By Brenna O’Dea
Baking is the best. Christmas cookies, birthday cake, or just somethin’ sweet on a regular old day because you feel like it. I like baking because it feels even more relaxing to me than cooking. Even though I have to pay closer attention to measurements and the timing of everything, I feel at ease when I am sifting flour and stirring batter. The fact that baking requires more precise attention almost makes it even more calming. I get to tune out everything else. The hustle and bustle of the day, the loud noises in the city streets, the stories on the news that we don’t always want to hear, it can all fade away for just an hour or two when we are alone and at peace with some butter and sugar. Here’s the thing though, I love baked goods, but they don’t love me. Gluten gives me a bellyache, but it’s all good under this oven hood. Chances are, if you too struggle with stomaching white and wheat flour, you can find awesome alternatives a store nearby. Here is the low down on some of those specialty flours that will make your springtime sugar cookies a little easier to digest (and just as delicious!)
This is probably the one you’ve hear about the most, or at least I had. I’ve seen cookies and cakes in the mainstream market made with almond flour. Maybe you’ve seen this common almond-based bite while browsing the local bakery: the macaron. Naturally wheat free but full of flavor, these babies are SO GOOD. I have only made them once in my life, and it was definitely a project, but nothing too crazy. This was also my first time baking with almond flour and I was pretty happy with the results. The key with almond flour is to make sure you sift it enough to get a light and fluffy result. Almond flour is already lighter in texture than almond meal, but they are really quite similar and many recipes call for either one. Almond meal is the coarser of the two and will give your final product a stronger almond flavor. Almond flour is basically straight up almond powder. The nuts are blanched, skinned, and ground into a fine flour. Voilá! Now, there are plenty of recipes out there for almond flour chocolate chip cookies and basic banana breads out there, but for something to put a lil’ more pep in your step and zing in your spring, whip up a batch of these Orange Spice Poppyseed Muffins full of fresh orange zest and free of gluten!
At first, I was skeptical. I have tried buckwheat in other forms…hot buckwheat cereal…not the way I want to start my morning. It was just too mushy gushy for me. I’ll stick to my tried and true classic oats. Buckwheat for breakfast may not be your cup of tea either, but for baking, it definitely does the trick. And let me clear this one up, buckwheat is actually WHEAT FREE. In fact, most buckwheat is totally gluten free and even safe for those with Celiac. Maybe this is old news to you, but I still forget that from time to time because, well, it’s called freakin’ buckWHEAT. Anyway, back to baking. Where are you most likely to see this delicious dude popping up? In your pancakes. Yeah, ya heard me, PANCAKES. Sorry…I get really excited about pancakes. Why should you start using this funky flour in your flapjacks? Two words: magnesium and potassium. Buckwheat’s got ’em both. This flour will not only fluff up your cookies and cakes, but it’ll make ’em just a lil’ bit healthier…so you can feel good, nay, GREAT, about having seconds.
I know, I know. Coconut seems to be in EVERYTHING these days. Or rather, it can be turned into everything and anything. Coconut water, coconut milk, and of course, the one and only, the holy grail, coconut oil. Why stop there? Coconut flour is showing up in more places and we say, hey, the more the merrier. It tastes good and it seems to be pretty damn good for ya no matter what form it comes in. If ya wanna try out coconut flour for your next bake sale, remember this, a little goes a long way. Coconut flour is very absorbent, just like that lil’ yellow dude who lives in a pineapple under the sea. Do kids even watch Spongebob these days? I sure hope so. I also hope that you consider trying out coconut flour in your next baking endeavor, because it is loaded with healthy fats and fiber. Coconut flour is just powdered coconut meat, so it contains all those same nutritious goodies. If buckwheat pancakes don’t make your mouth water, these super quick ‘n easy (and delicious) coconut flour pancakes might just do the trick. And for a night time treat, put this almond coconut cake on your list of things to try. This baby actually uses both almond AND coconut flour, because hey, a cake can never be too fluffy.
What’s the story with spelt flour, you ask? First of all, the the big question, the game changer, spelt flour does contain gluten. It is NOT GLUTEN FREE. There is a common misconception that spelt flour is in fact gluten free, but I’m sorry to tell all your little sous chefs with Celiac, spelt is not for them. Of course, there is a silver lining to this glutinous dilemma! Spelt flour is kinda sorta WHEAT FREE. I say kinda sorta because most producers today still label their products as containing “spelt wheat,” and when ya get down to the nitty gritty of it, spelt flour is made from a grain that is a VERY close relative of wheat. Same genus. Different species. That’s as scientific as I’ll get because I prefer to talk about my food in terms of ingredients, not species and stuff. And because I honestly don’t even know what the heck a genus is. THE KEY TAKEAWAY: spelt flour is not Celiac friendly, but it is certainly easier to digest than traditional wheat. If ya wanna learn more, head over here to One Green Planet for some more tips of the trade. They can teach you all about this spelt specialty, even the official title…Triticum aestivum var. spelta…don’t worry, I can’t pronounce it either.
Ah, sweet semolina. I for one would name my first born after this baking ingredient. The name just rolls off your tongue. And pasta made with this stuff will work wonders for your tastebuds. Semolina flour is made from the leftover parts of the grains after traditional wheat is processed, also known as “wheat middlings.” Sounds tasty, right?? Well it actually can be. Semolina flour is the one you wanna use for pasta night, homemade pasta night that is. Don’t be intimidated! Seriously! David Lebowitz lays it out so clearly you could make this stuff with your eyes closed (but we wouldn’t reccomend that technique). And for an even more in depth pasta making manifesto, check out this guide from Serious Eats. You will NEVER order out for pasta again…maybe. And of course, how can we forget dessert. Believe it or not, this flour is often used in pudding. Semolina makes each spoonful thick and creamy…with a little help from a friend, BUTTER. This semolina saffron pudding will polish off your next dinner party and leave your guests speechless, and STUFFED.
So do not fear these foreign flours. They might just become your best buddies in the kitchen faster than you can say Triticum aestivum.
(Image by flickr member two*step licensed under Creative Commons)