Home baking has grown at an amazing rate over the last two years, especially as everyone went into Covid hibernation. People were stuck at home all day, and whether they were stuck home alone, or with a partner, or with their kids, a lot of people turned to baking as a way to pass the time and also to cut down on trips to the store.
The internet, being the wonderful worldwide resource that it is, gave people ideas and opportunities to try all sorts of recipes—some definitely better than others; however, the downside to all that home baking is the increase in sugar and other not so healthy things that are finding their way into our homes and diets.
What I'd like to share with you are some tips and strategies for making your home baking a little bit healthier. If we're honest, we all know that most baked goods are an indulgence—a treat that you give yourself or someone else that's going to light up the pleasure centers in the brain so the world doesn't seem quite so bad for a little while. We all know that on the nutritional scale, a plate of fresh broccoli is always going to be the healthier choice over a muffin. But while eating some fresh broccoli might make you feel virtuous, it doesn't evoke the same neurological and physiological pleasure that comes with eating something that's been freshly baked and preferably chocolate. My aim here is to show you how to keep that same level of pleasure, but make those little indulgences a little better for your body.
For this first post, I'm only going to do a broad overview of some basic ingredients.
Flour, sugar, and butter are the fundamental ingredients for almost any baked good from breads and rolls to cakes and cupcakes to cookies and pies. There are numerous factors that go into choosing which type or brand of each you should use. Raw sugar, for example, won't work as well in recipes that call for finely ground sugar. Whole wheat flour won't produce the same results as cake flour when making finer pastries. Recent price increases make it tempting to opt for the cheapest available, but the nutritional value of each of these basic ingredients is worth exploring if you want to make the healthiest version possible.
There are a dizzying number of claims attached to eggs these days. The choices have expanded from regular white, supermarket eggs and now include cage free, free range, organic; they can come in a shell or in a carton; pasteurized or unpasteurized. Understanding the differences can help with making whatever choice is best for you.
I'll cover eggs in more detail in a later post, but regardless of which variety you choose, fresh is best. At minimum, check the "use by" date and check to make sure shell eggs have clean, intact shells.
Butter really does make a difference in the quality of baked goods. A high-quality butter should have a high percentage of butterfat. It may surprise you to know that different butters have different amounts of butterfat, but as you'll read in later posts, some brands have a higher water content, while others use different additives to get a certain texture or color. Read the label before purchasing—cream, cultures, salt (or not) is all you should see.
There are numerous health-related claims made about sugar. Raw is better than refined; honey is better than cane... The truth is—your body genuinely doesn't know the difference. BUT, what I will be talking about is how to get the biggest bang for your buck, meaning what you can use to get the maximum satisfaction of that sweet tooth with the least amount of sugar. Some things, like this cute little meringue here, are almost pure sugar. If that's what you're craving, there's no avoiding it, but there are still some strategies for helping you rein that in, if you want.
Finally, I'll be writing some posts about food dyes, food additives, and preservatives. Mass producing food to feed millions requires some chemistry to keep food fresher longer, to kill unwanted bacteria, and to make it more visually appealing. It's not all bad; it's not all good either, and you should know what you're eating.
Here at Mama Donna's, because products are baked to order and are not mass produced, the commitment is to keep all products as pure and as natural as possible. I'll be writing more about the give-and-take that comes with that approach, but in the meantime, I hope you enjoyed reading this very first post.