5 Tips for Healthier Baking

A while back, I bought a package of dried wild blueberries from Trader Joe’s. They were exceptionally sweet and impossible to eat plain, so I finally got around to using them in a batch of blueberry muffins this weekend. Since few recipes meet my health standards, I tweaked this recipe to create my own.  The blueberry muffins I made — with whole wheat flour, wild blueberries, and evaporated cane juice — turned out beautifully.

Although I don’t eat much bread, every now and then I have a craving for homemade baked goods.  Since I live alone, this often means I am eating a large portion of the batch myself over the course of the next week or two (though my boyfriend helps!).  If you eat cookies, cakes, sweet breads, or any pastries, I highly recommend you take the time to bake yourself some treats from scratch.  Baking gives you a visual understanding of how much sugar and butter you’re consuming next time you have a craving for cookies.

Here are five tips to health-ify your own recipes:

1.  Choose recipes that call for healthy ingredients.  The easiest way to bake something delicious and healthy is to let someone else design the recipe!  Choose well-reviewed recipes that call for healthy foods like oatmeal, fruit (bananas, apple sauce), milk, dates (a natural sweetener), nuts, peanut butter, etc.  Choose recipes that have less butter and sugar.  Note: If you’re baking for others, keep in mind that butter and sugar are usually the keys to impressing with your baking skills, so you probably don’t want to leave them out completely.

2.  Replace white flour with white whole wheat flour.  I buy whole wheat flour at Trader Joe’s, and I use it to replace white flour in any baked good that can be considered a snack (muffins, breads).  Replacing white flour with whole wheat flour is a simple fix that requires no other changes to the recipe.  I’ve successfully used whole wheat flour to bake banana bread, pumpkin bread, applesauce bread, and blueberry muffins.  Note: Not all recipes lend themselves to whole wheat flour.  I once baked a batch of chocolate chip cookies with half whole wheat flour, and yes, they were edible, but I felt like I had to apologize for them every time someone ate one, and explain, “I used half whole wheat flour!”  They just weren’t chocolate chip cookies.

3.  Replace white sugar with evaporated cane juice.  I buy evaporated cane juice from Trader Joe’s, where it’s labeled “Organic Sugar.”  When using evaporated cane juice, you can use less sugar with the same effect; start with approximately 25% less.  I haven’t tried replacing brown sugar with evaporated cane juice, but I’ve heard that you can use a combination of evaporated cane juice and molasses — please leave a comment if you’ve had success with this.  Be aware that evaporated cane juice gives baked goods a deeper golden color, so if you’re baking something that must be white, you will need to use regular granulated white sugar to achieve that lily white appearance.

4.  Replace vegetable oil with butter.  This may seem counter-intuitive if you haven’t reviewed the science on fats recently, but most reputable health experts today believe that all-natural butter is healthier than highly-processed vegetable oils or margarine.  So throw out the vegetable oil and never use it again!  The fats/oils you should keep in your cupboard: butter, olive oil, and coconut oil.  Bonus: Butter gives baked goods that comforting baked-by-Grandma, perfectly-soft texture.  I’ve never had a problem replacing oil with the exact same amount of melted or softened butter (1/3 cup of vegetable oil = 1/3 cup of butter).

5. Last but not least, don’t forget to enjoy yourself!  Experiment with recipes.  Taste the batter.  Take a photo of your creation.  Eat slowly.  Bring a friend an unexpected plate of something tasty.  Some recipes call for white flour and white sugar, and that’s okay.  (Hey, at least you’re not buying chemical-laden pastries at the grocery store!)  Save recipes that require white flour and white sugar — like cookies and cakes — for special occasions (birthdays, congratulatory celebrations) that are shared with guests, visitors, or friends, and make them a real treat!

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