All Things Almond: F.H. Kingers attend a Slow Food workshop

I’m neither a vegan nor a vegetarian and I have never struggled with issues of gluten intolerance.  But I work at a restaurant that is proud to offer options for all dietary preferences and allergies, so it was only a matter of time before I made friends with people who follow these lifestyles, and as someone who loves to bake treats all the time for no good reason, I was completely thrown off by my vegan and gluten-intolerant friends.  Were cakes or cookies even possible without milk, butter and flour?

As Lauren Stinson of Slow Food taught F.H. Kingers on February 10th, baking without these usually necessary items is totally possible, and you can actually make your sweet treats quite a bit more nutritious.  So if you or your loved ones are trying to eat vegan or suffer from a gluten intolerance, or even if you’re just trying to eat more whole foods and less processed junk, here is your guide to almond substitutions.

Almonds, one of the world’s oldest and healthiest foods, are low in carbohydrates and extremely high in protein.  They are a great source of omega 3 fatty acids and are essential in maintaining heart and brain health.

We’ll begin with almond milk, which can be bought in stores, but can also be made from scratch quite easily for about the same price.  If you’re more prepared than me, you can do it for even cheaper.  I had a lot of trouble finding whole blanched almonds (meaning almonds with the skins removed) so I settled for slivered almonds (which are almost always blanched).  Upon further investigation, however, I learned that whole blanched almonds are sold in 4 ounce packages from Metcalfes for only 99 cents!  So get them there and 40 ounces of almond milk will only cost you about $2.  Anyways, I digress.

The Wrong Kind of Almonds... but they totally worked!

You will start the night before you actually begin by covering 1½ cups of almonds with water and soaking them for at least four hours.  Soaking raw nuts is something I had never heard of until Mel forwarded me the handout from Friday’s workshop.  But after I researched the topic a little bit, I learned how beneficial soaking is for mineral absorption, digestibility and flavor.  I let mine soak for twelve hours, but I’m sure there is a lot of flexibility to this step.

Soak, soak, soak.

After straining out the murky almond water, you will add a fresh 1 ½ cups of water to the now soaked almonds.  Then you can use a blender or immersion blender to create a puree from the almonds and water.  I used a blender first but had little success.  Even after the immersion blender, my liquid almond mixture was still far from a puree. I would recommend using perhaps only a cup of water first.  But in any case, blend the mixture for 3 or 4 minutes and you will be fine because my end result was delicious despite my lack of a pureed state.

Blend, blend, blend, part 1

Once the “puree” is finished (or as close as you can get to a puree), add 1 teaspoon of almond extract, 1 to 2 tablespoons of real maple syrup or honey (depending on your sweetness preference) and a dash of cinnamon.

The other star ingredients.

Blend this mixture slightly, then add 2½ more cups of water (or 3 more cups if you used only 1 cup previously) and blend for another 3 or 4 minutes.  Here the appropriate texture is difficult to see, so just go by the time.  And now you’re ready for the cheese cloth step (my favorite)!

Prepping: putting the cheesecloth in the strainer.

You probably need a friend for this step.  Line a colander with two or three layers of cheese cloth and place it above a clean bowl.  Have your friend either hold the colander or dump the almond water mixture through the colander.

Ready to strain.

The holes will get clogged so be sure to pour slowly.  Stop every once and a while to squeeze the cheese cloth into a ball and force the excess liquid through.

Forcing the liquid through the cheese cloth.

If the holes get too clogged with almond mush (which they likely will), toss out the excess solids.  Once your almond water mixture is fully strained you’re done!  Pour the delicious milk over some cereal and enjoy!

Best cereal ever! I don't even want to use this delicious milk for baking, just straight out of the glass from now on!!!

For a more thorough blogger’s experiment with almond milk, click here.

Now onto something quite a bit simpler to make: almond flour.

