It wasn’t until we started to try to cut wheat out of our diet that I realized that wheat is in just about everything. And what a pain it is. Don’t get me wrong, cutting wheat was one of the best things we’ve done this year. And we haven’t even gone completely wheat-free – we just minimize our intake where possible, especially refined flour. Our digestive problems have almost disappeared. And while I used to be down with coughs, colds or a flu bug every other month, I haven’t seen my family doctor in almost 8 months. *At this point, everyone who’s reading this, please TOUCH WOOD so that I don’t jinx my doc-free streak*
Anyhoo, as I was saying, cutting wheat isn’t exactly the easiest thing to do. Breakfast was a toughie. Munching on a slice of toast in the morning was one of the most natural things in the world. But this was now no longer an option. Donuts? Out. Bagels? Out. What else was I supposed to eat?! While breakfast soon became a troublesome but manageable affair of rolled oats, fruits, nuts and unsweetened soy milk, nothing got me whining more than dessert.
My motto in life has always been “Life is uncertain. Eat dessert first”. Needless to say, my life over the past few months have become more uncertain that it has ever been. I couldn’t just reach out for a slice of brownie or hang out with my old friends, Famous Amos or Pepperidge Farm anymore. *SOB*
I also missed baking. My mixer sat sadly in one corner gathering dust. The pretty cupcake liners that I had gleefully stocked up on months ago laid untouched. Watching the Food Network channel bummed me out because everything that looked good had flour in it.
One day, I had enough. Being healthy was important. But so was dessert.
I figured there had to be some way I could get healthier wheat-free desserts. If I couldn’t buy them, I sure as hell would make them myself. I started baking again, and found myself mangling recipes. I would swap out the flour for organic whole-wheat flour but found myself gagging because I couldn’t stand the raw taste. I tried to figure out how I could bake with quinoa flour or spelt but it was too complicated. I replaced sugar with agave nectar, and couldn’t figure out why my cake was so gummy. This is why my Eat Well posts have been quiet of late. It would just have been a series of posts on things that couldn’t really be eaten. What fun. Sigh.
But when there’s a will, there’s a way. Especially when it comes to dessert. Over the past few weeks, I’ve tried and tested some recipes that look set to be keepers. I’m especially excited about this flour-less almond honey cake. It is easy to make, and tastes incredible. Light and crumbly, The Hubs couldn’t believe there wasn’t any flour or butter or even sugar in it. Just so you know how much I love this recipe, I’ve made it 3 times this past month alone.
And here are a couple of things I’ve learnt along the way:
1. Gluten-free doesn’t mean healthier. With increasing awareness, there are now loads of products in our supermarkets that proclaim they are gluten-free. But just because a product is gluten-free does not necessarily mean it’s a healthier option. Nor is it more nutritious. Unless you have Celiac’s Disease where your body is unable to handle gluten, you may need to think twice before you bite into that gluten-free cracker. Many gluten-free packaged food that you find in stores are highly processed. They also contain ingredients like corn, potato, sorghum which are high in carbohydrates but not so in nutrients. For example, in our case, since we are not allergic to gluten, we’re better off with ancient grain pastas like kamut than a gluten-free pasta made of corn. So read the labels and ingredients carefully and figure out what works best for your health before jumping on the gluten-free bandwagon.
2. Sugar does more than just sweeten your dessert. One of the first things I did in trying to bake healthier was to simply omit sugar. And then watched in horror as my cakes came out looking totally weird. Turns out sugar isn’t just this sweet little thing you can kick out of a recipe. Its job is to add volume, texture and moisture. For example, when the recipe calls for sugar to be creamed with butter, the purpose is to produce air bubbles so your batter will rise in the oven. So you can’t just cream agave nectar with the butter. But you can cream the butter first and then add the agave nectar. So here’s how to substitute sugar for agave nectar:
- Use about two-thirds cup of agave nectar for every one cup of sugar called for in recipes.
- Reduce the liquid ingredients in recipes by two-thirds, since agave nectar is liquid (and sugar is dry).
- Reduce your oven temperature by 25 degrees and increase baking time by a few minutes.
I won’t lie. Sugar works best in baked goods. When you use agave nectar, your desserts will end up denser, more moist and more cake-like. This works for brownies and muffins but if you want crispy cookies, agave nectar isn’t exactly the best choice. One other way is to replace just half of the sugar with agave nectar for a slightly healthier option.
3. What?! I can replace butter with avocado puree?!! I found this really great article on healthy substitutes for cooking, including using avocado puree instead of butter in baking as they’re both fats and have about the same consistency. How cool is that? Click here to read more.
I almost forgot! Here’s the recipe for the flour less honey almond cake:
You will need:
- 1 1/2 cups whole almonds, toasted
- 4 large eggs, at room temperature, separated
- 1/2 cup honey
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 1/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted
Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat a 9-inch springform pan with cooking spray. Line the bottom with parchment paper and spray the paper.
Process whole almonds in a food processor or blender until finely ground (you will have about 13/4 cups ground). Beat 4 egg yolks, 1/2 cup honey, vanilla, baking soda and salt in a large mixing bowl with an electric mixer (or use a paddle attachment on a stand mixer) on medium speed until well combined. Add the ground almonds and beat on low until combined.
Beat 4 egg whites in another large bowl with the electric mixer (use clean beaters on a hand-held mixer or the whisk attachment on a stand mixer) on medium speed until very foamy, white and doubled in volume, but not stiff enough to hold peaks, 1 to 2 minutes (depending on the type of mixer). Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the egg whites into the nut mixture until just combined. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan.
Bake the cake until golden brown and a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean, about 28 minutes. Let cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the pan and gently remove the side ring. Let cool completely.
If desired, remove the cake from the pan bottom by gently sliding a large, wide spatula between the cake and the parchment paper. Carefully transfer the cake to a serving platter. To serve, drizzle the top of the cake with honey and sprinkle with sliced almonds
(Recipe from Eating Well)