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Bread baking that’s actually good for us, too

Immersing ourselves in projects like baking gives us a definitive, visible outcome, which - especially now - feels very satisfying and comforting.

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. 

In a time of global crisis, like what we’re experiencing, it feels like it just goes on and on. There’s not a point where it’s “done” or turned off.  So, immersing ourselves in projects like pottery, gardening, and yes – baking bread – provides us with a finite, visible outcome, which, especially now, feels very satisfying and comforting.

And while I love a good crusty sourdough bread as much as anyone (possibly more, it’s one of my favorite things on the planet), it’s not something that I really need around the house all the time, certainly not multiple loaves of it.

I recently did a full podcast on the topic of bread baking that’s also good for us, joined by two expert bakers. Morgan Angelle, head baker at Bellegarde Bakery in New Orleans, walks us through the steps to create a sourdough starter and how to make it as nutrient-rich as possible with a variety of whole grains, and Carolyn Ketchum, cookbook author, expert baker in all things low carb and gluten-free, and founder of the blog, All Day I Dream About Food.

Here’s 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, below. 

Key Ingredients You’ll Need

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 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, links here and here.

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, also helping to keep them from falling apart. And 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 and weird

Baking powder or baking soda. Because most breads made with alternative flours are more quick bread style, not made with yeast, recipes typically call for baking powder or baking soda as a leavening agent.

Baking Up Some Crazy-Good Breads

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.

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 roles. 

Cheesy Skillet Bread has a bit more of a cornbread texture, thanks to the coconut flour and cast-iron skillet.

Expert Advice

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 reviews online.

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.

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Want more low-carb baking ideas?  Check out Carolyn Ketchum’s Blog, All Day I Dream About Food, and her latest book, The Ultimate Guide to Keto Baking, link here.

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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.

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