Friday, September 25, 2015

Brian's Baking Tips - Almond Flour


       Baking can be a difficult task under any circumstances!  Then when you throw in the added challenge of baking gluten-free or even vegan, we’re talking about a whole other level of baking expertise here.

       But it doesn’t have to be unachievable!  One of the main reasons I actually created my blog was to help simplify what to many people is a mind-blowing task: creating desserts and meals for a variety of dietary needs.  This is why most of the time you’ll find me using a simple, pre-packaged gluten-free baking flour blend.  

       As most of you who follow me already know, I’m a huge fan and supporter of Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour.  The reasons why will be discussed in another edition of Brian’s Baking Tips, because today we’re not here to discuss my favorite flour.  No, we’re here to discuss the world of baking with almond flour!  When used correctly, it can truly heighten and enhance the dish you’re creating or if used incorrectly...it can unfortunately become a total flop.

           So what is almond meal, you may ask?  Well, in a nutshell (pun intended), almond meal is basically finely ground, blanched almonds!  It is important that it be finely ground!  We are trying to mimic the texture of flour so we don’t want to be finding chunks of nuts in our baked goods.  

       Now, I am one who's willing try anything at home once, and if you’d also like to try your hand at making it yourself, then here we go.

You’ll need:

 1/2 cup fresh organic blanched raw almonds

       Place the almonds into a 'dry' container for your Vita-Mix.  When I say dry, I don’t mean to make sure it’s not wet.  If you have the full set-up with your Vita-Mix, then you should have a blending container which is meant to be used with dry ingredients for making flours and nut butters.  If by chance you don’t have a Vita-Mix, then I do suggest getting one because they’re AMAZING!  But if that’s not an option, then you can still try making your own almond flour using a food processor or even a coffee grinder.  However, I will say you’ll find the texture to be less fine and not as similar to flour.

        So to start, place your almonds into the Vita-Mix container and process until you have a nice fine, powdery consistency.  Be sure to NOT over process or you’ll soon go from almond flour to finding yourself with homemade almond butter on your hands.  Of course, who would really mind that, right?  But for today our goal is to make homemade almond flour.

          After you have a nice fine texture with the processed almonds, it’s time to sift them.  In a flour sifter over a medium bowl, sift the almonds in small batches.  Once you’ve done this, any remaining large pieces of almonds should be separated, and now in the bowl is pure almond flour!  

       If you’re just making this in small portions to use right away, then storage won’t be a concern.  But if you prefer to make things up ahead of time to have on hand for when you’re ready to bake, then be sure to store your almond flour in an airtight container in the freezer to keep it from going rancid before you can use it.  Since almonds are high in healthy fats, there is a large content of oil that can go rancid rather quickly when ground.

       So some might ask is this the method I use when I want almond flour for my baking?  My answer to that is, "Um...yeah, no!"

          It’s not because this homemade method doesn’t work.  It's simply a matter of convenience.  For me, juggling a full time job in the health food industry and then baking for hours after work not only for my blog but for my store cafe as well, makes me want to use the most time effective way possible.  So that means buying an already made almond flour from a brand I trust! Yes, I might be starting to sound like a broken record when I say Bob’s Red Mill is my favorite for not only their Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour, but they are also my favorite when it comes to almond flour.  Is that too much of a surprise?  Haha.

          So what ratios would I use for almond flour in my baking?  Well, if you reference the Bob’s Red Mill website, they say to replace 25% of the flour your recipe calls for with almond flour.  That is a great starting point for most people!  But at times I have even been so adventurous as to try a 50% substitution.  WOW, I know I’m such a risk taker!  

       What I have found through trial and error, is that adding almond flour to any type of baked goods you make gives an added depth of flavor and texture that is just lovely.  So give it a try and let me know what you think!