So you want to bake healthy? Here is a list of ingredients you should always have on-hand in your pantry.
1. Flour - All-Purpose, Whole Wheat or Gluten-Free. This is the building block of nearly every baked good recipe. My favorite brand is King Arthur because it's packed with nutrients like protein, contains no bleach or GMOs and harvests wheat sustainably.
2. Baking Powder - A complete leavening agent, meaning it contains both the base (sodium bicarbonate) and acid needed to make your baked good rise. Often it is double-acting, meaning it creates two separate reactions: initially, when combined with liquid at room temperature, and secondly, once the mixture is heated. Any baking powder is fine, but I like Clabber Girl because they have been using high quality ingredients for decades and they are actively involved with their local community.
3. Baking Soda - Formally known as sodium bicarbonate, it is a leavening agent that becomes activated when it’s combined with both an acidic ingredient and a liquid. Upon activation, carbon dioxide is produced, which allows baked goods to rise and become light and fluffy.
4. Salt - It's like the secret helper you didn't know you needed. Salt enhances flavor; it adds dimension to any baked good. It also balances out the sweetness of any treat without being discernable. Most baking recipes need Iodized Salt, but try adding Sea Salt to any chocolate recipe (especially Chocolate Chip Cookies) and watch how it transforms your bake to something mouth-watering.
5. Vanilla Extract - Another flavor enhancer, Vanilla Extracts imparts a subtly vanilla flavor. It is simply made of pure vanilla beans (Vanilla planifolia), water and alcohol. My favorite brand is Simply Organic because it uses organic vanilla and organic alcohol to make its extract without any artificial colors or ingredients or GMOs.
6. Coconut Oil - A wonderful substitute to butter, it can be used as a 1:1 replacement. It contains no cholesterol or hydrogenated fat and can be enjoyed in a plant-based diet. Look for Unrefined Coconut Oil as it is extracted from fresh coconut meat, undergoes minimal processing, and retains the distinct odor and flavor of coconut. My favorite is the Kirkland Organic Virgin Coconut Oil because it is cold-pressed (aka retains nutrients), unrefined and super-sized for all my baking needs.
7. Butter - Not only are moisture and flavor added with butter, but also butter coats the proteins and starches during the mixing step and results in a more delicate crumb. Plus in cakes, cookies and pastries, butter is often creamed (whipped) with sugar through which the sugar granules actually cut into the softened butter and air is forced into the mixture, which ultimately helps to leaven the baked good.
8. Milk - Got Milk? It's a excellent time to be milk. There are so many types of milk these days - almond, soy, oat, goat, cow, lactose-free, coconut, rice and hemp. Whatever you have on-hand can be used to add moisture and softness to your baked good.
9. Eggs - Eggs add structure, leavening, color, and flavor to our cakes and cookies. When whipped, egg whites can help a cake rise and be fluffy. Conversely, egg yolks can add thickness to custards and ice-cream. If you're on a plant-based diet, Flax Eggs can often be substituted. Simply combine 1 tbsp of Flaxseed Meal to 2.5 tbsp of Warm Water and let sit for 15 minutes. It will become gummy and can be added into your recipe when it calls for eggs.