Almonds are the secret ingredient in classic and modern baked goods. And they are my go-to ingredient for making good-for-you treats. Healthy baking with almonds means, whether you are making a cake or cookie, a quick bread or tart, almonds add flavor and a healthy halo to anything baked.

Here is my outline of the ways to use almonds—in all their forms — as a stand in for less healthful ingredients in baking and pastry. These tips for professional bakers apply to home cooks too.

Almond flour: Made by grinding blanched or natural almonds to a fine powder, almond flour is a familiar ingredient to European pastry chefs who use it in delicate  spongecake formulas, such as the French gâteau Joconde.

The best blanched almond flour is very fine and even. Products labeled almond meal tend to be coarser than products labeled almond flour.

Finely milled almond flour like the one pictured here produces the lightest cakes and macarons.  Regardless of the type you use, always sift almond flour before using it because it compacts while sitting in storage.

Blanched Almond Flour, healthy baking with almonds

Because almond flour binds water and has its own natural fat, it tenderizes and improves the mouthfeel of  muffins and cakes made with whole grains. Adding almond flour would be a great way to create a more tender oatmeal-currant muffin, for example.  I’ve found that you can easily switch out 20 to 35 percent of the refined wheat flour with almond flour in most cake, cookie and muffin formulas.  When using almond flour in a delicate spongecake, the texture may loose some volume but it will gain a subtle toasty aroma.

You can make your own almond flour in a food processor. For the finest texture, start with slivered or sliced almonds instead of whole nuts.

Don’t overlook the usefulness of almond flour in gluten-free formulas. Most gluten-free baking blends contain starches and gums that don’t enhance flavor. When employing such blends, consider swapping out a small percentage with almond flour.

Almond butter: Roasted almond butter works well in any formula that calls for natural peanut butter such as in cookies or energy bars. Stir it into buttercream icing and chocolate ganache. In buttercream, you can substitute almond butter for up to half the dairy butter. Almond butter is roughly 50 percent fat by weight. Consider finishing a custard with almond butter instead of dairy butter.

This silky smooth roasted almond butter packs a powerful punch of flavor because it is carefully roasted to a deep rich color.  The dark flecks come from the almond skins, which are left of before roasting.

Rich roasted almond butter, healthy baking with almonds

More Healthy Options Baking with Almonds

Nurture your creativity by stocking you pantry with a range of almond products.

Here are some of the best features of less common almond ingredients for healthful baking.

Almond milk: This creamy non-dairy “milk” is produced either by grinding blanched almonds or almond flour with cold water and blending it to extract the solids; or, preferably, by soaking blanched almonds in water overnight, then processing the mixture and straining. I always make almond milk from scratch for a creamier product that has no added fructose. Pastry chefs in a professional environment may want to stock a commercial product though.

Almond milk has a creamy, smooth, silky feel on the palate, with a delicate marzipan flavor and a natural sweetness.  You can easily substitute almond milk for fluid milk—ounce for ounce—in any cake recipe. Use it in bread pudding, crème anglaise or a tropical-fruit trifle. It shines with citrus flavors especially tart tangerine. Vanilla can mask some of its natural beauty.

Simmer roasted almonds in almond milk before using the liquid to make ice cream. This infusion doubles the almond taste and creates the kind of layered flavor that will distinguish your iced confection.

Almond oil: Pressed from roasted or raw almonds, this oil has a high smoke point (about 420°F) so it’s suitable for frying. Made with raw almonds, the oil has a mild taste and fragrance; with roasted almonds, it is nutty.

Almond oil can sub out directly for any kind of oil or melted butter. In a chiffon cake, raw almond oil would have that healthy halo that all almond products have, and a light flavor that wouldn’t interfere. Replacing melted butter in a génoise or vegetable oil in a quick bread, roasted almond oil would contribute a rich, nutty taste.

Almond paste: You are probably familiar with almond paste in cakes, macaroons and fillings. But did you realize you can use it to make a refreshing granita? In Sicily, one of the most popular pastry-shop offerings is an icy almond-milk granita made by freezing a blend of almond paste and water.

With high-quality almond paste (65 percent almonds, 35 percent sugar), figure about 1/3 cup almond paste to 1-1/2 cups water. Blend, chill, then freeze. Sicilians enjoy almond-milk granita for breakfast on hot days.

[This material is excerpted from an interview I did with the Almond Board of California to help educate pastry chefs on using almonds.]