackman
Robin
Robin Asbell

Robin Asbell is a Minneapolis-based recipe developer and cookbook author.

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