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July 24, 2016

Whole Grain Vegan Baking

by Anne Paddock

The average adult only eats 15 grams of fiber per day. Women need 25 grams of fiber per day, and men need 38 grams of fiber per day.    ~Institute of Medicine, National Institute of Health

Fiber is one of those things that most people under the age of 60 don’t want to talk about because fiber helps move food through the digestive system and youngish people tend to avoid any discussion about indoor plumbing. But, because so much of the food we consume is refined and processed, we need to talk about this issue because most of us are not consuming enough fiber on a daily basis.

How to increase fiber intake? First, focus on decreasing the consumption of foods made with refined flours (white breads, commercial cakes, cookies, and muffins, etc) and increasing consumption of fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. Second, rethink recipes. We’ve been brainwashed in this country to think the words “dessert” and “whole grain” don’t belong together when, in fact, the opposite is true. Scrumptious desserts made with whole grain flours and unrefined sugar are not only delicious but easy to make, especially if you rely on a magnificent cookbook called Whole Grain Vegan Baking by Celine Steen and Tamasin Noyes.Whole_Grain_Vegan_Baking

What sets this cookbook apart from other cookbooks is that the whole foundation of the cookbook is steeped in baking with whole grain flours without dairy products. The recipes emphasize using whole wheat flour (both regular and white), whole grain spelt flour, whole wheat pastry flour, barley flour, oat flour, and more. Most of these flours are available in the baking aisle at grocery stores – often in a big section devoted to Bob’s Red Mill, who leads the way in making and distributing whole grain flours nationwide.

What this cookbook doesn’t do is replace a stick of butter or a cup of milk or cream with a cup of oil. The recipes rely on non-dairy milks, maple syrup, sucanat, unsweetened applesauce, minimal oil and sugar and a wide variety of whole grain flours to make the foods we all love.  Divided into six chapters, Whole Grain Vegan Baking has more than 100 tasty recipes (101 to be exact..I counted them) for plant-based treats made even healthier – from wholesome cookies and cupcakes, scones, granola, donuts, waffles, to breads, biscuits, bars, cakes, loaves, muffins and more:

  1. First Steps into Whole Grain Bakingdom
  2. Great-for-You Breakfast Goodies
  3. Quick-as-Can-Bake Loaves and Muffins
  4. Taming the Wild Yeast Beast
  5. Smarter Snacking Sessions
  6. Perfectly wholesome Desserts

One of my favorite recipes is for Caramel Nut Barley Squares –  sweet and salty nuts in a syrupy filling on top of a shortbread like crust topped with melted semi-sweet chocolate. One bite is enough to make anyone swear allegiance to whole grain baking for life. Easy to make and even easier to eat, Caramel Nut Barley Squares are guaranteed to disappear amid ooh’s and aah’s. Note: This is from a self-confessed compulsive recipe changer:  this recipe is perfect as is. I wouldn’t change a thing.Caramel_Nut_Barley_Squares

Caramel Nut Barley Squares

For Crust:

  • 1-3/4 cups (210 grams) barley flour (Note:  whole grain spelt flour can also be used but then the bars would have to be named Caramel Nut Spelt Squares!)
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) pure maple syrup or (84 grams) of raw agave nectar
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) melted coconut oil or neutral-flavored oil

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Spray a non-stick pan (8 inch square or 10 by 6 rectangular) or line the pan with parchment paper, leaving a 2 inch overhang for easy removal.

Place the flour, salt, and maple syrup in a food processor. Turn on and add the oil, 1 tablespoon at a time until moistened.

Press the flour mixture down in the baking pan and pre-bake for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and make the filling:

For Filling:

  • 2 tablespoons (30 ml) vegan milk
  • 1/2 cup (96 grams) sucanat or (80 grams) coconut sugar
  • 1/4 cup (84 grams) brown rice syrup
  • 1/2 cup (60 grams) dry roasted almonds, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup (70 grams) raw cashews or (60 grams) hazelnuts, coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 cup (30 grams) pepitas (hulled pumpkin seeds)
  • 1 teaspoon (5 ml) pure vanilla extract
  • Generous pinch of fine sea salt
  • 1/2 cup (88 grams) vegan semisweet chocolate chips, more if desired

Place the milk, sucanat or coconut sugar, and the brown rice syrup in a small saucepan over high heat. Bring to a boil, remove from the heat and add the nuts, vanilla, and salt, stirring to combine.

Pour the nut mixture evenly over the crust and bake for 15 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven (and turn the oven off). Allow to cool for 5 minutes.

Sprinkle the chocolate chips evenly over the top and place the pan back in the oven for 1-2 minutes to allow the residual heat to melt the chocolate. Remove and spread the chocolate over the nuts with a spatula.

Allow to cool  for 2-3 hours at room temperature. (note: the recipe calls for refrigeration but I do not put the pan in the refrigerator because the temperature change causes the chocolate to harden and then lighten but if you’re in a hurry, the pan can be put in the refrigerator for an hour until the chocolate is set).Caramel_Nut_Barley_Squares

Cut into squares and enjoy. Store in an airtight container for up to 4 days at room temperature.

Another great recipe is the Peanut Butter Surprise Cookies which are known in our home as Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies. With a base of whole wheat pastry and oat flours, peanut butter, and chocolate chips, these cookies are a family favorite. The surprise in the name refers to sriracha sauce and Chinese 5-spice powder, which can be omitted from the recipe for a more classic tasting cookie.

As the authors point out, it’s no secret that whole grain flours contain more fiber because when the grains are milled, they retain their bran and germ, which are the most nutrient-rich parts of the grain. So, why not bake with whole grains and get that nutritional boost that most of us need?  After a while, you will wonder why you ever wasted time or calories on refined and enriched flours.

Whole Grain Vegan Baking is available nationwide at bookstores and on-line through for about $15.

Photo and Recipe Credit:  Whole Grain Vegan Baking by Celine Steen and Tamasin Noyes, Published by Fair Winds Press

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