Key Ingredients for Healthier Baking
Why it’s important to buy and use whole foods where you can. If you want to prepare and eat good food, ingredients are the key. This is especially true when it comes to baking. Here you’ll find a guide to some of those baking basics.
I’m probably kidding myself, but I like to think my baking is actively good for folk as well as tasting pretty damn good. Good quality ingredients are crucial for making tasty and nutritious fare. With this in mind I try to use certified organic ingredients where possible, although locally sourced and fairly traded are also important.
Unrefined and as near to natural as possible is also something I try to adhere to. Graham Harvey’s highly readable book We want Real Food gives an in depth view on the dangers of overly processed foods, to ourselves and to our environment. It also highlights the benefits of a more natural diet.
It’s true organic food is generally more expensive. Our budget is pretty tight, so not everything I buy is organic by any means. But I try to get the basics in, so that the foundation of our meals are as healthy as possible. If you just change one basic ingredient that you use a lot to an organic whole food one, it will make a difference. Here are some of those key ingredients that will make your baking healthier.
Key Ingredients for Healthier Baking
As flour is a key ingredient to most bread, cakes and puddings, I feel it’s really important to try and use a high quality flour. Spelt is an old fashioned wheat that many wheat intolerant sufferers can consume without any adverse side effects. Stone ground flour is also a healthier choice as the grain does not get heated as much as is the case with steel rollers. Heating destroys enzymes and vitamins and hastens the process of rancidity. I get my ordinary wholemeal flour from Cotehele, a local watermill where the flour is organic and traditionally milled. My wholemeal spelt flour is from Bacheldre Watermill and is certified by the Soil Association.
You can find out more about the flours I bake with in this flour baking tips post.
When it comes to salt, I normally use grey Breton sea salt as this has a lot of additional minerals. However, this is often too coarse for cakes, so if I use any salt at all, I generally use fine pink salt from the Himalyas. Yes, yes, I know this is not very local. But using this a pinch at a time, on an occasional basis, means a 250g pot lasts for years.
Sugar is the easiest and cheapest ingredient used to sweeten cakes and puddings as well as adding bulk. It is, of course, hard to argue that sugar is good for you, so I won’t try. There are alternatives and I do use them occasionally, but I do tend to use sugar or Rapadura for the most part. I do ensure the sugar I use is cane sugar, which is meant to be marginally less destructive. I also use Rapadura some of the time (and would use it all of the time if it wasn’t quite so expensive). Rapadura is cane juice that is dried naturally and is purportedly rich in minerals, especially silica.
I’m a big fan of dairy. This is partly because I love it and partly because I believe, if produced well and not eaten to excess, it’s very good for you. If butter and milk comes from organic pasture fed animals it contains high levels of vitamins A, D, K and E as well as omega-3 fatty acids. Unpasteurised milk, also referred to as raw milk, is the healthiest way to take it. This does, of course, assume that the milk is from a clean herd and is not infected with TB. Pasteurisation destroys the milk enzymes that help the body to absorb nutrients, including calcium as well as the lactic-acid which helps protect against pathogens. I haven’t yet found a local source of organic raw milk, but I shall keep trying.
Eggs that are organic and free range with access to fresh green grass are hard to find. Luckily there are a few local small scale suppliers in this area and I don’t (touch wood) have a problem. A deep yellow yolk is a good sign that chickens have been pasture fed and these eggs will be rich in vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids.
Free range duck eggs are a good alternative to chicken eggs for baking. You can see why in this post, duck eggs are perfect for baking.
And of course there is Chocolate! The good news is that organic, dark, unprocessed chocolate is actively good for you. The bad news is that it’s hard to find and is, of course, very expensive. Epicatechin, a flavonoid is removed from commercial cocoa as it has a bitter taste. Of course it is this very element which is so good for you. Dutching is also a process used by most commercial cocoa manufacturers which neutralises the acids in the cocoa nibs thereby destroying chocolate’s natural polyphenols. If you roast cocoa beans at a high temperature you destroy the antioxidants they contain. In an ideal world, you would be looking for chocolate that:
- Has not been “dutched” or alkalised
- Has been dried and cool pressed rather than roasted
- Contains at least 70% cocoa
- Is organic
- Contains cocoa butter rather than hydrogenated oils
- Contains raw-cane sugar or other natural sweeteners rather than refined sugar.
Unfortunately my world is far from ideal! I did manage to find unprocessed cocoa powder on a trip to Totnes a few months ago, but I’ve long since run out of that. In general I try to use certified organic chocolate that is 70% or quite often now 85% cocoa. Having said that, I do also use chocolate that is fairly traded but not organic.
What do you consider to be the key ingredients for healthier baking? And, do you manage to use them?