Protein is a Vegan Baker’s Friend

protein powder

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While baking at high altitude, I discovered that added protein helps maintain texture that could be lost by the lower air pressure. The hard part with vegan baking is that many ideas for egg substitutes are carbohydrates and not proteins. Experimenting with higher protein flours adds the protein but can make a baked good dense. Tofu and yogurt can also create a more dense texture so they are best saved for fudgy items. So, what to do when you want something light and airy?

The answer may be in Terry Hope Romero’s latest cookbook, Protein Ninja. When faced with the age-old question of where a vegan gets protein, her idea was Protein Powder. No, she doesn’t want people replacing all meals with a protein shake. Instead, she adds the powder to, among other things, baked goods. When I read that the hamster in my head nearly gave himself a heart attack running on his wheel so fast.

Hmmm. Protein powder. Muffins. Cakes. Pancakes. Cookies. Brownies. But, is it a simple flour replacement? She warns that taste, texture and sometimes color will be altered, but suggests that protein powders can be lighter than high protein flours. Her book does explain that “protein powders seem to suck up more liquid than most flours (but) adding a small portion of dense, moist ingredients … provides some must needed moisture.”

My mind is racing with ideas. I must go buy protein powder. Then on to the kitchen to experiment. Stay tuned and I may just surprise you with a healthy and decadent protein-laden baked treat.

Gluten-Free Flour Madness

oat flour

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Here in the Decadent Vegan Baker test kitchen the flour is flying. All kinds of flour – chickpea, almond meal, rice flour, amaranth flour – as I try to come up with a vegan, high altitude, and gluten-free baked good with a great texture. I have baked from recipes and discovered that removing gluten can make treats more like tricks. They become gummy and dense or hard and crumbly. Or, worse yet, they don’t ever rise. But a blog post on the Bob’s Red Mill website may have solved some of my problems.

When creating a gluten-free flour blend, they recommend that “for an all purpose flour blend use a ratio of 1/3 light flour and 2/3 heavy and/or medium flour.” When I looked back at the recipe I made that turned out very gummy, I realized the author used mostly light flours. “Gluten free flours are classified based on their protein content. Heavy flours assist in creating the structure of baked goods, as do medium flours. Light flours aid in binding and moisture retention.” Baking is all about the science so this began to make sense. The light flours didn’t contain enough structure to create a nice texture in my baking. They just made the batter moist and pasty.

Some examples of the different weight flours as mentioned on the Bob’s Red Mill blog post are as follows:
Heavy Flours – almond meal, coconut flour, and garbanzo bean flour
Medium Flours – amaranth flour, brown rice flour, and oat flour
Light Flours – arrowroot starch, potato starch, and tapioca flour

Armed with this knowledge, I plan to revisit some gluten-free recipes to make sure they follow Bob’s guidelines. I am hoping that with the proper flour weight ratio, I can better adapt recipes for some yummy treats. My gluten-free friends are hungry!

The Importance of Flour

vintage enamel flour container and scoop

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Flour is a main ingredient in most baking recipes and the type of flour chosen can make a huge difference in the final product. It’s also useful to consider flour nuances when making substitutions in vegan and high-altitude baking, so understanding flour will help you be your best baker.

Joy of Baking’s website explains, “Flour contains protein and when it comes in contact with water and heat it produces gluten, which gives elasticity and strength to baked goods. Different types of flour contain different amounts of protein. Therefore using a different type of flour than what is called for in a recipe … will alter the outcome of the baked good.”

All-purpose flour tops the wheat flour charts with 10-12% protein, although this is sometimes not enough to maintain structure in goods baked at high altitude. As explained in a previous post, baking at higher altitudes can result in crumbly textures. Protein is what helps keeps the batter structure together so upping protein in a recipe can be the solution. But then, by veganizing a baked good, you lose the protein provided by the eggs so you now need even more protein. This can be achieved by substituting some of the flour with a higher protein variety (i.e. almond or garbanzo bean flour) or by using tofu as an egg substitute. These fixes helped my baking because I found that packaged egg replacer (made from potato starch) fell flat in my baked beauties.

Another important baking aspect is how to measure flour. I’ve read recipes that say to pack the flour into the cup and some that say to lightly pour it in. Joy of Baking mentions what I learned decades ago to be the proper way: “When measuring flour spoon your flour into a measuring cup and then level off the cup with a knife. Do not pack it down. Flour gets compacted in the bag during shipping, so scooping your flour right out of the bag using your measuring cup will result in too much flour.” And too much flour makes for heavy cookies and tough bread. When you follow my recipes, this is the method of measuring that I use so for best results you should do the same.

These are just a few ideas on how flour impacts baking. I hope they get you started on making your best looking baked goods.