Archive for March, 2009

Giveaway Alert!

Hi everyone!

Wanted to share a fun GIVEAWAY from Sarah at Tales of Expansion.  Head on over to her blog and enter to win a package of the food item of your choice from Bob’s Red Mill!  I love Bob’s Red Mill!  They have an amazingly wide assortment of whole grain flours and baking mixes.  Perfect for some Sweet + Natural baking!

Go check it out!

Spelt Flour


20050509061813speltI’ve been intrigued by spelt flour for a long while.  So much buzz about its nutritious qualities and nutty taste!  But for whatever reason, it always eluded me at the grocery store.  It would catch my eye on the baking shelf, but I’d hesitate.  Next time for sure, I would reassure it.  But I always had an excuse.  I already have three bags of flour at home.  I should finish those first.  Or, I need to bake banana bread for my co-workers.  I don’t want to risk using an unfamiliar flour when I’m looking to dazzle them all with my sweet treat. 

I needed a motive to break out of my comfort zone.  So I schemed up a Flour Face-Off and named spelt flour one of the competitors.  Brilliant!  I finally baked with spelt.  Whee!

So what’s up with this stuff anyway?

Spelt is an ancient cereal grain similar to wheat, but with a tougher husk.  It was initially grown in the Fertile Crescent around 5000 to 6000 B.C. and was one of the first grains used to make bread.  The Greek and Roman civilizations found a staple in the grain – for eating and for using as a gift to the gods to encourage harvest and fertility.  Spelt eventually migrated to Europe about 300 years ago and finally made its way to North America around the turn of the 20th century.  It soon faded from notice in favor of easier-to-process wheat, but it’s now making a come back!

Spelt flour’s popularity has grown in recent years for a bazillion reasons.  Ok, I exaggerate, but it’s still pretty awesome. It has a somewhat nuttier and sweeter flavor than wheat flours.  Plus, it packs a nutrient-rich punch.  Spelt flour has between 10 and 25 percent more protein than wheat.  And its protein is generally easier to digest – which can possibly be helpful to those with wheat allergies.  It’s also chock full of good stuff like fiber and B vitamins. 

I used Arrowhead Mills spelt flour.  And I’m no certified spelt expert yet, but from what I’ve read, you can substitute spelt flour one-for-one with regular wheat flour.  But there are a couple things to note.  Spelt flour has what they call a “fragile” gluten content, so it’s important to not overmix your batter.  And you might need to reduce the liquid in your recipe just a tad.  Seems you have to play around a bit depending on what you’re making – that just means more experimenting!  I think it could make some killer cookies.  Yum!

Have you ever baked with spelt flour?  What’s your favorite recipe that uses it?

NYC Blogger Brunch

Thanks to everyone who offered up suggestions for the blog!  You all have some great ideas.  I’ve made a list and will be sure to consult it before future baking endeavors.

As you may have assumed, I’m back in New York now!  Home sweet home.  Traveling for work certainly has its perks, but it’s always good to get back to what you know after a long time away.  And before you all get jealous of my international trips, let me assure you that they are not as glamorous as they may appear.  I’m usually watching and analyzing market research focus groups.  So my days and evenings are spent behind a one-way mirror, in a dark, windowless room – this does not bode well for jet lagged individuals – listening to different consumers share their thoughts on the same stuff over and over again.  Interesting, yes!  But it can get repetitive.  And your butt gets sore from so much sitting!  But I will say, the Business Class flights are quite luxurious!  Love me some fancy cheese platters and fully reclining chairs!

Anywho…I had barely stepped off the plane at JFK when what did I do?

Attend an NYC Blogger Brunch!

This was my first big blogger meet up and it was great fun!  Whoo!  Melissa @ Fitness NYC organized the get together at Counter, a vegetarian restaurant in NYC’s East Village.  The  food was mediocre, the service was horrific, but the company was fabulous.  I didn’t get a photo of the group.  Bad blogger – I know!  But here are all the supercool attendees who I know will post their own recaps, so check ’em out!

Melissa @ Fitness NYC

Heather and Mark @ Hangry Pants

Gena – her raw foods blog is in the works, but she has been a guest poster on Melissa’s Fitness NYC blog here and here

Shane @ Rose of Bohemia

Danielle @ A Year Of Healthy Eating

Emily @ Super Caloric Chalk Dust

Sarah @ Tales of Expansion

Dori @ Dori’s Shiny Blog

Missy @ Missy Maintains

Amelia @ Highways to Health

Olga @ Healthing It

Amie @ The Healthy Apple

Vani @ Fit for Free

Plus reader Ashley!

Also, special thanks goes to…Melissa for free fitness class passes, raw snacks from one lucky duck and Dr. Weil bars; Missy for Clif Zbars; and Sarah for the vegan biscotti!  It was like Christmastime!

Ladies – and gentleman! – hope to see you all again soon!  And if any of you non-New Yorkers ever make a trip to our wonderful city, be sure to let us know!

