G Daniela Galarza
THE WASHINGTON POST – The almond, encased in a shell hidden within a green, velvety fruit, is botanically related to the peach and plum and, in literature and art, romanticised at least as much. When finely ground, it produces a powder that’s similar in texture to, and often labelled as, flour. But almond flour isn’t flour, which is, by definition, milled from grain.
This is important to remember when cooking or baking with almond flour. It may be tempting to reach for it in place of all-purpose (AP)flour, especially if you’d like to go gluten-free, paleo or simply prefer the subtly sweet flavour of almonds. Unfortunately, in most cases, you cannot replace wheat flour with all almond flour; the two have very different properties.
Shoppers will note that almond flour is far more expensive than all-purpose, and indeed almonds are more expensive to grow than wheat or other grains, requiring more water and more careful tending, so it’s best to use it judiciously. That said, almond flour is very versatile, and employed creatively, it can add flavour, texture and nutrition to your cooking, whether sweet or savoury.
ALMOND FLOUR OR ALMOND MEAL?
The two types of almond flour you are most likely to find at the grocery store are almond flour, which is finely ground blanched (peeled) almonds, and almond meal, which is finely ground whole, unpeeled, almonds. The only difference is that almond flour is pale in colour and almond meal has a speckled brown tint. They can be used interchangeably in most cases, though almond flour is often preferred.
DON’T THINK OF IT AS A REPLACEMENT
No nut flour, including almond flour, can replace an equal quantity of AP or wheat flour. Because almond flour is finely ground nuts, it does not contain the same nutritional or chemical makeup as flour milled from grains. Wheat flour contains gluten, a set of proteins found in wheat that are responsible for springy bread dough and the spongelike texture of baked bread. Gluten, working in concert with liquids and leavening agents, provides structure to baked goods. Almond flour contains no gluten, so it’s not possible, for example, to make a loaf of bread with just almond flour.
IT’S PERFECT FOR PASTRY
On the other hand, not every baked good should be as tough, crisp or dense as bread. Sometimes tenderness is what you’re after, especially in cakes or muffins, and that’s where almond flour shines. Used alongside AP or whole grain flours, it can lighten a batter or dough, adding depth and softness without heft.
“I tend to add almond flour to all-purpose at a low ratio,” said Michelle Lopez of the blog Hummingbird High and author of the book Weeknight Baking: Recipes to Fit Your Schedule. She says the finely ground nuts, whether flour or meal, give baked goods a “texture and flavour you wouldn’t get if you just use AP. . . . It helps give a domed top to my muffin recipes, without making the batter too dense”.
IT’S HIGHLY NUTRITIOUS
“From a nutritional point of view, it’s great to swap some AP or whole-grain flour with almond flour,” said nutritionist and Nourish columnist Ellie Krieger. “Almond flour complements wheat flour, because it contains more protein, more healthy fat, more fibre, vitamin E, a substantial amount of magnesium, calcium and iron.”
Krieger explained that wheat and other grain flours are mostly composed of carbohydrates and don’t contain nearly as much protein, though they do contain a lot of B vitamins, whether because they’re enriched like all-purpose or milled from whole grains.
“Using whole grain flour and almond meal together will give you a nearly full spectrum nutritional profile,” Krieger said, “and that means more energy, especially for people looking to add more healthy fat and protein to their diets.”
Baker Roxana Jullapat, of Friends & Family bakery in Los Angeles, adds almond meal to her granola to keep it “crisp and prevent it from getting soggy”. The added ground nuts also give the granola a boost of protein and flavour. Jullapat often makes her own almond meal, and it’s easy to do: Simply grind almonds (blanched or unblanched) in a food processor until fine, stopping before they turn to into a paste. Jullapat uses the freshly made almond meal in shortbread and buttery financiers.