Almond flour is an amazing substitute for regular flour.  Not only is the flavor enormously more complex, it is also nutrient dense and a beautiful alternative for those suffering from Celiac’s or some other form of gluten intolerance.  Almond flour lends itself especially well to desserts.  Most commonly found in cakes, almond flour is also the star ingredient of my favorite French cookie: macarons.  But in reality, almond flour can be used almost anywhere you would use regular flour.  It is commonly used for pancakes, muffins and as a thickener, but the opportunities are endless.

Now for the bad news.  Almond flour, when bought from conventional grocery stores rings in at about $40 per pound.  This is the one almond item I’ve found costs significantly less to make for myself.

Again you’ll begin with blanched almonds, although more traditional skin-on almonds will work just fine.  You’ll have a little more “texture” to your flour with these skin-on almonds (so don’t use them for my favorite finicky French macarons), but it won’t affect the quality in most recipes.  One important thing to note, however, is that almond flower makes baked goods more fragile than regular flour would.  Leave your baked goods to rest for a few minutes and you should have no trouble.

Understanding that 1 cup of almonds equates approximately 1 1/2 cups of almond flour, you should be able to convert just about any recipe.  Just pour the appropriate amount of almonds into a food processor, coffee grinder or rocket blender and grind until they begin to clump together.  This texture is perfect for most recipes, such as the Flourless Almond Honey Cake F.H. Kingers made during the Slow Food workshop.  Just measure out your freshly made “almond powder”, also known as almond flour, and go from there.

If you seek finer results, you’re going to need a sifter.  Simply sift the almond flour and re-grind larger chunks that stayed on top of the sifter screen.  Repeat this process until no large pieces remain.  Again, this final step is usually unnecessary as less fine almond flour will almost always suffice, but its good to know your options.

Also, keep in mind that almond flour will only keep 1 to 2 weeks on the shelf or 1 to 3 months in the refrigerator.

Making almond butter is a practically identical process, only you leave the almonds is the food processor for much longer.  Lauren recommended soaking the almonds first and scraping down the sides of your food processor every five minutes.  For a paste-like almond butter, you should process the almonds for 12 or 13 minutes and for a more oily version, process the almonds for a full 15 minutes.

I also found a recipe online that suggests using two teaspoons of olive oil for each cup of almonds, but I have yet to try either version, so I don’t have much advice to offer.  Almonds are so delicious though, I doubt either recipe will steer you in the wrong direction.  You can use your butter as a substitute  for butter in most places: sweet or savory.  I found recipes online for everything from snickerdoodles to granola to downright incredible-looking sauces.

If you want to replicate the other recipes F.H. Kingers tried at the workshop, they are listed below.  Now go, try some recipes!  Happy almond-ing!

Cream of Almond Soup

1 c almond flour
1/4 c cold water
2 c chicken stock
2 T chopped onion
1 stalk celery w/ leaves, chopped fine
1 c half and half
1 additional cup water
1/2 t salt
1/4 t pepper
1/4 t garlic powder
Makes 4, 1-c servings
  1. place almond flour in saucepan and add chicken stock, onion and celery
  2. bring to a boil and simmer for 30 minutes
  3. strain through a fine mesh sieve or cheesecloth; discard solids
  4. return liquid to saucepan and add half and half cream and remaining water
  5. heat until hot throughout, but do not boil
  6. add salt, pepper, and garlic; taste and adjust
  7. serve hot or cold

VEGAN ALMOND MEAL PUMPKIN CHOCOLATE CHUNK COOKIES

2 c almond meal
1 t baking soda
1 t cinnamon
desire amount of chocolate chips
1/3 c sugar
1/3 c olive oil
1 t vanilla
1/3 c pumpkin puree
  1. preheat oven to 350
  2. in two separate bowls, mix wet and dry ingredients
  3. fold dry ingredients into wet
  4. drop rounded T of batter onto cookie sheet
  5. bake 9-10 minutes
  6. let cool for a couple minutes on the sheet and then remove to a cooling rack
  7. allow to cool completely before handling

(makes about 2 dozen cookies)

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