Expert Tips for Making Healthful Homemade Bread
Quarantining has fueled a baking boom, with many trying their hand at the art of baking bread – and for good reason. In times of uncertainty and change, hobbies like baking allow us to see a project fully from beginning to end, with a defined, finished product that’s also wonderfully delicious.
During a time of global crisis, like what we’re experiencing now, it feels like the chaos is never-ending. So, immersing ourselves in projects like pottery, gardening and yes – baking bread – provide us with a finite and visible outcome, which feels very satisfying and comforting.
And while I love a good crusty sourdough bread as much as anyone (it’s one of my favorite things on the planet), it’s not something that I really need around the house all the time, and certainly not multiple loaves of it.
I recently published a podcast episode on the topic of healthful bread baking, and interviewed two expert bakers. Morgan Angelle, head baker at Bellegarde Bakery in New Orleans, shared with me the steps to create a sourdough starter and how to make it as nutrient-rich as possible with a variety of whole grains. Meanwhile, Carolyn Ketchum, cookbook author and founder of the blog All Day I Dream About Food provided tips on low-carb and gluten-free ingredient options.
Below is a rundown of Carolyn’s strategies for making homemade bread that is truly delicious and still nutritious, along with links to some of my favorite recipes that she’s created.
Ingredients to have on hand
Alternative flours. There’s nothing wrong with using a variety of whole-grain flours, but when you’re looking to really maximize nutrition, flours like almond flour and coconut flour are lower in carbs and are naturally gluten-free, plus they’re also richer in protein, fiber and plant-based fats. Carolyn has incredible tutorials on her blog about baking with almond flour and coconut flour.
Unflavored protein powder (plant-based or whey). Not only does it help to make breads lighter and fluffier, protein powder also serves as a gluten replacer, providing structure and texture to baked goods.
Eggs. They contribute to the structure and height of baked goods, says Carolyn, and also helps to keep bread from falling apart. Don’t be alarmed by the number of eggs that a recipe calls for; your bread won’t turn out “egg-y.”
Fat. You’ll see that pretty much all recipes made with alternative flour will also call for some type of fat, often coconut oil, butter or avocado oil.
Psyllium husk powder. Yes, it’s the same stuff in Metamucil. Psyllium husk powder is rich in soluble fiber, giving products a more bread-like texture. Don’t use too much, cautions Carolyn, or it can get gummy.
Baking powder or baking soda. Because most breads made with alternative flours tend to be “quick bread” style and are not made with yeast, recipes typically call for baking powder or baking soda as a leavening agent.
Follow a recipe. There’s no need to experiment on your own, especially if you’re new to baking with gluten-free flours. Find a recipe that’s tried-and-true – one that’s been vetted out by friends and family, or one with plenty of positive online reviews.
Be careful with substitutions. Don’t replace equal parts almond flour with coconut flour, or vice versa. And definitely don’t swap out wheat flour for these alternative flours without making significant adjustments to the recipe. Almond flour is a high-moisture flour with lots of natural oils, while coconut flour is very dry, soaking up any liquids like a sponge. They each behave in very different ways in baking, and therefore are not easily interchangeable.
Turn lemons into lemonade (or lemon scones). Unless you’ve used salt in place or sugar, or sugar in place of salt, there are no un-salvageable mistakes in baking, says Carolyn. If a trial run of a new cake recipe turns out dry and crumbly, she says, use it for low-carb truffles or cake balls.
Rosemary Olive Oil Focaccia that’s also good for you is now a reality, with this almond flour and coconut flour recipe. Carolyn also includes a video with this blog post to show us what the texture is supposed to look like. I’ve started keeping this focaccia on hand at all times, making a double batch so that I can freeze leftovers for a quick addition to any meal.
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Flatbread Pizza Crust that also looks and tastes more like real pizza crust? The secret ingredient is shredded part-skim mozzarella as part of the base, along with coconut and/or almond flour. Carolyn has a video on her blog to show the exact steps; it’s surprisingly simple and incredibly delicious. This same dough recipe can also be used to create breadsticks, garlic parmesan knots and low-carb bagels.
Soul Bread is made with cream cheese and protein powder, resulting in light, fluffy sandwich-style buns and rolls.
Cheesy Skillet Bread has a bit more of a cornbread texture, thanks to the coconut flour and cast-iron skillet used to make it.
Molly Kimball, RD, CSSD is a registered dietitian + nutrition journalist in New Orleans, and founder of Ochsner’s Eat Fit nonprofit initiative. Tune in to her podcast, FUELED | Wellness + Nutrition and follow her on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter at @MollyKimballRD. See more of Molly’s columns + TV segments at www.mollykimball.com.