Paleo Baking: Almond and Coconut Flours
When adapting traditional recipes made with wheat- and grain-based flours to use flours that fit the Paleo diet, you may wonder where to start. The following sections examine two of the most commonly used Paleo flours, almond flour and coconut flour. (Note: “Wheat flour” refers to all wheat-based flours, including all-purpose or “white” flour.)
Just like wheat flour is made by grinding wheat grains, nut flours are made by grinding nuts into fine flour. The most commonly used nut flour in Paleo baking is almond flour. Almond flour is lower in carbohydrates than wheat flour and contains no gluten. It’s high in protein (containing 6 grams of protein per one-ounce serving) and is a good source of vitamin E, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and healthy monounsaturated fats.
Almond flour is great for baking cakes, cookies, muffins, and breads. The texture it gives baked goods closely resembles recipes made with all-purpose flour. You can substitute it for wheat flour at a 1:1 ratio. However, almond flour tends to have more moisture than wheat flour, so reducing the amount of liquid and fat and adding a starch or coconut flour can be helpful. Accounting for the moisture difference will help give your Paleo baked goods that same light, soft, and fluffy texture as their conventional cousins.
Almond flour burns more easily than wheat flour. Covering your bread or cake with aluminum foil is a way to keep the tops from burning. This trick allows you to bake until the center is cooked all the way without burning the top.
As a general rule, don’t overmix batters or doughs made with almond flour. The flour releases its oils during mixing, and overmixing can make your dessert wet and oily.
When it comes to baking with almond flour, the most important thing to keep in mind is that in order to give baked goods the right consistency, you must use blanched almond flour that has been milled into very fine flour. Blanched almond flour is made from whole almonds that are blanched, have the skins removed, and are then ground into very fine powder. The finer the grind, the better your baked goods will turn out because there’s a larger surface area for all ingredients to bind and react with each other. This will assure that whatever you’re baking cooks evenly and doesn’t sink in the middle, turn out oily and dense, or crumble apart.
A big problem is that brands of almond flour differ greatly in particle size. Brands such as Honeyville and Wellbee’s produce a very finely ground almond flour that are perfect for baking. Other brands, such as Bob’s Red Mill and the almond flour you can purchase in bulk from grocery stores, don’t work well for baking. Their almond flours appear to be finely ground, and the label says they are, but they aren’t fine enough for the best baking. Honeyville and Wellbee’s almond flours are readily available online.
The best way to store your almond flour is in an airtight container, such as a large glass mason jar, in the freezer or in a cool, dark place like your pantry. If you store it in the freezer, allow it to come to room temperature before using it.
Sometimes the terms almond flour and almond meal are used interchangeably. Some people refer to almond flour if it’s made from blanched almonds and is finely ground, and some people refer to almond meal when the almonds are coarsely ground and made from almonds with the skin on. The majority of cookbooks, chefs, and commercial brands don’t differentiate between the two terms, and there are currently no reliable standards for naming the product flour or meal. So the name doesn’t really matter as long as the recipe is clear and specifies whether the ingredient should be blanched or unblanched.
Coconut flour is a healthy and delicious alternative to grain and nut flours and makes perfect cakes, muffins, pie crusts, and breads. Coconut flour is gluten-free, low in carbohydrates, and very high in fiber, making it an ideal flour substitute for people with diabetes, celiac disease, or those sensitive or allergic to nuts. The flour is made from unsweetened coconut meat that is first dried and defatted then ground into fine flour. The fine white powder has a consistency very similar to wheat flour and is a bit lighter than almond flour. Coconut flour has a mild taste, and when combined with other ingredients in a recipe the coconut flavor is hardly distinguishable.
Because coconut flour is so high in fiber, it behaves differently than any other flour. The flour is very dry and absorbs moisture easily, acting like a sponge. Baking with coconut flour therefore requires a unique wet-dry ingredient ratio compared to other flours. In general, adding more eggs and upping the amount of liquids in a recipe is necessary to achieve the right consistency.
Substituting coconut flour for wheat or almond flour at a 1:1 ratio will not work. If you use this ratio and don’t compensate by adding more eggs and liquids, the end product will be dry, crumbly, and won’t hold together.
When adapting recipes made with grain flours, substitute 1/4 to 1/2 cup of coconut flour for every 1 cup of wheat flour. It’s a good idea to start out by adding 1/4 cup (1 ounce) of coconut flour and adding one egg for every ounce of coconut flour used. Doubling the amount of liquid in the original recipe may also be necessary, but it’s best to add the same amount the recipe calls for first and then add more as needed. Coconut flour is a very finicky product to work with, and a little goes a long way. If your mixture seems too dry, add more liquid until you get the right consistency. On the other hand, if your batter is too wet, add more coconut flour one teaspoon at a time. On the plus side, you don’t need to worry about overmixing your batter when baking with coconut flour like you do with almond flour.
A few recommended brands of coconut flour are Let’s Do . . . Organic, Tropical Traditions, and Wilderness Family Naturals. The best way to store your coconut flour is in the fridge or freezer, and you don’t need to wait for it to come to room temperature before using it. It takes some practice and trial and error to get used to baking with coconut flour, but it’s healthy, delicious, and worth the effort.