Ashley Is Out Of The Office + A Question

Hi blog friends!

I just found out I’ll be heading to the UK for work and won’t be returning until Saturday, March 21st.  So I wanted to let you lovelies know that I won’t be able to post again until I come back.  How sad! I hope you miss me as much as I’ll miss you.

While I’m gone, I have a favor to ask all of you…

In the interest of Continual Blog Improvement, tell me what you’d like to see more of on Sweet + Natural!

Is there a type of baked good you love that I’m not making enough of?  Are there ingredients you’re dying to see in a sweet treat?  Do you have a favorite recipe you’d like me to makeover?  Is there a natural baking topic or ingredient you’d like me to write about?  Lay it all out there for me!  Share your ideas!

Can’t wait to read your suggestions when I get back!  Have a great week!

Flour Face-Off: Muffins


I’ve been playing scientist over here.  And by scientist, I mean 5th-grade-science-fair-tri-fold-display-board scientist.  Not the legit goggles and lab coat kind.  I may be good, but I’m not that good.

I’m a scientist because I ran my own little baking experiment.  Why yes, I am cool like that. You guys know I like to use different whole grain flours in my baked goods.  A little whole wheat pastry flour in this recipe, a little white whole wheat flour in that recipe.  But really what’s the diff, right?  Can you actually tell when one vs. another is baked up into a goodie?

I made it my mission to find out.

The Experiment:

Bake the exact same recipe using a variety of flours.

The Recipe:

Spiced Pumpkin Honey Muffins.  This is one of my go-to crowd-pleasing recipes, so I knew it would be a reliable base from which to judge the different flours.

The Contenders:


From left to right: Whole Wheat Flour, White Whole Wheat Flour, Whole Wheat Pastry Flour, Spelt Flour, Brown Rice Flour.  First time spelt and brown rice flour baker here! Exciting stuff.

The Tasters:

Me, obvi.  And Dan, who was more than willing to eat multiple muffins in one sitting.  For the purpose of science, of course.

The Questions:

How would the final muffins compare to each other in taste, texture, appearance, etc.?  Which flour would come out on top?

The Hypothesis:

Umm…I skipped this part.  I told you – not the legit kind of scientist!

The Results:

Whole Wheat Flour



Whole wheat flour was the first flour I ever used in my Spiced Pumpkin Honey Muffins.  I always bake them with white whole wheat flour now, so it was fun to go back to my roots!  These muffins were the chewiest and wheatiest of the bunch.  No surprise there.

White Whole Wheat Flour



Like I said, white whole wheat flour is now my flour of choice for this recipe, so I’m very familiar with the muffins it produces.  But side-by-side with muffins made from other flours, did it stay the one and only?  Well, the WWWF muffins were pretty similar to the WWF muffins in texture, taste and appearance.  They were a teeny bit lighter in color and had a slightly less wheaty taste.  Yummy, of course, but I had yet to try…

Whole Wheat Pastry Flour



My favorite!  WWPF made the softest muffins of all the flours.  They also got a little more rounded on top – check out the photo! – than any of the other muffins.  I liked that because it was aesthetically pleasing – like any good muffin should be.

Spelt Flour



Yay for using SF for the first time!  But boo for these muffins being our least favorite.  I knew they’d be tricksters as soon as I started mixing the batter.  It was runnier than the wheat flour batters.  And instead of rising UP in the oven, it spread OUT over the muffin well edges – leaving us with flat muffin tops.  They also took longer to bake.  The final product?  Spongy – can you see from the pic? – and not really as flavorful as the other muffins.  Sort of like the spelt overwhelmed the other ingredients.  But I’m not giving up on SF just yet!  I have a feeling it would be better in cookies than things that need to be soft and fluffy.  Just needs to find its place to shine.

Brown Rice Flour



The BRF muffins were Dan’s favorite.  At first, they seemed similar to the spelt muffins – runny batter, spread in the oven, flat tops, longer baking time.  But they ended up doing they’re own thing!  They were noticeably lighter in color than the rest of the muffins.  And they had a grainy, but soft, texture to them.  I kind of thought they stuck to the insides of my mouth a little, but Dan said I was making that up.  Also, BRF seems to have a very subtle flavor itself, so the pumpkin and honey tastes really came through.

For a good side-by-side comparison, take a look at the very first photo in this post.  Left to right: WWF, WWWF, WWPF, SF, BRF.


In terms of muffins, I’m a WWPF fan.  Dan’s on team BRF.  SF doesn’t fly for either of us.  Obviously, there are some variables that could be played around with to influence the success of each flour.  Maybe some flours work better with liquid sweeteners – like the honey in this recipe – than others.  Or perhaps some would do better with more or less baking soda.  Lots of things to consider, but a girl can only do so much!

Anywho, that was fun!  Now I want to run my experiment on other baked goods.  I see a cookie test in my future!

Since I’m new to spelt and brown rice flour, anyone have any tips for baking with them?


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