by Chris Ellis, Staff Nutritionist
The holiday season is upon us and if you haven’t already done so there is no better time than now to explore baking.
Baking is not a new invention or activity! It has been around for thousands of years and it has evolved from simply baking over a fire to the use of very fancy modern-age ovens. In the past humans had to bake out of necessity since there was no other way to provide breads and cakes (it is doubtful they had cookies and cakes thousands of years ago!) and various other delicious products.
Nowadays everything is available at your fingertips, people's lives are busy, and baking is not a common occurrence in most households. Few people bake on a regular basis and unfortunately there are many who have never made a homemade product all the way from scratch. There is no better time than the holiday season and the winter months to try out baking or just revisit the experience again! We generally spend more time indoors during the colder, shorter, darker winter days so it provides an opportune time for baking. There is nothing more appealing than the scent of freshly baked goods around your home! With the holiday season fast approaching it is a thoughtful way to give something to friends and family without spending much money and it often means more to people as a gift since it is homemade. If baking is new to you or something you have not done for some time here are some tips: start with something simple that does not include a lot of steps or fancy ingredients that can be expensive, and use a recipe that you may have received from someone who has given it a good recommendation. I would not consider tweaking a recipe until you have had more exposure to baking, since it can often change the end product significantly, which can be discouraging for beginner bakers. One other bit of important advice is to read the recipe all the way through before embarking on it to avoid any mistakes or unexpected steps.
Below are some nutrition tips to follow to if you want to make a product that is healthier. These can be used initially or you can follow them after you have more experience.
Use whole wheat pastry flour in a recipe or at least whole grain flour instead of all white flour for more nutritional punch. White flour has approximately 28 to 30 nutrients as well as fiber removed during the refining process and only 5 or 6 nutrients are replaced when the white flour is enriched. Avoid bleached flour since it is treated with chemical agents.
For those following a gluten-free diet there are some great gluten-free baking mix flours in the Bulk section at the Co-op and in the gluten-free baking aisle as well
Use less sugar, honey, or other sweetener in a recipe, if possible 1/4 cup less. If you would prefer to substitute with maple syrup or honey, replace one cup of sugar with 1/2 cup honey or 2/3 cup maple syrup.
Use some applesauce or pear sauce instead of all the oil or butter to make the products lower in fat. If you do this, start by substituting a little applesauce at a time, 1/8 cup if a recipe call for 1/2 cup oil or butter, or 1/4 cup if a recipe calls for 1 cup of oil. Applesauce will change the texture of the final product and not all baked goods recipes respond well to such changes, but if you are willing to experiment it’s worth a try. Keep in mind too that some recipes cook faster with applesauce in them so check for doneness sooner since you don't want a dried out product.
If a recipe calls for salt, use less if sodium is a concern in your diet. You can easily use 1/4 tsp or just a dash, or it can be omitted entirely. If you do not want to be too risky though, start out with 1/4 tsp. instead of 1/2 or a whole teaspoon. Salt is mainly there for flavor in most recipes except for yeast breads where it plays a role in controlling yeast growth and strengthening gluten (gluten is a protein that many people avoid these days for health reasons but it plays a crucial role in the rising of bread. The gluten molecules provide the elastic resilient structure of bread and baked products as they bake.) There may be other sources of sodium in a recipe such as baking soda or baking powder
Carry on the rich tradition of baking in the coming months and pass along any old family recipes. It continues to be an essential part of many cultures—make it one in your family or community of friends too!!