By Anne Palumbo
Americans purchase and consume more flour during December than any other month, according to the research elves at Fleischmann’s Yeast and Karo Syrup.
No surprise there! Who doesn’t love to give as well as receive home-baked cookies, cakes, breads and pies during the holidays?
I love to bake — and this year I’m shaking things up by baking with almond flour, a gluten-free flour with enough health benefits to give Santa pause. While I won’t use it for all recipes—the lightness of the real deal is hard to replicate—I’ll use it for many.
Made from blanched almonds that are ground and sifted into a fine flour, almond flour has an astonishing array of valuable nutrients. One-fourth cup of almond flour (the amount typically found in one baked good) contains around 7 grams of protein, 3 grams of fiber, and 70 mg of calcium—all of which join hands to keep us strong, regular and full of energy.
Almond flour teems with vitamin E, a powerhouse nutrient that acts as an antioxidant, neutralizing harmful free radicals that accelerate aging and increase your risk of heart disease and cancer. Several studies, in fact, have linked higher levels of vitamin E intakes to lower rates of heart disease and Alzheimer’s.
Consuming flour made of almonds also boosts levels of magnesium, an important nutrient that may help lower blood pressure and control blood sugar. Foods made with refined wheat flour—which are high in carbs but low in magnesium and fiber—may cause spikes in blood sugar followed by rapid drops. Some studies estimate that between 25-38% of people with Type 2 diabetes have a magnesium deficiency.
Although almond flour is slightly higher in calories and fat than wheat flour, its fat is mostly monounsaturated fat—the beneficial fat that helps protect your heart by maintaining levels of “good” HDL cholesterol while reducing levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol.
Another tempting reason to reach for this nutritious flour: Almond flour is both wheat- and gluten-free, making it a great alternative for those who can’t tolerate wheat or gluten.
For lighter, less-grainy baked goods, look for almond flour that says “super fine or finely sifted,” like Bob’s Red Mill Super Fine Almond Flour or Blue Diamond Finely Sifted Almond Flour. Many recipes recommend additional sifting for an even fluffier result. In most cases, almond flour can replace wheat flour in a l:1 ratio. Almond flour should be stored in a fridge, freezer or cool pantry to keep from going bad.
Chocolate Chip Cookies with Almond Flour
Adapted from simplyhomecooked.com
Makes about 24-30 cookies
¾ cup butter, softened
¾ cup brown sugar
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon almond extract (optional)
1 large egg and 1 large egg yolk
3 cups almond flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1¼ cups semisweet chocolate chips
¾ cup chopped nuts: pecans, walnuts, or almonds
1. Preheat oven to 350F line two large baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. In a large mixing bowl, beat ¾ cup softened butter with ¾ cup brown sugar at medium speed for 3 minutes.
3. Add both extracts (if using almond, too), egg and egg yolk, and then mix on medium-high speed until well blended.
4. In a separate bowl, whisk together almond flour, baking soda, and salt. For a cookie with a finer texture, sift the dry ingredients right into the mixing bowl and mix at a slow speed until well blended. Otherwise, slowly add the dry ingredients to the mixing bowl and blend well at a slow speed.
5. Fold in chips and nuts (if using).
6. Drop by large, rounded tablespoons onto prepared sheets and bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely.
Note: For a more festive cookie, replace dark chocolate chips with white chips and chopped nuts with dried cranberries.