In European countries where wheat and corn don’t dominate agriculture, vibrant, centuries-old traditions make delicious use of almond flour in dishes such as marzipan, macaroons, and tortes. These cultures discovered the secret of almond flour long ago: it tastes delicious, it’s easy to use, and it’s a superfood.
Almond flour tastes sweet, rich, and buttery, making it somewhat indistinguishable from wheat flour in baked goods and other dishes.
As opposed to the dry, gritty texture of rice flour and other gluten-free flours in baked goods, almond flour is smooth and has excellent mouth feel. Ease of Use
Almond flour is as easy to use as wheat flour and much less tedious than complex gluten-free flours, which require numerous supplemental ingredients such as xanthum gum, cornstarch, and potato flakes for binding purposes. Because it requires numerous additional ingredients, gluten-free baking has traditionally been known as a painstaking, time-consuming task. This is not the case with almond flour baking, which is actually even quicker and easier than most traditional wheat-based recipes that require yeast and rising time.
Almond flour is a highly nutritious superfood that is low-carb and rich in vitamins, minerals, and “good” fats. Almond flour is not only the healthiestflour around, it is also higher in protein and far richer in nutrients than wheat flour and its gluten-free counterparts; a serving of almond flour is packed with protein and fiber.
Almond flour is not only full of incredible antioxidants and found to be allergenic in only 1 percent of the population, it is also an ideal recovery food for cyclists and other athletes.
Vitamins and Minerals: Almond Flour versus Other Flours During the 1990s, the medical community began to discover the health benefits of almonds; numerous studies now point to increasing almond intake as beneficial for stabilizing blood sugar, controlling appetite, preventing obesity, and providing antioxidants as well as numerous other nutrients. Such studies also tout almonds as a heart-healthy food.
Unlike its high-glycemic wheat and rice flour counterparts, the high protein content of almond flour makes it an optimal ingredient for stabilizing blood sugar. It is thus the ideal fare for diabetics and those who experience difficulty metabolizing sugar, which is a common issue among people with celiac disease.
Recent research indicates that diabetics and those with celiac disease share a similar strand of DNA, enhancing the appeal of almond flour as a tool to simultaneously go gluten-free while lowering one’s glucose intake. The recipes in this book use almond flour and low-glycemic sweeteners rather than sugar, allowing people with food restrictions to enjoy their favorite desserts without worrying about spiking blood sugar levels.
Because almonds enhance satiety, they are an ideal food for those looking to maintain or lose weight. Researchers concluded that almonds’ heart-healthy monounsaturated fat helps to satisfy appetite and prevent overeating. A 2003 study in the Journal of Obesity
found that “adding a daily ration of almonds to a low-calorie diet enhanced weight loss as well as significantly improved risk factors associated with heart disease.”
The American Heart Association has further determined that the “good” fats in almonds actually lower cholesterol, making almonds a star ingredient for patients with heart disease.
Finally, there is no reason for almond flour to be limited to the above populations on special diets. Almond flour provides a return to wholesome eating in an era of increasingly processed food, proliferating food allergies, and health ailments. As you will see in the following recipes, almond flour is the king of alternative flours.
The recipes in this book are simple and easy--some contain six ingredients or less, and can be prepared in well under an hour. You do not need to be a chef, or even have prior cooking experience, to successfully prepare the dishes featured here. Though it is crucial that you have the correct ingredients. In this chapter, you’ll find information about the ingredients featured in the recipes, as well as handling and storing instructions.
Almond flour is actually a by-product of the process in which almond slices and slivers are produced. First, the almonds are blanched--the skin is removed in a water bath. Next, they are cut into sliced or diced almonds. The fragments and small pieces that result from this process (a sort of almond sawdust) ultimately become almond flour. In the final stage of this process, the by-product, which may be somewhat coarse, is put through a screen with tiny holes to ensure smooth flour with a uniformly fine consistency.
Almond flour is not to be confused with almond meal, which contains whole, ground almonds that still have the skin on them. Please note:
Almond meal or almond flour that is not blanched will not work for the recipes in this book--you will not achieve the desired results.
Baking with almond flour is extremely easy. There is no yeast or rising time with the baked goods in this cookbook, which means instant gratification in your baking endeavors.
Almond flour is available at health food stores and many grocery stores as well. It is also widely available on the Internet. I recommend purchasing almond flour online, as it is generally half the price of the same product in a retail outlet.Please note:
Unfortunately, the almond flour produced by Bob’s Red Mill is much coarser than the other brands of almond flour I have tested for this book. Because of its consistency it does not work in these recipes.
Whenever possible, purchase your almond flour from a vendor that refrigerates it. The product will be of higher quality because the fats are less likely to have gone rancid and therefore it will keep for a longer period of time. Almond flour can be stored in a tightly sealed glass jar in the refrigerator or freezer for several months.
I use Celtic Sea Salt in all of my recipes and highly recommend it. Be sure to purchase the finely ground
Celtic Sea Salt as it is optimal for baking--it mixes into cookies and other baked goods quite evenly.
I store my salt in a large glass jar in the pantry, where it keeps indefinitely and requires no cold storage. I also keep a small bowl of salt on the counter next to my measuring spoons, so I have some ready when I’m cooking up a quick batch of cookies or other treats.
Sweetness is the first taste we experience in life, the primal taste of infancy; we all need some form of sweetness in our lives. For several years, I researched delicious, healthy alternatives to sugar that held up well in the baking process yet did not substantially raise glycemic index values.
