Pastry Chef Marisa Lown on Eating Well: "It's Not a One Size Fits All for Everyone"

Categories: Chef and Tell

Evie Carpenter
Lown makes gluten-free chocolate chip cookies.
What's the biggest challenge when trying to bake "healthy" desserts? Although "healthy dessert" can seem like an oxymoron, it is possible. My biggest challenge to date has been finding a "healthier" sugar replacement. I prefer honey or maple syrup but neither works well in cookies or any recipe where you don't want added liquid. Generally, I make my own maple sugar or use finely chopped dates to sweeten my desserts. When a liquid sweetener will suffice, I enjoy using a local raw honey (such as from the Farm at Agritopia). Both maple syrup/sugar and honey are much sweeter than granulated sugar so you can use less and still satisfy that sweet tooth. Of course, keeping fat/protein/carb ratios and total calories in mind is also essential to achieving a "healthy" dessert. I prefer to indulge in a smaller portion of a high quality dessert than over consume something mediocre. It ultimately comes down to how you decide to allot your daily calorie consumption and what your personal goals are.

The best trick for gluten-free baking is: Mix at least three types of gluten free flours to replace an all purpose flour. You need at least one flour for flavor, one for body, and one for texture. I prefer a mix of almond flour, tapioca starch/flour or arrowroot starch/flour, coconut flour, and rice flour (omit the rice flour for grain-free). For those with nut allergies, I recommend a combination of rice flours (brown and white) with at least one starch and corn flour (not corn meal) for texture. There are also several good commercially available gluten free flour mixes but I recommend staying away from any mix containing bean flour when attempting a dessert recipe. Unless you are using a mix, add one teaspoon of baking powder per cup of gluten free flour to the recipe; the baking powder assists with leavening in gluten free recipes that occurs naturally with gluten flours.

The best trick for paleo baking is: Since all grains are off limits with the "Paleo" diet, finding a good replacement for flours can be tricky since you need multiple types of flours to achieve balance. Using only nut flours will result in baked goods that are too oily. I've recently discovered chestnut flour, which is naturally low in fat while also containing starch that allows for using less additional starch added to your grain-free flour mix. If you can't locate chestnut flour (I had to buy mine online), use a one to one ratio of nut flour to starch, while keeping in mind the gluten free baking tip above.

The best trick for vegan baking is: To replace butter, it's helpful to know when to use oil versus non-hydrogenated vegetable shortening. Oils (avocado, coconut, olive) work well in quick breads and cakes but stick to shortening when making pie crusts and cookies. Same with an egg replacer - flax meal mixed with warm water performs best in cookies and quick breads but stick to a starch-based egg replacer (like EnerG) in cakes and more delicately flavored pastries. The heartiness of cookies and quick breads can mask the nuttiness in the flax seed; that flavor is harder to disguise in a cake with a delicate crumb.

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