If you are into gluten-free baking (and do not have any nut allergies), almond flour is one of the staple ingredients in your kitchen pantry. Yes, there are a number of gluten-free flour substitutes available in the market – such as rice, corn, tapioca, coconut etc – but to me almond flour is an optimal choice for use in baking as it is more nutritious than typical starchy gluten-free flours and contains a high level of protein with lower carbohydrate content than many typical flours.
Almond flour is made from super finely ground blanched almonds and produced by removing the almond skin and milling them into a fine texture. While this process removes the nutty flavour, it also produces fine delicate texture great for baking. (Note that almond meal is less finely ground and hence denser than almond flour so would have a more coarse and heavy consistency when used in baking). Almond flour is high in protein, rich in vitamin E, a number of B-complex vitamins, potassium, calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc and selenium – and hence is a first choice of flour in gluten-free and Paleo baking.
When baking with almond flour you can use similar quantities to regular flour in your recipe, however remember that because almond flour doesn’t contain gluten it doesn’t yield the elasticity or hold together the way wheat flour does. It is also very heavy and hence the easiest way to introduce almond flour into baking is in recipes like muffins, dense moist cakes and chewy cookies.
In order to help add lift when baking with almond flour, especially if a large number of wet ingredients are added to the recipe, it is also helpful to introduce starch to add lightness and fluffiness to the recipes. And this is where arrowroot powder comes into equation – used in baked goods arrowroot powder makes them less dense and lightens the heavy texture and mouthfeel of almond flour.
Arrowroot powder is a white glossy powder that looks like any other start (like corn or potato for example). However, it is a preferred choice of starch from both process used to derive it and health benefit angles. Arrowroot is derived from a tropical South American plant that was given the name “Arrowroot” because it was once used to treat wounds from poison arrows (drawing out poison from the wounds). Arrowroot powder s extracted from plants by a process of soaking the plant in hot water, peeling the tubers to remove fibrous covers, mashing the tubers into pulp and then washing the pulp to separate the starch. (Cornstarch, on the other hand, is usually made from GMO corn and is extracted by harsh chemical process).
An interesting piece of history on arrowroot shows that when Europeans first discovered arrowroot, they knew it by the name of aru-aru – which means “meal of meals.” In Victorian times it was used both in food and, because of its digestibility, medicinally to wean infants from mother’s milk and nourish those with dietary restrictions. It is this characteristics of being the easiest starch for the body to digest, in combination with the natural extraction process, that makes arrowroot the choice of starch for healthy gluten-free baking. Other characteristics – such as its neutral taste, not being weakened by acidic ingredients, not being affected by freezing and thickening at lower temperatures – also put it at the top of the starch choice list. (Note, however, that it does not mix well with dairy products whereby it forms a slimy mixture.)
Something to remember when using arrowroot though is that while it is the “cleanest” choice of starch in the market, it is still (like all other starches) an almost pure carbohydrate and devoid of protein. This means not only that, while a useful addition to gluten-free baking due to its lack of gluten, it can not be used as a complete substitute for wheat flour but also that it should be used as a treat rather than daily occurrence.
The recipe below is one of the easiest and most delicious combinations achieved with a combination of almond flour and arrowroot. You can play with the flavour combination, but this savoury mix of olive oil, olives and rosemary is one of my favourites.
4 medium eggs
1/2 cup almond flour
1/2 cup arrowroot
1 cup cashews blended with a touch of water and a pinch of sea salt until creamy consistency
4 tbsp of your best quality olive oil
1tbsp of honey
2tbsp of chopped rosemary
1/2 cup of chopped green olives (olives that have not been pitted have much more flavour, so I would recommend using those)
Mix all the ingredients apart from olives and rosemary together and blend them into a creamy batter (it reusables thick American pancakes batter) using either a hand-hand blender or any other blender you have. Once the batter is uniform and creamy add chopped rosemary and olives and mix well.
Divide the batter between 10-12 muffin tins and bake for 25 minutes in an oven pre-heated to 175 degrees Celsius. Remove from the oven, check with a skewer that the batter is cooked through inside and leave to cool.
The result is a delicious savoury muffin with a deep olive flavour and a wonderful light and airy texture.
While it can be enjoyed on its own, I love mine with a teaspoon of thick raw honey – a delicious treat or on-the-go breakfast.