Learn how to integrate healthy baking methods for your customers

Until recently, most bakers and pastry chefs did not see themselves in the business of health. Baked goods and pastries were meant to be decadent, and most were made of white flour, fat, and sugar, with smaller amounts of flavourings and other ingredients. Go back in history, though, and man’s first dessert was fruit. Even today, many cultures still use unadorned fruit to top a meal. Keep this in mind as you consider the role bakers and pastry chefs can play in advancing their customers’ health.

In the United States of America, two-thirds of the population is currently considered to be either overweight or obese, and this has a significant number of impact on the health and well-being of the aforementioned individuals. By making changes to one’s diet, one can either avoid or control a wide range of ailments, including diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and certain types of cancer. This chapter is about how bakers and pastry chefs can provide good-tasting pastries and baked goods that meet the health needs of their customers.

Customer-Focused, Healthful Baking

Customers can’t make better choices about eating if better choices aren’t available to them. Bakers and pastry chefs can help by providing healthful products alongside regular ones, letting the customer choose which to eat. Providing free samples, whenever possible, lets your customer know that good health can taste good. If your products are rejected at first, reevaluate, make changes, and try again. There is no need to lower your standards or expect that the customer will lower theirs. Healthful baked items might look and taste different, but if done right, they can be—they must be—attractive and tasty.

happy woman with rolling pin cooking at home
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on

Here are some common guidelines for baking with health in mind.

• Review your current formulas and determine which are already good for health or might be especially easy to modify. For example, banana nut bread already contains healthful ingredients, and it can easily be made with oil instead of the melted butter or shortening you might currently be using.

• Before making changes to an important ingredient, make sure you understand the functions of that ingredient in your product. This will help you predict the consequences of reducing or eliminating it, and it will also help you find a suitable replacement. Remember, too, the importance of balancing tougheners and tenderizers, moisteners and driers. • Begin with products that are highly flavoured since it is often easier to make substitutions in these products than in simpler ones. For example, it is easier to remove butter from chocolate cookies than it is from plain sugar cookies because the butter flavour is not as important to the overall flavour of the cookie.

• Keep it simple. Stay away from formulas that have many expensive and exotic speciality ingredients that you do not currently stock. If your goal is to make a lower-fat brownie, do you need one that also contains agave syrup instead of sugar and is made with spelt instead of regular wheat? But do plan on making some changes to your current inventory of ingredients.

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• Begin with step-wise changes to your products. For example, if your bread is currently made with 40 per cent whole wheat, can you make a tasty one using 50 per cent? Can you go higher still?

• Approach healthful baking holistically. For example, pastries made without trans fats aren’t necessarily better for you if you’ve switched to a fat that is higher in saturated fats. Still, one product doesn’t need to satisfy all needs. For example, a product probably doesn’t need to be fat-free, gluten-free, and also low in sugar.

• Try different brands of important ingredients since they can vary in surprising ways. Plastic shortenings, in particular, vary from one brand to the next, as do soy milk.

• Think in terms of what can be added to make baked goods more healthful rather than focusing on what should be removed. For example, can you add more fruit, nuts, seeds, whole grains, or spices? These changes not only make a product more healthful, but they add value. Each also adds flavour. If done right, most customers are willing to pay more for this.

• Fruit is an easy choice for improving the nutrition of plated desserts. If a plated dessert has one mango slice, is there a way for you to add three or more without compromising your artistic integrity?

• Watch portion size. If your offerings are really flavorful and priced right, customers will appreciate smaller sizes. • Know the difference between ingredients that provide real health benefits and those that are marketing ploys. For example, which sweeteners are really good for us, and which only make us feel better about eating sugar?

• Keep in mind that organic ingredients are not necessarily healthier, and when they are, the difference is often incremental and inconsistent. Committing to organic is primarily a lifestyle choice, a means of choosing products that inflict less damage on the environment.

When developing a new formula, always make the original and compare products side by side. It will keep you on track and provide you with clues about what is missing or what has changed. It will help you make informed decisions as you adjust formulas.

• If you sell a product as “low-fat,” “sugar-free,” “high in fi ber,” etc., have nutrition information available to the customer to substantiate your claim. This is required by law.

• Finally, know what good nutrition really is. Refer to dietary guidelines for North Americans when creating products for your customers. See how often you can apply these guidelines in the bakeshop as you change existing products and create new ones. It might not be as difficult as you think.

