Baking Substitutes for Healthier Goodies

Tasty ways to elevate the nutritional content of baked goods

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Are you and your family smitten with home-baked goods? Do you often catch yourself wondering if this kind of love is actually good for you? Well, I am here to tell you that your love and oven need not grow cold! You can indeed bake better and there are numerous baking substitutes that are tasty ways to elevate the nutritional content of baked goods.

The winter/holiday season of feasting followed by resolutions to have a healthier year ahead is the perfect time to get savvy to some of the tricks of the wholesome food trade with better baking substitutes and additions. If we have allergies or intolerances to certain ingredients like wheat, gluten, dairy, particular plant-based diets or even - dare I say it? - sugar, then we need to eliminate those from the roster and find satisfying alternatives.

As another good rule, when it comes to healthy, balanced eating, I also like to focus on the concept of adding (rather than taking away) more nutrient-dense foods into tried-and-true favourite recipes. This could look like tossing in omega-3-rich chia seeds or protein-packed hemp hearts, using ground nuts or even cleverly sneaking in vegetables (like ground squash, beets, or shredded zucchini). The delicious possibilities abound…

To get you started, here are some ideas for how to substitute some commonly used allergenic or less healthful ingredients with some more nutritious/cleaner options, plus some smart additions. 

1. Bypass the bleached white wheat flour

Use a 1:1 substitution with whole wheat, spelt, barley, rye, kamut, or triticale.

2. Go gluten-free

For every 1 cup of the above flours, replace with 7/8 cup of gluten-free flour such as brown rice, sorghum, quinoa, GF oats or combinations of these, plus 2 Tbsp tapioca flour and ¼ tsp xantham gum. A good, gluten-free bread can be done! There are many commercially available, gluten-free flour mixes which will have this combination already, often with added potato starch.

Remember that gluten-free flours burn more easily than regular, and don't really brown, so catch them before they get too well done – you will know they are baked if you can insert a toothpick or a piece of spaghetti and it comes out dry.

3. Do dairy-free

Your lactose-intolerant/vegan friends will be impressed!

  • Cow’s milk - 1:1 equal substitution with almond, soy, rice, hemp, or coconut milk
  • Buttermilk - 1:1 of the above options + 1 Tbsp lemon juice or 2 tsp apple cider vinegar
  • Cow’s milk yogurt - 1:1 equal substitution with almond, coconut or soy yogurt
  • Butter - 1:1 Earth Balance (if it needs to be hard or cut in, as in scones or pastry dough), coconut oil if it can be soft or melted (as in cookies, breads, pancakes)

4. Substitute cane sugars 

We already know we're consuming too much sugar and it comes with it's own set of problems. If you need some sweet stuff (who doesn't?), replace one cup of granulated white sugar with the following quantities, reducing the other liquids called out in the recipe as noted below:

  • 1 cup coconut palm sugar*
  • ½ cup honey - reduce liquid by 3 Tbsp, add ¼ tsp baking soda
  • ⅔ cup maple syrup - reduce liquid by 4 Tbsp, add ¼ tsp baking soda
  • 1⅓ cup molasses - reduce liquid by 5 Tbsp, add ½ tsp baking soda
  • ¼ cup fruit juice concentrate - reduce liquid by 3 Tbsp
  • 1¼ cup brown rice syrup - reduce liquid by 4 Tbsp
  • ⅔ to 1 cup date sugar (depending on how sweet you like it) and increase flour by 2 Tbsp if using ⅔ cup, 3 Tbsp if using 1 cup)

* Note that coconut palm sugar will give your baked goods a caramel brown colour, much like adding molasses. The flavour is much milder than you might expect, but it does lend a caramel-like taste. I use this interchangeably in recipes that call for regular sugar.

5. Hosting a vegan friend? (or just out of eggs?) No problem!

One egg is normally about ¼ cup of liquid, so you can substitute with any of the below:

  • 1 Tbsp finely ground flaxseeds or chia seeds blended with 3 Tbsp water or herb tea until frothy/thick (about 10-15 minutes). The rule of thumb is 1 part ground flax/chia to 3 parts liquid. A large batch will last approximately 3 days in fridge.
  • ½ cup applesauce or mashed banana + ½ tsp baking powder
  • ¼ cup soft tofu, blended with the liquid in the recipe
  • 1 tsp “Ener-G Egg Replacer” beaten with 2 Tbsp water or herb tea
  • 2 Tbsp flour + 1½ tsp vegetable oil + ½ tsp baking powder beaten with 2 Tbsp water or herb tea

6. For the vegetable-averse: sneaking ‘em into baked goods!

Of course we already know about shredded carrots in carrot cake and muffins but you can also search the internet (or your cookbooks at home) to scout out recipes for cakes, cookies and breads that use shredded zucchini, mashed squash, pumpkin or ground beetroot (excellent in chocolate cake).

7. Beetroot powder (a category unto itself!)

Red velvet cupcakes are pretty and fun! The red dye #40 is not so healthful though. I have to admit, there is something about red and chocolate that seems so delightful to my senses. A way to sneak in a healthier alternative to dye (that also happens to be a super nutritious vegetable!) is to try beetroot powder. You can look for this in your local health food store. One teaspoon of beetroot powder equals approximately one beet!

I have experimented with different recipes that call for cocoa powder and substituted one teaspoon to one tablespoon of beetroot powder cocoa for equal amounts of cocoa. I recommend starting low and as you get accustomed to the taste, next time you can increase it if you like. This is great for cookies, brownies, cakes and cupcakes.

Try any or all of these excellent healthier baking substitutes and feel even more virtuous about your home-baked treats!

*Originally published December 9, 2015

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