When I started out with wholefoods, I found it very difficult to find recipes that suited my lifestyle. There were some wonderful ones at Stacy Makes Cents and I found some really helpful books and e-books, but I wasn’t ready to just give up on some of my old favourites, and baking could be difficult, especially when the ‘wholefoods-specific’ recipes called for expensive ingredients like almond or coconut flour and such.
So I learned a skill that would really help me in implementing wholefoods: converting recipes.
I primarily applied this to baking, but I do sometimes use it for other dishes as well. To be honest, as long as your recipe is balanced and contains lots of vegetables, there’s probably very little that needs converting anyway! But for baking, well, everyone knows that cakes and pastry are not the healthiest form of eating anyway, let alone when you’re on a wholefoods diet.
For all types of recipes, the biggest and best thing I found was making as much as possible from scratch. I’m willing to try anything at least once, and have found that some things really work and are cheaper and easier, and some things are just too much for me for now. I made a very special effort with baking, however, because of how much I love it. Because it de-stresses and focuses me, I happily bake once a week or more, and so there is usually some form of cake and bread in the house.
Knowing the effect this could have on our health, but not wanting to give up my baking habit, I decided to start testing recipes with different, healthier ingredients in order to make them better to eat.
Primarily this consisted in replacing or reducing the sugar and butter content. There are other things you can do, and I have tried several, but often it starts to get too expensive or complicated, so these are the two I focus on. The other thing I nearly always change is to use wholemeal flour. There are a couple of reasons for this: it is healthier, and it is sweeter. It sounds strange, but it really is. When I replace plain flour with wholemeal flour, I can automatically reduce the sugar content already, simply because the cake will be much tastier and sweeter just from the flour!
For the sugar, I have found that as a rule, standard cake recipes only really need about 1/3-1/2 of the sugar content suggested. If you are used to having very sweet cakes, then this takes a little getting used to, but what we did was slowly reduce the sugar content so that we now find using more than 1/2 much too sweet! With wholemeal flour and some extra extract added, the flavour is usually even nicer, as the sugar is not the focus of the cake!
We always use raw sugar (such as demerara or muscovado) unless it is absolutely needed (eg: icing), and have found that you need much less of this anyway, as the flavour is already sweeter and more intense. Otherwise, sugar substitutes I have found useful are stevia (this is usually too pricey for us, but I buy Tate & Lyle’s sugar & stevia mix when it is on offer, as you only need to use half the amount for the equivalent amount of caster sugar), maple syrup is a great one, as is raw honey.
For butter, I have found that using oil instead is a great way to replace butter (olive oil, rapeseed oil or coconut oil are especially useful). You use less oil than butter (see a conversion chart), and if you want it can be combined with yoghurt so you use even less (this is a traditional French way of making cakes). Actually, this is the way that most Mediterranean baking is done, and we all know about how much healthier they are!
Other than oil and/or yoghurt, I find that buttermilk or watery vegetables are good ways of replacing butter. Everyone knows about carrot cake and how wonderfully sweet and moist that turns out, but you can actually use most watery veg instead, such as courgettes, beetroot (often used in chocolate cakes), sweet potato, pumpkin/butternut squash, etc. I found Harry Eastwood’s Red Velvet & Chocolate Heartache recipe book to be especially useful for this. There is an extra dimension of flavour in these cakes that I just love!
I hope all of this helps you when you are looking at converting recipes. To be honest, everyone is different, so you may find you can easily use less sugar or you may struggle, or you may try out different things to me to make the recipes work for you. But we have found that with these tips, we are able to have a cake in the house every week and we can enjoy it without too much guilt! 🙂
I hope you have enjoyed taking this little wholefoods journey with me.