Because celiac and diabetes ride on the same gene (increasing the fre-quency of one disease when the other occurs), I have found it helpful as some-one with celiac disease to monitor my intake of sweets. I do not believe that such diseases suddenly appear; I think they take years to develop and that anything we can do to lower our chances of incurring them is beneficial. For this reason, I have included a sweetness indicator in many of these recipes. It will let you know which recipes to use when you are in the mood for a slightly sweet treat or a more decadent dessert. Recipes that do not have a significant amount of sweetener do not have a sweetness indicator.
Agave, the nectar of the agave plant--a golden liquid readily available at health food stores--has become my go-to sweetener. It is much lower on the glycemic index than other sweeteners:
In all of my recipes, I use USDA-certified organic light agave nectar. As opposed to dark or amber, light agave has a more neutral flavor and resembles sugar most closely in taste when added to baked goods.
Many people ask why I don’t use honey as a sweetener in my recipes. I choose agave nectar because I consider honey a flavor, not a sweetener, and I tend to use it for medicinal purposes rather than as an ingredient in my baking.
I purchase agave nectar by the gallon because it dramatically cuts the cost. If you buy yours this way, be sure to also purchase a pump for the gallon-size container. Whatever you do, because of the expense, avoid buying small containers of agave.
Let’s face it, food needs fat to taste good; oils impart rich flavor and texture. Grapeseed is my oil of choice.
Why? Grapeseed oil is the ideal replacement for butter in baked goods, making it optimal for those on a dairy-free diet. It is also low in cholesterol, and has a neutral flavor.
I purchase my oils (including grapeseed) in glass containers, because plastic contains endocrine-disrupting chemicals that are exacerbated when they come into contact with oil.
I use coconut oil to lend a tropical flavor to certain baked goods. At colder temperatures, coconut oil is solid and requires melting before it can be used in recipes. When heated, it can scorch very easily, so be sure to heat it at a very low temperature. During the summer months, it will be in a more liquid state and will not require melting. Purchase only food-grade coconut oil in glass jars, and make sure it is unrefined and not hydrogenated. High-quality coconut oil will have a slightly sweet smell, coconut flavor, and no aftertaste.
I use a high-quality pure organic gluten-free vanilla extract, manufactured by Flavorganics. I purchase the eight-ounce size, the largest sold retail, to reduce costs and minimize my consumption of glass.
Chocolate is reputedly an aphrodisiac. In addition, studies show that chocolate is a potent antioxidant that can reduce blood pressure and raise good cholesterol. These benefits are derived from eating dark chocolate, not milk or white chocolate.
I bake with Dagoba organic unsweetened cocoa powder and dark chocolate (bars or chocodrops) because Dagoba is organic and dark chocolate has a much higher cocoa content and less sugar than semisweet or milk chocolate. The chocodrops are disks that are similar to chocolate chips, just a bit larger and flatter. If you want to use a bar of chocolate, just chop it into chunks and then measure it in a cup. If you are weighing the chocolate, one cup of chocodrops is equal to approximately six ounces by weight.
Because the percentages of cocoa butter and powder vary from product to product and brand to brand, make sure that the chocolate you use is 73 percent cacao for these recipes.
Arrowroot is a ubiquitous weed that grows in the southern United States. It is a thickener commonly used in Ayurvedic cooking.
If you are unfamiliar with arrowroot powder, the following basic tips will help. When a recipe calls for an arrowroot slurry or paste, be sure to combine the arrowroot and water in a small bowl, making a smooth mixture without any lumps. Generally, you will be adding the slurry or paste to a mixture on the stove. When doing so, it is important to raise the heat to high and mix thoroughly until the arrowroot is well integrated and the mixture on the stove completely thickens.
Agar is a vegan thickener made of seaweed, similar to gelatin, commonly used in Asian cooking. When using this thickener it is of utmost importance to bring your mixture to a rolling boil, until the agar thoroughly dissolves.
I use Rigoni di Asiago brand fruit spread, which is made from organic fruit. The fact that these fruit spreads are juice sweetened (with no refined sugars)adds to their appeal. When using jam, it’s extremely important to use an organic product. In conventional jams, as the fruit concentrates so does the pesticide content. This creates an added toxic burden in little jam-loving children who weigh less than adults.
Yacon is a root composed primarily of water and fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS)--these types of short chain sugars have a lower caloric value (as they are digested anaerobically) and high fiber content. I use yacon syrup in recipes that traditionally call for molasses, such as gingerbread.
All Purpose Chef’s Shake seasoning
This gluten-free spice blend produced by Spice Hunter contains onion, garlic, celery seed, marjoram, and several other ground spices. I use it as a convenient shortcut to add flavor to savory dishes rather than using a laundry list of spices.
Magic Line Loaf Pan (7.5 by 3.5 by 2.25 inches)
This commercial quality, heavy-duty loaf pan is the perfect size for evenly cooking a loaf of bread made with almond flour. In my testing I found that standard size loaf pans did not bake the bread through to the center, leaving the middle undercooked. This loaf pan is shallow enough that your breads will be cooked through.
Banana Blueberry Muffins
Makes 12 muffins
While I use agave nectar in many recipes, fruit alone sweetens these muffins, making them the ideal treat for those looking to reduce their glycemic load.
3 cups blanched almond flour
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
3 large eggs
2 cups (4 to 5) mashed very ripe bananas
1 cup frozen blueberries
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line 12 muffin cups with paper liners.
In a large bowl, combine the almond flour, salt, and baking soda. In a medium bowl, whisk together the grapeseed oil and eggs. Stir the wet ingredients into the almond flour mixture until thoroughly combined. Stir the bananas into the batter, then fold in the blueberries. Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin cups.
Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until the muffin tops are golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean. Let the muffins cool in the pan for 30 minutes, then serve.
Excerpted from The Gluten-Free Almond Flour Cookbook by Elana Amsterdam. Copyright © 2009 by Elana Amsterdam. Excerpted by permission of Celestial Arts, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.