Baking that’s Gluten-free, Dairy-free, Sugar-free

morning tea
Haven’t they ever tasted really good food?  I guess not.

I wonder about the poor deprived people who write them, because apparently no-one has ever introduced them to food as pleasure.

Many of the so-called healthy recipes I try, especially those that are gluten-free, dairy-free and sugar-free, strike me as unpalatable, indigestible, sludge.

It drives me crazy, because cooking isn’t that hard.  There are ways of preparing food that go back a long way – and work.  If you’re prepared to spend a bit of time, and learn a technique or two, you’ll produce food as good as it gets.

Trouble is, no-one seems prepared to spend more than a few minutes preparing anything,  and then only if they can throw it all into the latest machine for 2 minutes max.

I want to eat truly healthy food, and I want it to look and taste fantastic. And I’m not prepared to spend all day doing it.

Light and luscious Paleo Baking
The idea of Paleo style food can seem daunting, especially when you want to bake cakes, because you take out many of the baking basics, like flour, sugar and dairy.

But it’s possible, and this is where old methods come into their own. I’ve just devised a recipe for an apple cake that’s light and large and lucious.  It freezes well, and has no nasties. You could almost make a case that it’s good for you. And, what’s more, I’m sharing the recipe with you.

Baking without flour
Good cake needs good texture, and when you take out the flour, that texture often disappears, leaving  stodge in its place.

Rising agents like baking powder, work to some extent, but often the cake sinks as it cools, leaving a hollow centre and heavy texture.

What to use instead of flour
You don’t have to substitute another type of grain flour for the wheat; you can use nuts instead. I like to use a combination of almonds and cashews, because it cuts the almond flavour, and gives a finer texture.

Nuts all have different characteristics, so if you experiment with other types, start with small amounts, to work out how they behave.  Walnuts, for example, quickly become oily and turn into paste when you process them,   Delicious, but paste mightn’t be what you had in mind.

You don’t need special equipment to have fresh ground nuts – I use a small hand food processor, which, if you keep the blade sharp, works a treat. (It also finely and evenly chops a whole bunch of parsley.)

Hand processor for nut flour

Hand processor for nut flour

What, no sugar?
Then, there’s the matter of replacing the sugar. In general, while honey and  rice or maple syrups are often used, they’re still sugar, with a few trace minerals.

But, if you’re doing this for health, you have to find an acceptable alternative. Most sugar replacements have a nasty lingering after-taste.

Xylitol is the exception. It’s not a chemical, and is in fact derived from fruits and vegetable fibre. Check the package to make sure it’s not made from GMO plants.

It’s granulated and you can use it  just like sugar  though you need to cut the amount in half if you’re  translating a normal recipe.

It still has calories, but about  half as many as sugar.  With its super low GI, diabetics can use it. It can have a slight laxative effect if you have too much, so keep it under 40g a day.

There is a bit of worry that it can change your gut microbiome, so, it’s something that you use as a treat, not as a regular addition.

Replacing Dairy
Cakes need some fat or they’re dry and uninteresting. They don’t hold together as well, either.

Choose cold-pressed Olive or Coconut oils, preferably organic, because there’s not so much processing. The vegetable and seed oils aren’t a healthy choice; manufacturers commonly use genetically modified and pesticide laden seeds, and they process the oils using heat, chemicals and acids. A pretty toxic soup, really.

You can replace milk with any liquid you like, including water, so long as there’s already fat somewhere in the recipe.

The secret revealed
And so, what’s this secret to sky-high tender cakes? Well, it’s all in the eggs! Or at least, what you do with the eggs.

Beat till firm peaks form

Beat till firm peaks form

Beat whole eggs in a warmed bowl for up to 10 minutes, until they form a very thick and stable mix.  They’ll hold stiff peaks when you lift the beater out of the bowl, just like egg whites do when you beat them.  And you use the time it takes, to prepare everything else.

No need for a rising agent of any sort.

Sky-high cakes
To achieve this sky-high magic egg mix, you’ll need some sort of beating machine. I use my ancient Kenwood, but anything with a whisk attachment (or god forbid, a hand-held!) will work.

Don’t even think about using a food processor (no matter what the marketing blurb tells you). It won’t work, because it simply can’t incorporate enough air into the eggs to produce the volume you’re looking for.

Here’s a recipe for Apple Banana Cake to try your new secret technique.

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