Of the several books that have come out recently on “healthy” baking, “A New Way to Bake, From the Kitchens of Martha Stewart” (Clarkson Potter, $26) stands out. While other books focus on cutting out the “bad stuff” — how to bake with less sugar, less fat or no gluten — this book wants you to discover a range of ingredients in order to broaden your baking repertoire.
The book’s editor at large, Shira Bocar, explains, “We were sort of inspired by the mantra, ‘flavor first,’ as a way to expand your palate. We started with minimally processed whole ingredients that are now available at most supermarkets, and then we looked for ways that these ingredients could enhance the flavor of familiar baked goods.”
The project did have its technical challenges. Whole grain flours, says Bocar, “come with their own playbook.” Whole wheat flour, for example, requires more liquid than white flour. When using liquid sweeteners such as maple syrup or honey, other liquid quantities in recipes had to be adjusted. Testers also had to deal with new flavor profiles. Quinoa flour, for example, is pretty assertive, so it is paired with equally assertive pecans, dates and orange zest in Quinoa Crumb Cakes.
Exciting ingredients discovered during the testing process included coconut milk and coconut oil, which come in handy for vegan recipes, and coconut sugar, which adds a unique sweetness to tropical treats such as Hummingbird Cake with pineapple and banana. Many people have only experienced buckwheat in soba noodles, but buckwheat flour lends an interesting texture and flavor to various items such as espresso cookies and a gluten-free chocolate torte. Millet gives granola and muffins, “a cheerful pop.”
Among Bocar’s favorite recipes, she cites the overnight yeasted waffle. “You create the whole batter the night before and all you have to do is heat up the waffle iron the next morning. And it has a really intense depth of flavor. We sprinkled the waffle batter with granola so you get this crunchy, seedy texture on top of this soft, billowy waffle.” Another is the dark chocolate beet cake, using packaged roasted beets that are newly available in the produce aisle. “We were saying in the kitchen that it tastes like a nice full-bodied glass of red wine, with an earthy depth.”
The recipe for Pecan, Oat and Dark Chocolate Chunk Cookies exemplifies the “flavor first” approach. Ground pecans are an alternative to flour, but more importantly add richness and flavor. Olive oil is a healthy fat and also adds an interesting vegetal note. And maple syrup isn’t just a substitute for sugar. It has lots of antioxidants and phytochemicals and contains up to 300 flavor compounds, bringing hints of caramel, coffee, butter and honey into the mix.
PECAN, OAT AND DARK CHOCOLATE CHUNK COOKIES
2 cups pecans, chopped
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
3⁄4 teaspoon baking powder
1⁄2 teaspoon coarse salt
1⁄2 teaspoon cornstarch
1⁄4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1⁄4 cup maple syrup
1⁄2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 ounces dark chocolate, chopped into 1⁄4-inch pieces ( 1⁄2 cup)
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Working in 2 batches, process pecans in a food processor until just finely ground (do not overprocess to a paste). Transfer to a bowl, and stir in oats, baking powder, salt and cornstarch. Make a well in the center, and add olive oil, maple syrup and vanilla. Stir to combine (dough will be sticky and a bit crumbly). Fold in chocolate.
2. Line a baking sheet with parchment. Scoop and firmly pack dough using a 1⁄4 measuring cup. Transfer dough to baking sheet, then flatten slightly with damp hands until 1⁄2 inch thick. Repeat with remaining dough.
3. Bake, rotating sheet halfway through, until light golden, about 20 minutes. Transfer baking sheet to a wire rack and let cookies cool completely (cookies will crisp as they cool). Makes 10 cookies.