Replacing flour with ground almonds in Baking Recipes

Replacing Flour with Ground Almonds

This article provides a short guide to replacing wheat flour with ground almonds in baking recipes. I compare the physical properties of both, and describe what affect they have on a bake. I provide a set of instructions for adapting recipes, including a conversion chart.

01. Why replace what flour?
02. Why use ground almonds?
03. How will ground almonds affect the flavour?
04. Can I replace wheat flour one-for-one with ground almonds?
05. Will I need to make other adjustments to the recipe?
06. How do I know how much ground almonds to use?
07. Can you recommend any recipes that contain ground almonds?

01. Why replace what flour?

The role of flour in a baking recipe is to give body and structure. It sets around the air bubbles that are produced by raising agents in the batter such as eggs, baking soda or yeast. Wheat flour is generally used because it produces a sticky protein called gluten when it is mixed with water. Gluten creates a strong, elastic framework which is very effective at trapping air and binding everything together. However, precisely because gluten is such a strong protein, many people are unable to break it down in the small intestine. The undigested sugars then pass through to the large intestine, where they can feed ‘bad’ gut bacteria. This results in lots of gas being produced, leading to painful bloating, cramping and diarrhoea. This is what is meant by a gluten intolerance. It spells the end of wheat flour, but it most definitely does not spell the end of cake!

02. Why use ground almonds?

Ground almonds are the most popular flour used in gluten-free baking, and have enjoyed a long tradition as an alternative to wheat flour. They were a prominent feature of medieval cooking, particularly in northern parts where wheat was difficult to grow and more expensive. The finely ground wheat flour that we know today was a luxury for the ruling classes, andthe lower classes had to make do with coarse brown bread. For the modern baker, ground almonds are relatively cheap and easy to buy compared to some of the more exotic gluten-free flours like quinoa flour or teff flour – you can even make your own at home by grinding whole almonds in a food processor.  Grain-based gluten-free flours are poor at absorbing water. This can lead to a very gritty and dry texture (for a comprehensive guide to the different gluten-free flours available, please see my post Guide to replacing wheat flour with gluten-free flour). Ground almonds, on the other hand, have a high fat content due to their natural oils. This results in a tender, moist texture.

03. How will ground almonds affect the flavour?

Many gluten-free flours have strong flavours, which can overpower the recipe. Sometimes they taste downright unpleasant. This means that they often need to be blended with other, lighter flours, and masked with spices and essences. This does limit which bakes they can be used in, as adding strong flavours may change a delicate recipe beyond recognition. The beauty of ground almonds is that they add to, rather than subtract from, the flavour. Sweet almonds have a mild, rounded flavour, that can be intensified by adding 1/2 a teaspoon of almond extract to the batter.

04. Can I replace wheat flour one-for-one with ground almonds?

Perhaps the biggest selling point of ground almonds is that they offer a simple replacement for wheat flour – they do not need to be mixed with other gluten-free flours. This does not, however, mean that they can be used as a direct one-for-one substitute. You cannot replace 225g of wheat flour with 225g of ground almonds. Wheat flour and ground almonds have different physical properties, which impact on the structure, texture, moistness and crust. In practice, this means that you need to add binding agents to strengthen the structure, and raising agents for a lighter texture with a more open crumb. You will also need to adapt your methodology, as methods designed to encourage gluten formation are not necessary.

Amount: ground almonds are coarser than finely-ground wheat flour:
1 cup of ground almonds = 90 grams
1 cup of wheat flour = 120 grams
this means that more ground almonds are needed if measuring by volume (cups), but less ground almonds are needed if measuring by weight (grams)
Structure: ground almonds are weaker than flour, as they do not have strong and sticky proteins this means that fewer air bubbles will be trapped, and the structure will be more crumbly
Texture: ground almonds are coarser than flour, which has fine, powdery particles this means that the batter will be thicker, and the bake will be denser with a closer crumb
Moistness: grounds almonds have a higher fat content, as they are full of nut oils this means that the bake will be moister  and greasier
Crust: ground almonds brown faster than flour this means that a lower oven temperature is required, and that the bake will be browner in colour

05. Will I need to make other adjustments to the recipe?

If you remove gluten from a recipe, then you remove the sticky and elastic protein molecules that hold the structure together. This means that binding agents such as eggs or gums need to be added to strengthen the structure. You can replicate the sticky properties of gluten by adding ingredients that are physically sticky, like honey and dates. Eggs also increase stickiness, as the proteins contained in them coagulate to form a sold mass when heated. You can see this in action when you crack an egg into a hot frying pan and watch the whites transform from transparent liquid to opaque solid. Gums, meanwhile, add elasticity. When mixed with water they take on a gel-like consistency, which acts as a thickener. While binding agents always need to be included, you only need to think about using gums for batter and doughs.

