The Ingredients and Techniques of Healthy Baking

Sweet pleasures don’t have to be guilty ones if you follow these simple methods for healthy, natural baking.

| January/February 2003

Eating healthy meals doesn’t have to mean dessert deprivation. Naturally sweetened foods feed cravings without chemicals and preservatives. Coupled with a natural diet, these sweets can help tame mood swings, arthritis, and other ailments linked to processed foods. Replacing processed ingredients with wholesome ones produces delectable desserts devoid of artificial tastes and colors—from delicate pastries and artisan breads to pies and chocolate treats made with whole, fresh ingredients. So go ahead and indulge.

“Once you get acquainted with the different ingredients and see how they work, it’s easy to bake naturally,” says Myra Kornfeld, a natural chef schooled in traditional pastry and author of The Voluptuous Vegan (Clarkson Potter, 2000).

Dessert is a fun way to experiment with natural sweeteners such as agave nectar and rice syrup and with thickeners such as kuzu and arrowroot, which are easily digested and satisfy sweet cravings faster. Unlike simple sugars in processed foods, natural desserts with whole grains and fruit- and vegetable-based products do not increase glucose levels in the body, says Dawn Black, director and senior teacher of the Natural Epicurean Academy of Culinary Arts in Austin, Texas.

Alternative ingredients

After adjusting for differences in sweetness and texture, natural ingredients can seamlessly replace processed ones in favorite recipes such as apple pie, fruit tarts, and oatmeal cookies. Some chefs use organic butter and eggs, while others work only with vegan ingredients—and many fit somewhere between.

In other words, baking naturally doesn’t require trashing traditional dessert definitions—though many natural cooks would prefer it. “Natural baking requires a shift in thinking,” explains Black, who teaches students to make sweet potato pudding with tangerine zest and poached pears. “Lightly sweetened things start to taste really good.”

Black prefers sweet vegetables such as kabocha squash for dessert and uses only small amounts of sweetener—or none at all—when she makes pies and tarts. “My pies taste the same” as traditional pies, she says. “You’d never know the difference.”

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