The final of the Great British Bake Off was on Wednesday night and with the Irish version starting soon, I thought now is the perfect time to do an overview of my Honest Project rules for making sweet treats. I definitely have a little bit of a sweet tooth and therefore it's essential to my sanity that I am able to have unprocessed and relatively healthy treats every so often.
Traditionally cakes and desserts are made using refined flours, refined sugars and very often hydrogentated fats. These are all out for me. However, there is no reason why most sweet treats cannot be made using healthier versions of these ingredients. Very often it just requires a change of mindset and a willingness to deviate from traditional recipes. When I decide to make a cake or something sweet, I usually opt for natural sweeteners, unrefined flours, healthy fats and unprocessed flavourings. Here are my rules for making delicious sweet treats without worrying about their nutritional value (and hopefully our waist lines)!!
1. Use natural sweeteners
This means yes to natural sugars such as those found in fruits, maple syrup, honey and coconut sugar and no to refined sugars such as caster sugar, icing sugar, brown sugar, and table sugar. Both maple syrup and honey have medium glycemic loads and so while much better than refined sugars, I still use them sparingly. Coconut sugar has a low glycemic load and so is a good option for a natural sweetener. You might notice alot of healthy recipes use stevia, agave and xyitol as sweetners. I haven't really used these all that much, not for any reason in particular, only because I don't know much about them (ones for my research list).
As for fruit options, fruits contain fructose (which is a sugar), but fruits also contain lots of good stuff such as fibre, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants so for this reason I have chosen not to banish them for my diet. I often use dates and bananas in making sweet treats. Thankfully bananas have a low to average glycemic load and so help to keep our blood sugar levels stable, while dates have an average glycemic load. Frozen bananas are a great ingredient for making vegan, refined sugar free ice-cream. Check out my recipe for blackcurrant ice-cream here.
2. Chose unrefined flours
My issue with flours is that many of the common flours used in baking are basically sugars too. During digestion, carbohydrates are broken down into sugar. We can look to the glycemic index to see which carbohydrates raise our blood sugars the most and avoid those. Many refined flours are also highly processed and treated with chemicals. I opt for flours with a low glycemic load as they are digested slower and don't cause the same spike in blood sugar.
When baking, I usually opt for almond flour, brown rice flour, buckwheat flour, chickpea flour, ground flaxseed, ground oats or spelt wholemeal flour. Of course for any coeliacs, gluten avoidance is essential and therefore when baking chosing gluten free ingredients is the primary consideration. Convienently, many of the unrefined low GI flours are also gluten free. Check out this recipe for ginger and cayenne pepper biscuits here, made using ground almonds instead of refined flour.
3. Opt for healthy fats
Many traditional baking recipes call for the use of margarine which is a hydrogenated fat. These fats are highly processed and the processing results in trans fats, which most experts believe are the very worse type of fats for us to eat. Thankfully there are plenty of alternative options to trans fats that work really well in baking and making delicious sweet treats. I use olive oil, coconut oil, avocado and nuts and seeds. The fats from these foods have a benefial effect on our heart health and overall health. They even help our skin stay nice and plump.
I would like to give a special mention to some of my favourite fats. I am obsessed with coconut oil. Coconut oil contain saturated fats called medium-chain triglycerides which actually provide our bodies with energy. Coconut oil also contains lauric acid which has antibacterial and antiviral properties. Another special mention goes to nut butters. I love almond and cashew butters and use them all the time in cooking as well as eating them straight from the jar. And finally, I have to give special mention to avocado, one of my favourite foods in the whole world. Avocados contain unsaturated fatty acids that are good for our circulatory system and heart health. Avocados also provide fibre, potassium and are a good source of vitamin K and vitamin B9. They work really well in desserts with avocado chocolate mousse being one of the easiest and tastiest desserts to make (check out this recipe here).
4. Experiment with dairy alternatives such as nut milks, creams and yoghurts
The picture with dairy isn't clear cut for me. Many people have no issues with including dairy in their diets, but it is still good to be aware of the alternative options that are available. I love all things nuts, especially nut milks, creams and yoghurts. Almond milk is super easy to make and tastes so good. Oat milk is one of the most economical milks we can drink. I love coconut cream and find it super light and tasty. Coconut yoghurt is quite expensive but ridiculously creamy in a good way. This can all be used in baking and in making sweet treats with surprisingly tasty results.
5. For chocolate, use raw cacao
This is a big one for me. Raw cacao is a dream ingredient. Cacao and cacoa may sound similar but they are different in terms of taste and nutritional value. Cacao is made by cold pressing unroasted cocoa beans and is a great source of antioxidants and magnesium. Cacao butter also comes from the cacao fruit tree and is fantastic for making white chocolate. Check out my recipe for a white chocolate fruit and nut bar here. Raw cacao can be used to make all sorts of chocolate treats such as chocolate beetroot cake, chocolate mousse tart and beautiful chocolate orange truffles. On the other hand, cocoa is a heated form of cacao and many brands have added sugars, milk fats and oils.