Sarah’s Almond Cakes: My first experiment with almond flour
When I think of making bread, I look for the simplest way to accomplish it. But right now I’m trying to stabilize my volatile glucose levels and I am not eating bread made from grains. My friend Cathy inspired me to try baking with almond meal.
I bought a one-pound bag of almond meal at Trader Joe’s for $3.99. That may seem expensive compared to wheat flour, but if you can’t eat wheat, it’s an incredible bargain. Almond meal is pure ground almonds, and whole almonds are about $7.00 or more a pound.
First I read some recipes online, and found them intimidating and–probably understandably–taste-centered. I didn’t care about sweetness; I am accustomed to making Irish soda bread without any sugar or sweetener, and always preferred it to anything sweeter. But even making my soda bread with whole-wheat flour caused my glucose to spike, so I gave it up. I’ve also eliminated all forms of sugar, including honey. I needed a non-grain bread substitute that would be filling, as well as a source of protein and fat, but not carbohydrates. Bread is just such a basic, elemental food. “Man does not live by bread alone” implies that bread is as good as synonymous with food in general.
I recalled the simplest bread recipe ever published: “Make ready three measures of fine meal, knead it, and make cakes upon the hearth” (Genesis 18:6).
Abraham had milk and butter as well as meal, as we know from verse 8, where “he took butter, and milk, and the calf which he had dressed.” So his wife Sarah had milk and butter available to make her bread. One certainly cannot knead meal alone. “Cakes” suggests that Sarah made individual flatbreads for her husband’s very important guests. She did not have time for leaven to rise.
I knew from talking to Cathy and from the recipes I read that almond flour does not cohere as glutinous flours do. Cathy and other almond flour bakers use various cheeses to help form their dough. I decided to use an egg white, oil, and milk for mine, since I tolerate them, and it worked: I made a cohesive dough that was actually fairly sticky. I knew that nothing in my recipe was likely to bind with baking powder and cause my bread to rise, and that was fine with me. I am nowhere near the advanced stage of muffins and cookies that Cathy makes. Small portions of flatbread would be fine for now.
I started small, with 1/2 cup of almond meal, 1 egg white (stiffly beaten), 1 Tbsp milk, 1/4 tsp salt, and 1 Tbsp canola oil. I made one hefty patty and put it on my non-stick panini grill. It browned nicely, and had a good texture and taste, but was too salty, with an almost sausage-like flavor. Nevertheless, it was quite palatable and I pronounced it a successful prototype. But I wanted to be able to bake the almond cakes, rather than grilling them like fried mush, and the salt was too much.
For the second trial, I used 1 cup of almond meal, 1 egg white (stiffly beaten), 2 Tbsp milk, and 1 Tbsp canola oil. Again, the dough cohered well and was sticky. I formed six, 1″ balls, depressed them slightly, and put them on a well-oiled cookie sheet. These little cakes were very good: they tasted like bread and had the texture of a substantial bread.
The next trial was a respectable batch of 12. I used 2 cups of almond meal, 1 Tbsp + 1 tsp milk, 1 Tbsp + 1 tsp canola oil, and 2 egg whites (stiffly beaten). Flamboyantly inspired, I topped each little almond cake with a walnut fragment or almond, and baked them for 15 minutes at 350 deg. F. These were also very good. A dash of cardamom or cinnamon would jazz them up without penalty.
These canape-size portions of almond bread could be sliced and spread with tahini or anything else.
A sidenote about the canola oil: One of the recipes I perused online cautioned readers to use only coconut oil; trust her experience, she said, but she warned that tears would result if one did not use coconut oil. My husband thinks this might be because coconut oil might act as a binder that would allow baking powder to leaven the dough. I avoid coconut because I am probably too committed to certain cholesterol myths and am simply in the habit of avoiding it because it is an unnecessary saturated fat. Canola oil worked fine. Almond oil might work even better, but I didn’t have any. Melted butter would probably be terrific if your cholesterol level doesn’t deter such an extravagance. I did not try making the dough without any oil. The egg whites might have been sufficient to keep the dough together. The oil certainly didn’t hurt anything.
This represents my first experiment with almond flour, and I got what I wanted: a simple quickbread that is filling, high in protein, low in carbohydrates, and can even pass as a cookie to enjoy with coffee. My almond meal horizon can only expand from here.
The recipe for 12 little bread buttons would make the equivalent of a mini-loaf, but getting a loaf to bake through might be problematic. I’m going to stick, at least for now, with the little bread buttons, and call them Sarah’s Almond Cakes.