Healthy takes the cake

JAN BILTON
Last updated 15:50 03/04/2014

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Flours are becoming more specialised in response to the increasing interest of home and commercial bakers in producing breads, cakes and cookies with a difference.

Health benefits and trends are constantly being monitored by the flour industry.

A new range of sugar-free and salt-free flour mixes for muffins, buns, cookies, pizza bases and breads are now available from Canterbury's Farmers Mill in a joint venture with French company Lesaffre.

At present these are for commercial bakers only but this means the muffin you buy today may be healthier than the one you bought yesterday. Hopefully, the range will make it to the supermarkets shelves soon.

But what about the different flours available to us now? Is there any difference and why should we select various types of flour for our baking?

Standard or plain flour is best for everyday pikelets, biscuits, cakes and shortcrust pastry and for thickening sauces. As with other white flours, standard flour has had all the bran and wheatgerm removed.

Self-raising flour is standard flour with a raising agent. It is ideal for sponges, muffins, scones, some cakes and pancakes. You can substitute one cup of self-raising flour with one cup of standard white flour and one teaspoon of baking powder.

High-grade flour has a higher gluten content than standard flour, which makes it stronger and better able to support the fruit in festive cakes and puddings. It is also ideal for making bread and flaky and puff pastry. Gluten is a protein that forms those elastic strings you see when flour is mixed with liquid.

Gluten-free flours are suitable for people who suffer from wheat intolerance and/or are coeliacs. Gluten-free flour contains no wheat. It may contain a mixture of rice, tapioca, maize, sorghum, potato and garbanzo flours to name a few. The contents of each brand is different so one needs to experiment to find the one that best suits your purpose.

Wholemeal flour contains the bran and the germ of wheat grain, so is more nutritious than white flour.

It provides taste and texture (fibre) and is great in muffins, breads, pancakes and some cakes and loaves.

GLUTEN-FREE CHOCOLATE CAKE

I used an all-purpose gluten-free flour.

175g butter

3/4 cup caster sugar

3 large eggs, separated

200g dark chocolate, grated

1/2 cup ground almonds

1 cup gluten-free flour

1 tsp baking powder

1/4 cup dark cocoa powder

2/3 cup milk

Chocolate Topping:

50g butter, softened

1 cup sifted icing sugar

50g dark chocolate, chopped and melted Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Lightly grease and line the base of a 5-cup, non-stick ring pan, about 21cm in diameter.

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Beat the butter and caster sugar, until creamy. Add the egg yolks one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Fold in the chocolate and ground almonds.

Sift the flour, baking powder and cocoa. Fold into the butter mixture alternately with the milk.

Whip the egg whites in a clean bowl, until soft peaks form. Stir 3-4 Tbsp into the batter then gently fold in the remaining egg whites. Spoon into the prepared pan.

Bake for 40-45 minutes, until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack. To prepare the topping, beat the butter and icing sugar until creamy. Beat in the melted chocolate. Stir well. Spread over the cake.

CARAMELISED ONION SCONES

Caramelised Onions: 3 Tbsp olive oil

4 onions, peeled and sliced

3 Tbsp brown sugar

1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar

Scones: 3 cups standard flour

4 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

50g cold butter, grated

1 egg

1 1/4 cups milk

Topping: 1 Tbsp fresh rosemary leaves

12 pitted black olives To prepare the onions, saute the onions in the oil in a non-stick frying pan on low heat, until lightly browned. Stir occasionally. Add the sugar and balsamic vinegar. Reduce the heat to low. Cover and gently cook for 15 minutes. Preheat the oven to 200C. Sift the dry ingredients into a bowl. Stir in grated butter.

Combine the egg and milk. Blend into the dry ingredients to form a stiff dough. Divide the dough in half. Roll the half dough on baking paper to form a rectangle approximately 18cm x 27cm. Top with half the caramelised onions. Roll out the second piece of dough on another piece of baking paper and invert over the filling. Cut into 12 squares. Lift onto a baking tray. Top each square with extra caramelised onion, rosemary leaves and black olives. Bake for 15-20 minutes. Makes 12.

SUNDRIED TOMATO & RED PEPPER MUFFINS

I used a roasted red pepper from a jar. Great served with butter and basil pesto combined.

3 cups self-raising flour

1/2 tsp each: baking powder, salt, chilli powder

1 Tbsp each: sugar, chopped chives

1 cup grated tasty cheese

8 sundried tomatoes, patted dry and finely chopped

1 whole roasted red pepper, patted dry and finely chopped

2 eggs

1 1/2 cups milk

Preheat the oven to 190C.

Lightly grease a 9-hole muffin pan. Sift the flour, baking powder, salt and chilli powder into a bowl.

Add the sugar, chives, cheese, sundried tomatoes and roasted red pepper.

Beat the eggs and the milk together.

Stir into the dry ingredients, until just moistened. Spoon into the prepared muffin pans.

Bake for about 20 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.

Makes 9.

WHOLEMEAL MUESLI COOKIES

1 cup each: wholemeal flour, rolled oats, desiccated coconut

3/4 cup brown sugar, firmly packed

2 Tbsp each: finely chopped dried apricots, prunes

125g butter, melted

1 Tbsp liquid honey

1 tsp baking soda

3 Tbsp milk Preheat the oven to 160C. Line a baking tray with baking paper.

Combine the flour, rolled oats, coconut, sugar, apricots and prunes in a mixing bowl.

Combine well.

Make a well in the centre.

Combine the melted butter and honey.

Dissolve the baking soda in the milk.

Pour the liquids into the well. Stir thoroughly.

Drop rounded teaspoonfuls onto the prepared tray.

Bake for about 20 minutes until lightly coloured. Makes about 40.

Copyright Jan Bilton

- The Marlborough Express

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