Ingredient: Increase: Decrease: Adjustment:
Flour
  • ground almonds +20% if measuring by volume (cups)
  • ground almonds -10% if measuring by weight (grams)
  • replace 1 cup (120g) of flour with 1 1/4 cups (108g) of ground almonds
Fat
  • fat -25%
    (where the recipe contains 1 cup or more)
  • replace 1 cup (210g) of coconut oil / lard with 3/4 cup (157g) of coconut oil / lard
  • replace 1 cup (240ml) of olive oil with 3/4 cup (180ml) of olive oil
Binding Agents
    Add ONE of these:

  • whole egg / egg white +1
  • chia seeds, ground +1 tablespoon
  • flaxseeds, ground +1 tablespoon
  • psyllium husks, ground +1 teaspoon
  • xanthum gum +1 teaspoon
  • use room temperature eggs and fat for better bonding
  • consider adding pureed fruits or vegetables that are high in pectin (apple, banana or squash)
  • consider adding ingredients that are physically sticky (honey, pureed dates or prunes)
Raising Agents
  • baking soda +1 teaspoon
  • acid +1 tablespoon
  • an acidic ingredient such as honey, lemon juice or cider vinegar is needed to activate the baking soda
  • transfer to the oven as quickly as possible once activated
  • separate the egg whites from the yolks and whisk the whites to soft peaks before gently folding in to the batter
Oven Temperature
  • temperature -15°C/25°F
    (if more than 180°C/350°F)
  • use light-coloured baking tins
  • tent with tin foil to stop the top from over-browning
  • position on the middle shelf in the oven
  • place a tray of water on the shelf below to deflect the heat and create steam

06. How do I know how much ground almonds to use?

Because ground almonds are more coarsely ground than wheat flour, they pack less tightly into a measuring cup. As a result, 1 cup of wheat flour weighs 120g, compared to 90g for ground almonds. This means that you need to increase the amount of ground almonds used if measuring by volume (cups), but decrease the amount of ground almonds used if measuring by weight (grams).

Volume
Weight
1 cup
:
1 1/4 cups (scant)
100g
:
90g
Wheat Flour
(1 cup = 120g)
:
Ground Almonds
(1 cup = 90g)
Wheat Flour
:
Ground Almonds
1/8 cup
:
1/8 cup (heaped)
50g
:
45g
2/8 cup
:
2/8 cup (heaped)
75g
:
70g
3/8 cup
:
4/8 cup (scant)
100g
:
90g
4/8 cup
:
5/8 cup
125g
:
115g
5/8 cup
:
6/8 cup
150g
:
135g
6/8 cup
:
7/8 cup
175g
:
160g
7/8 cup
:
1 cup (heaped)
200g
:
180g
1 cup
:
1 2/8 cups (scant)
225g
:
200g

07. Can you recommend any recipes that contain ground almonds?

Some recipes are better suited to gluten-removal than others. Gluten development is important for doughs that need to be pliable and stretchy, like pastry or bread. It is not so important for batters that need to be light and tender, like cakes and muffins. When removing gluten and other allergens from an established recipe, you need to be realistic about changes to the texture and flavour. Crumbly, buttery shortbread will be altered beyond recognition if you attempt a gluten- and dairy-free version.

It is more rewarding to stick to recipes that produce naturally dense, sticky, moist or strongly flavoured results. Bakes which can accommodate a weaker structure and a denser texture include cookies, pancakes, muffins and that gluten-free dependable the chocolate brownie. A good rule of thumb is to look at the viscosity of the mixture. Stiff mixes that need to be kneaded and manipulated into shape will be very sensitive to gluten removal, whereas thick pouring batters will be more accommodating. So, when deciding whether a recipe is worth adapting, my guiding principle is ‘dough is no, batter is better’.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *