I love to bake. And I also happen to be engaged to an Irishman (yay!) with a massive sweet tooth.
Most weekends there will be ‘domestic goddess’ smells wafting from my kitchen at some stage.
For years I’ve been happy to follow Michael Pollan’s ‘food rule‘ when it comes to sweets…
“Eat all the junk food you want as long as you cook it yourself.”
But I’m always on the lookout for ideas to make my baking as healthy as possible, without sacrificing deliciousness. So when I first came across Kelley Herrings fab eBook ‘Guilt-Free Desserts’, I was intrigued but more than a little skeptical.
Could dessert really be healthier AND still live up to my taste expectations?
The good news from my recent baking adventures is that it can!
So today I wanted to share some tips for guilt-free baking and introduce you to my latest favourite source of healthy baking recipes. Enjoy!
3 tips for guilt-free baking
1. Use real butter
One of my first jobs as a young food scientist was working in the chemistry lab of a large margarine factory. Still the worst smelling work place I have ever encountered. Needless to say I haven’t voluntarily eaten fake butter since.
Real butter comes from real cows fed on the food they are naturally designed to eat, real grass. Not only does it taste better, it’s better for us with higher levels of omega-3 fats and vitamin E than butter from grain-fed cows.
2. Explore healthy wheat flour alternatives.
Even if you don’t have a problem with gluten, wheat flours are best avoided. They tend to have a high glycemic index (GI), meaning they cause spikes in blood sugar and promote weight gain.
Be careful with ‘gluten-free’ flour mixes as they are often based on a blend of other high GI flours like rice. So even though the gluten is gone, they still cause the same problems with your blood sugar.
Almond meal or almond flour has been my go-to option for healthier baking for a while now. It’s gluten free and low GI. It tastes delicious and keeps baked goods moist. The only downside is that compared to regular flour, it’s on the expensive side.
Coconut flour is another gluten-free, low GI alternative that is also high in fiber. It’s more of a new comer to my baking arsenal but I’ve been really happy with my experiments so far. The thing to remember with coconut flour is that a little goes a long way. So even though it is way more expensive than regular flour, you’ll find you’re using far less. So the actual cost in use isn’t as bad as you’d initially think.
3. Choose a good quality natural sweetener.
I probably don’t need to tell you how sugar impacts our blood sugar levels and the resulting health problems.
The good news is there are now sweetening alternatives that are low GI and natural. The best I’ve found so far is a combination of Erythritol and Stevia. The brand I’ve been using is called Natvia and for Australian readers it’s available in Woolies. I’m sure there are many good alternatives out there, just look on the ingredients list for a sweetener containing Erythritol and Stevia.
Erythritol is a ‘sugar alcohol’ which acts like sugar in baking without the calories or impact on our blood sugar. It’s a naturally occurring compound found in fruit. And has about 70% of the sweetness of regular sugar. It’s available to buy on its own or pre-blended with Stevia.
Stevia produced from a herb from Paraguay is hundreds of times sweeter than sugar. It can be purchased on its own, usually in liquid form. A little goes a long way for adding sweetness. On its own it won’t perform in the same way as sugar in baked goods. It’s also available blended with Erythritol
Be wary of agave syrup or nectar. Although it’s a natural product made from cactus, it actually contains high levels of fructose. This means it is like a more natural form of high fructose corn syrup – not the healthy alternative sweetener it initially appears to be.
Adapted from Guilt-Free Desserts by Kelley Herring.
If you’re wondering what the whole paleo / primal eating thing is about, you might enjoy this post I wrote about my introduction to paleo eating.
With all those eggs it can be easy to over bake these brownies so make sure you set your timer! It’s better to err on the side of slightly under baked.
While they’re lovely freshly baked, this is one of those brownie recipes that improves with age. I like to (try to) leave them for 24 hours for that heavenly squidgy brownie texture. I think they’re much better when they’ve had a bit of time so the moisture from the less cooked middle redistributes out to the edges.
70g (2 1/2oz) coconut oil or butter
150g (5oz) dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa solids), chopped
90g (3 1/4oz) stevia / erythritol blend
50g (1 3/4oz) coconut flour
1. Preheat your oven to 180C (350F). Line a 20cm (8in) square tin with baking paper.
2. Melt butter or coconut oil. Remove form the heat. Add chocolate and stand for a few minutes.
3. Stir and when the chocolate has melted add the stevia and eggs, stirring well. Then add the coconut flour and stir until well mixed.
4. Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 15-20 minutes or until just cooked around the edges but still a little moist in the middle.
5. Remove from the tin and cool on a cake rack.
egg-free / vegan – I’m afraid the eggs are really critical here. Best to find another recipe I’m afraid.
no stevia? – If you’d prefer to use regular sugar that’s fine. Just increase it to 150g (5 1/4oz).
regular flour – I haven’t fully experimented replacing coconut flour with regular plan or all-purpose flour. But I’d guess if you replace the coconut flour with double the amount of regular flour you’d be in the right ball park.
almond meal – again, I haven’t tried this but if I didn’t have coconut flour I’d use about 200g (7oz) almond meal.
vanilla – not essential but 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract added with the eggs can be lovely.
video version of the recipe