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Strategies for Healthful Baking

Preparing healthful baked goods can be a challenge. It requires making intelligent decisions when substituting more healthful ingredients for standard ingredients in a favourite formula. While experience goes a long way in helping to make the right decisions in the bakeshop, understanding ingredients is invaluable. In many ways, the ultimate goal of this book has been to put you in control of the bakeshop by presenting information about ingredients.

Recent surveys show that consumers are looking for products made with whole grains because they are aware of their healthful goodness. While some appreciate the nutty flavour of whole grains, others still prefer the blander taste of white flour. For those customers, begin with blends of white flour and whole wheat, and consider using whole white wheat flour instead of regular (red wheat) whole wheat flour. Whole white wheat flour is lighter in colour and milder in flavour than whole red wheat flour.

While it is likely that whole white wheat flour is lower in some phytonutrients, it is still an excellent way to increase the amount of whole grains in your products. When switching from white flour to whole wheat, it’s especially important to try different brands and types of flour. Whole wheat flour from both red and white wheat can be made from either hard or soft wheat. Additionally, millers can specify certain breeds of wheat, mill the grains to different degrees of fineness, and change the treatments (for example, bleaching) and additives (ascorbic acid, malted barley flour).

All of these will affect the baking characteristics of the flour in important ways.

Here are some general guidelines to follow when increasing whole wheat flour in baked goods.

• In general, use coarse-grained whole wheat flour made from hard wheat for bread and other yeast-raised products. Use finer-grained whole wheat flour made from soft wheat for cakes, cookies, pie crusts, muffins, and biscuits.

• Begin by making small incremental changes in the amount of whole wheat flour that you use. Start by substituting regular (red) whole wheat for about 10 per cent of the white flour or whole white wheat flour for about 30 per cent of the white flour. Try higher amounts in highly-flavoured products such as gingersnaps, carrot cake, or brownies, as long as the texture does not become too heavy. Then, see if your baked good can handle more.

• For yeast-raised doughs, increase the protein level of your flour by adding 2–5 per cent (baker’s percentage)

Reducing Salt and Sodium

Sodium is essential to good health, but in general, Americans take in more sodium than they need. Much of the sodium consumed in the American diet comes from table salt (sodium chloride) added to food. Most salt is not added by the consumer. Instead, it comes from prepared foods, including pastries and other baked goods.

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The Benefits of Whole Grains

Eating a lot of whole grains can also help to reduce your chance of developing cardiovascular disease, certain types of cancer, and diabetes.
They contribute to intestinal health and weight control and to the control of blood sugar in diabetics. Whole grains provide these health benefits partly because they are high in fibre, both soluble and insoluble. In addition to this, they are in possession of important fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, and a multitude of phytonutrients, all of which are absent from white flour. Phytonutrients that are missing in white flour. Phytonutrients are substances in plant-based (phyto) foods that have special health-promoting or disease-preventing properties. The health-promoting phytonutrients in whole grains include polyphenolic antioxidants, which are also present in chocolate, fruits, and nuts.

Use Soy-Based Milk Substitutes

Soymilk is typically made by blanching soybeans in hot water, then grinding them and filtering out the solids. The process actually has many complicated steps, with the result that different brands vary greatly in appearance, flavour, and mouthfeel. Most brands contain flavourings and sweeteners to mask the “beany” taste of soymilk and are thickened with carrageenan or other gums. Because soymilk is such a common milk substitute, it is often fortified with nutrients like calcium, vitamin D, and B vitamins to mimic the nutritional profile of whole milk. While soymilk and other milk substitutes do not necessarily function better than water in baked goods, soymilk, in particular, with its high-quality protein, is most similar to regular milk in nutrients. This might be reason enough to use it instead of water in place of milk.

However, soymilk can contribute a flavour of its own, and it is a food allergen in its own right. Soymilk does not interact with egg proteins as strongly as regular milk, so custard-based desserts will require longer cooking or baking times. Additionally, some instant pudding and flan mixes—those that contain carrageenan—will not thicken or gel when made with soy or other milk replacers.

Carrageenan is a vegetable gum extracted from seaweed, and it thickens and gels best in the presence of milk proteins. Instead of soymilk, which is thin, many custard and cream desserts are better when made with soy creamer or silken tofu.

Silken tofu has a custard-like texture, so it is sometimes used to replace both eggs and milk. It is the best choice for use in puddings, creams, and custard-based products, including pumpkin pie, chocolate cream pie, cheesecake, crème caramel, pastry cream, and vanilla custard sauce. J