I’ve been experimenting with using different types of flours and natural sweeteners in baking, hoping to build up a repertoire of recipes that don’t contain standard wheat flour or white sugar. It’s not that I’ve cut those ingredients out of my diet, but I do think there’s a growing awareness that we consume too much of those particular ingredients, creating an imbalance in our diets that can easily be rectified by seeking out a few alternatives.
They needn’t be expensive alternatives, I don’t think. Nothing’s ever going to be as cheap as white flour and sugar and they’ll always hold a place on my shelves (sometimes you just cannot beat a Victoria Sponge, an there’s no messing with that recipe, right?) but, as cheesy as it sounds, the real cost, for some people, is on their health. We’re lucky in our house in that none of us suffers any food intolerance that we know of, but even so, if I can consume an ingredient that might introduce a few minerals or amino acids, vitamins or fibre to the body, compared with an ingredient that is void of such benefits, I know which I’d opt for.
You can spend as little or as much as you like seeking alternatives for white flour and sugar in baking. Of course if you’re intent on eating an organic diet it’s going to cost you more, but at bulk buying places-like Bulk Savings in Mt Eden – you can pick up organic or non-organic flours like spelt, barley, buckwheat and coconut, and various types of unrefined cane sugar, coconut palm sugar and natural sweeteners like stevia, date syrup, maple syrup and xylitol for less than a lot of over-priced health food stores. I love Bulk Savings (behind Serafin tapas bar on the corner of Walters Rd and Dominion Rd), which also stocks a great range of spices, dried pulses and even cleaning products. Owner Lucky has run the place for over 20 years and refers to hers as a wholefoods store. The range is ever-expanding there and last time I called I came away with about 5 different kinds of flours to experiment with.
Lately I’ve been reworking some favourite baking recipes of mine to versions that are varied in their white flour/sugar/dairy-free statuses. This banana cake is a reworking of what has been my favourite banana cake recipe since I discovered it a few years ago, Jo Seagar’s Delicious Family Favourite Banana Cake from A Treasury of New Zealand Baking (Random House, 2009). It’s got a good helping of banana in it which is great when you need to use some up, and which gives it a wonderfully fruity flavor and moist texture. This version here is certainly a bit more textural than the original, from the barley flour. If you like a smoother batter, perhaps use just spelt flour instead. This version is delicious, like the original, but also more nutritious. And just to balance this post out a bit, I should confess that to bring to a family dinner tomorrow night, I’ll be whipping up a good ol’ lemon meringue pie, into which shall be going a lot of white sugar. It’s called a balanced diet for a reason, right?!
2/3 cup coconut sugar
100g butter, softened (can use coconut oil instead if you like)
6 drops liquid stevia *
3 very ripe bananas, mashed with a fork
1/2 cup milk
1 tsp baking soda
120ml plain unsweetened yoghurt
1 cup spelt flour
1 cup barley flour
3 tsp baking powder
Preheat oven to 170 degrees Celsius. Grease and line a 20-22cm springform tin.
Beat butter, sugar, eggs and stevia in a large bowl. It won’t go light and creamy as with white sugar, but beat it for a good few minutes until mixed well, then beat in the mashed banana.
Heat milk in a small saucepan until almost boiling then take off heat and stir in baking soda, then stir this into the banana mixture. Stir in the yoghurt, then sift in the flours and baking powder and mix well.
Pour batter into greased tin and bake for 45-55 minutes. To check for readiness, a skewer inserted should come out clean and the edges of the cake should be pulling away from the tin. Cool for 10 minutes in the tin before turning out onto a rack.
*Jo Seagar’s cake is iced with a traditional lemon icing, but you probably don’t want to undo everything you’ve just worked for with the batter by throwing 2 cups of icing sugar in to the play! Try whatever tickles your fancy: top with whipped cream or whipped coconut cream and banana slices; leave naked or do what I did here, spoon over some coconut butter (mine was quite firm so kind of a creamy/crumbly topping) then grate over some high cacao-content dark chocolate.
If you don’t have stevia, just up the amount of coconut sugar to 3/4 cup.
Instead of coconut sugar you could use a less refined cane sugar like muscavado, panela or even just raw brown sugar.