Since my husband and I have been reducing our grain intake, I was really fascinated by the idea of The Gluten-Free Almond Flour Cookbook by Elana Amsterdam of Elana’s Pantry. I had previously tried a few of Elana’s recipes from her blog (successfully, I might add!), but had yet to trial any of her baked goodie or almond flour recipes. To note, this is not a 100% dairy-free cookbook, but pretty darn close. The half a dozen or so recipes that do contain dairy certainly do not take away from the value of this cookbook for dairy-free consumers. Also, this isn't a vegan cookbook, meat and eggs are used. There are several vegan recipes within (including the yummy chocolate cookies and the apple crumble I trialed below), but many of the recipes do utilize eggs for binding and leavening.
True to name, all but a few extra recipes in this cookbook use almond flour. Elana firmly recommends certain brands of almond flour (Honeyville in particular), and both in the blog and in her book she warns against using Bob’s Red Mill almond flour or home ground almond meal. I certainly have no reason to doubt her, and am sure the good quality, blanched almond flours will produce superior results. But … before I was going to invest in a 5 lb bag of almond flour (refrigerator space is at a minimum in my house!), I wanted to make sure that these almond-based recipes met with our personal tastes. So I ground my own almond meal using raw (yes, (*gasp*) unblanched) almonds and my trusty spice grinder (Elana, if you are reading … before you shake your head in disgust, read on!).
And, I am happy to report, that after testing two recipes from The Almond Flour Cookbook I have finally ordered some Honeyville Almond Flour. I can tell that I will be using this cookbook regularly, so the purchase is definitely worth it. As for the recipes I tested, since I knew my homemade almond flour/meal would be a bit heavier in both taste and texture, I did play it safe by picking recipes where this might not be a problem.
I chose the Peach Blueberry Crumble recipe first, but made it into an Apple Raisin Crumble (I subbed 5 medium apples, diced and ½ cup of raisins for the fruit, and also sprinkled ½ teaspoon of cinnamon on the fruit). What I liked about this recipe was that not only was it grain-free, but it was completely unsweetened. I had been trying to figure out how to make apple crisp breakfast-friendly, and it had never occurred to me to simply omit the sweetener and let the crumble and fruit shine on their own! However, because I was out of vanilla (I know, heaven forbid!), and the recipe called for a whole tablespoon, I subbed in maple syrup. So mine wasn’t totally unsweetened, but 1 tablespoon of maple syrup for an entire pan of apple crisp is pretty low on the sugar spectrum.
Though I packed down the almond meal when measuring (I couldn’t find this recommendation in the book, but had read in the reviews that the almond flour must be packed, unlike regular flour), the topping mixture ended up very moist and clumpy, but I am sure this was due quite a bit to the oils releasing from my freshly ground meal. Plus, it didn’t seem to affect the crumble results negatively at all. And there was a lot of crumble; no skimping on the topping here.
The cooking times and preparation instructions were spot on; my apples cooked through beautifully, and the topping was browned, but not burnt. Once cooked, the topping had a slightly bready taste and was more crumbly than crispy, as the name would suggest. When paired with the apples and raisins, the overall dish made a nice pleasant breakfast that certainly wasn’t too sweet and was very filling. Next time I would probably reduce the salt, as the topping (sans sweetener) tasted a bit too salty for us, even with the wee bit of maple syrup. And yes, I will be making it again!
Next up was the Chewy Chocolate Cookies. Truth be told, I am not a lover of all things chocolate, but I do love a soft and chewy chocolate cookie now and then. These cookies did not let me down! I still used homemade, unblanched almond flour, but this time I carefully sifted to ensure no clumps or even slightly large chunks made it into the mix (I saved any “reject” bits for making almond butter). I packed the almond flour, and the result was a batch of beautifully chewy cookies that were slightly sweet and gently chocolate. For a deeper chocolate flavor, I would up the cocoa a bit, or make the Double Chocolate Cherry Cookies in this Almond Flour Cookbook (they use a lower ratio of almond flour and also have loads of dark chocolate chunks in them).
Using a suggestion from the recipe, I decided to make the cookies smaller, and turn them into sandwich cookies with a layer of vanilla frosting between them. Absolute perfection! Once again, the instructions (aside from not mentioning about packing the flour) and the cooking times/temps were spot on.
Since these cookies aren’t as sweet as sugar-laden Tollhouse varieties (only agave nectar is used, and not in copious amounts), I do recommend the sandwich cookie route, as they are an ideal medium (in terms of both texture and flavor) for a nice layer of sweet filling, whether it be a fruit spread, cashew cream, or a sweet frosting. If eating the cookies as is, they are excellent with afternoon tea. Seriously, I can’t wait to make more of Elana’s cookie recipes!
So, to sum up my experiments, for the perfect results, you will want to buy unblanched almond flour (not Bob's Red Mill), but I thought the recipes worked beautifully with homemade sifted almond flour also. Either way, if you have even the slightest curiosity about grain-free baking, buy this cookbook!