Is paleo baking challenging? Sure. Impossible? Definitely not.
Many of the fundamental ingredients used in baking—such as wheat flour, sugar, and butter—aren’t included in the paleo diet. And even many common “alternative” flours, like rice flour or chickpea flour, are grain- or legume-based. You have to completely rethink your baking pantry essentials for reengineering recipes such as blueberry muffins or pie dough. Below you’ll find the flours, starches, and assorted other essentials that will help you adapt your recipes along the way.
We use high-protein almond flour as the bulk of the flour in most of our baking recipes—its mild, subtly sweet, nutty flavor works well in a variety of applications. Almond flour is usually made with blanched almonds, while almond meal can be made with blanched almonds or almonds with their skins on. We prefer flour (or meal) made from blanched almonds since the lighter color tends to be more versatile and appealing. You can make your own almond flour by grinding blanched almonds in the food processor. Store almond flour in the refrigerator or freezer to extend its shelf life.
Made from the starchy tuberous root of the cassava plant, this white powder, like arrowroot, is a pure starch. But different starches absorb water, swell, and gel at different temperatures and to different degrees; we found that tapioca and arrowroot are not interchangeable. Tapioca starch works best in coatings, such as when velveting meat for a stir-fry or dredging chicken for a bound “breading.” It also makes a good thickener in stir-fry sauces, where an ultrasmooth, satiny texture is desirable. Tapioca flour is sometimes labeled tapioca starch. Either product can be used in our recipes. Tapioca should be stored in the pantry.
Arrowroot flour is a pure starch. We use it for a range of purposes, including as an ingredient in baked goods, where it provides balance to protein-heavy almond and coconut flours. You can also use arrowroot to make a batter for fried chicken: the starch crisps up nicely in the hot oil without becoming heavy or saturated. To prevent a gritty texture in baked goods and batters, it is important to let the uncooked mixture rest to allow the arrowroot to fully hydrate. Arrowroot is also useful as a thickener; just a small amount gives pan sauce a better consistency. Arrowroot should be stored in the pantry.
Coconut flour is made from dried ground coconut meat. It has a noticeable coconut flavor when used on its own, but we use it in our paleo cookies to break up the denseness of almond flour, giving baked goods more structure and a better crumb. It is also used to help absorb the fat and liquid that almond flour can’t. Store coconut flour in the refrigerator or freezer to extend its shelf life.
Containing just bicarbonate of soda, baking soda provides lift to baked goods. When baking soda, which is alkaline, encounters an acidic ingredient (such as lemon juice), carbon and oxygen combine to form carbon dioxide. The tiny bubbles of carbon dioxide then lift up the dough or batter. In addition to lift, baking soda improves browning in everything from pie dough to batter-fried chicken, and can help tenderize tough proteins like lamb shoulder chops or calamari.
Cream of Tartar
This fine white powder is sold in small bottles in the spice aisle, but it’s not actually a spice—it’s a byproduct of the wine-making process. Since cream of tartar is naturally acidic, cream of tartar and baking soda can be used to approximate the effects of baking powder. Baking powder contains both baking soda and an acidic ingredient and is traditionally used in recipes where there is no natural acidity. Since it generally contains cornstarch to keep the powder dry, baking powder is not paleo-friendly.
Psyllium husk powder can help create an open crumb and good structure in sandwich rolls. Psyllium interacts with proteins to create a strong network capable of holding in lots of gas and steam during baking. It provides a strong enough structure to support rolls even when they’ve cooled. It also adds a pleasant, wheaty flavor.