Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Baking with Coconut Flour: 1 - Blueberry Coconut Cake

Coconut flour seems to be a fashionable ingredient at the moment. It is popular with those eating a Paleo diet, as they avoid any type of grain, so have considerable difficulties when it comes to needing flour for baking. It is also gluten-free, but it's cost would probably rule it out as the sole alternative to grains containing gluten for most coeliacs. Those on a Paleo diet are usually doing so because they fear modern diets are harming our health. I'm sceptical about these sort of claims, and think the new breed of 'well-being' bloggers and cooks could do more harm than good if others follow their restrictive diets, but it's not a point I want to argue about here.

I was asked to try coconut flour by, and was interested in taking up their challenge to try it in my baking because I've already tried, and liked, coconut oil and sugar. It was the gluten-free aspect of the flour that most interested me, as I do need to bake gluten-free goodies occasionally.

When I looked into coconut flour more closely, it seemed a very interesting product - lower in carbohydrates, higher in fibre and protein than wheat flour, as well as being gluten-free, and containing several important vitamins and minerals. This appears to make it a more nourishing ingredient to use than wheat flour, although, because it is extremely absorbent, much less of it is needed when baking, compared to flours from grains and pulses.

This absorbency presents problems when baking, as coconut flour can't be substituted weight for weight for other flours - less than half is typically needed in most recipes. Additionally, recipes advise increasing the number of eggs used (doubling the usual number seems popular), although some use oils and syrups instead of solid fats and sugars, as well as extra liquid. The main advice is to initially use recipes specifically written for coconut flour, rather than trying to adapt your own favourite recipes, until you are more familiar with how it works. This is fine, if you can find a trusted source of recipes - they aren't exactly mainstream; Paleo recipes often use ingredients that I just wouldn't want to put in my baking! Coconut flour is also extremely expensive compared to wheat flour - I paid £6.99 for 500g of Tiana coconut flour in Holland and Barrett - so I didn't want too many failures when trying recipes, even if the recipe uses only 50g! It is, however cheaper than ground nuts, which I tend to use a lot, and in larger quantities, in gluten-free baking.

The first recipe which appealed to me was a blueberry and coconut cake from the Great British Chefs website, devised by Victoria Glass. I liked the look of this because it didn't seem too extreme - it used basic white sugar, a reasonable number of eggs (I found one chocolate cake recipe which used 12!) and made a product which looked comparable to 'normal' cakes, even though it was both gluten- and dairy-free. I tried not to deviate too far from the recipe, although I did add a little vanilla extract, and only had 150g of blueberries.

This cake worked out very well - it was  moist but surprisingly light, and tasted strongly of coconut, which wasn't surprising in a cake containing coconut three ways - flour, oil and desiccated. The texture of the cake wasn't any different to cakes made with grain flours, so I don't think anyone would notice that it was made with such an unusual ingredient. Despite the number of eggs used, I didn't find the flavour or texture 'over-eggy' which is a complaint about some coconut flour recipes.

The very fact that the cake was so coconutty made me want to try the flour  in a recipe where the coconut flavour isn't really needed, such as a chocolate cake or brownies. The search for a suitable recipe for one of those is ongoing - the recipes I've found so far are either too 'paleo' or add other coconut products to make sure there's a strong coconut flavour.

I don't think coconut flour is likely to become one of my 'everyday' baking ingredients, but I can see that it will be useful for gluten-free baking, and that it might appeal to those who feel guilty about eating cakes and other baked goods, and want to make them a little more nutritious.

If you are interested in trying coconut flour, here's a few links to nutritional and baking guides that I found useful. Note that I'm not endorsing any health claims written therein - I don't have the expertise to either agree with or challenge them - you'll have to make up your own mind!

Sukrin Coconut Flour

All Day I Dream About Food
Nourished Kitchen
Elana's Pantry

Disclaimer  - Although asked me to try coconut flour, I have received nothing from them as an inducement to either endorse their product, or give a favourable review of coconut flour in general. All opinions expressed are my own.


Alicia Foodycat said...

It does look like a very nice texture!

Phil in the Kitchen said...

That looks like a good choice of recipe and I like the sound of the flavours. I've been playing around with coconut flour a bit over the last few months - for the flavour rather than the healthiness. The lightness and flavour can be good but the texture doesn't always work for me. The best thing for me was a simple traybake with some chocolate added to balance the flavour.

Suelle said...

I've found a brownie recipe to try next, Phil. I'm hoping the coconut flavour in the flour won't be too excessive.