Monday, January 21, 2013

Almond Flour 101 - and a Website Recommend

In the past 2 weeks, I've done a little bit of something I'm not particularly well known for: baking. I've made some homemade breads, some breakfast rolls, and a small batch of cookies - all made with almond flour. Clean and delicious, but I used some recipes specifically written with almond flour. I wondered if I could substitute almond flour in any old recipe that I come across that calls for wheat flour. I wondered what the difference is between wheat flour and almond flour - specifically when it comes to the science of baking.

Not knowing the answer myself ( I'm a recipe follower, not a recipe adventurer... ) , I turned to the trusty Internet. I found a lot of nebulous hand waving, some uncertain postings about trial and error, and in general - not a lot of solid information. Except for one particular blog, Urban The woman who writes this blog ( Jenni ) writes about a variety of health subjects - mainly gluten free / Paleo nutrition and yoga - her two main passions. I'm very impressed with her blog - well written, straight forward recipes and information and her gluten free / Paleo recipe collection is excellent. Grain free bagels, muffins, and all kinds of other goodies. ( Please note, not all of her recipes are Clean, but the vast majority of them are right up our alley! )

The post that drew me to her site - her post specifically - is good. Really good - and gave me the information I needed.

          Can I Sub Almond Flour Cup For Cup?

This is a biggie: In a few select applications it can be substituted at a 1:1 ratio, but because its weight, fat content and absorption rates are so different from that of wheat and other grain based flours, it does not reliably cross over. For instance, a wheat flour recipe might call for more liquid than what can be reasonably absorbed by almond flour. So if you simply substitute 1 for 1, your finished product will likely be soggy, grainy feeling and “sunken” in. You can, however, adjust the ingredient ratios to account for that and come out with almond flour baked goods that are nearly indistinguishable from the grain based recipes that you know and love. 

A note on breads: Almond flour is most often best suited to quick breads, cookies and crusts . This is due to it's lack of starch and gluten. If your diet allows for starches and even yeast, you might enjoy experimenting a bit by adding yeast, arrowroot, tapioca and other “non-grain” based starches to your almond flour baked goods
The moral of this paragraph is….unless you’re something of an adventurer and don’t mind some “baking fails”, you might find it best to stick with recipes that are intended for almond flour from a source that you trust (I have listed some great "sources" at the end of this post).

So, the answer is still a bit vague, but definitely points me in the right direction. Almond flour cannot reliably be used in all recipes where wheat flour is called for - but the reason ( because almond flour lacks the gluten or sticky binders some recipes require ) answers my question. Almond flour can be used for recipes like cookies and quick breads or rolls.
 It's not as well suited for recipes like cakes and other baked goods that require yeast with a rising time ( almond flour won't stretch and hold together with that stickiness wheat flour has ). It also doesn't absorb and hold as much liquid as a wheat flour, so that's an important factor to keep in mind when substituting: liquids might need to be tweaked down.

This post also answers a lot of questions about almond flour I had - including which types of almond flour are best, how to best measure almond flour in recipes, and even some recommendations of brands to buy. So much to learn.

Thank You SO much, Urban Poser!