How to make amazing baked goods using protein powder.
As you may know, for two years I owned a company that made gluten-free protein pancakes, so I like to consider myself an expert in the area of baking with protein powder. I spent a good portion of my time in research mode, making baked goods with whey, pea, and rice protein. Some turned out great, even more, turned out as epic failures.
But over time (and through a lot of trial and error) I’ve developed a few guidelines that ensure that most of my protein baked goods turn out well. If you follow these guidelines, you should end up with something pretty awesome.
No-Fail Rules to Baking with Protein Powder:
- Your choice of protein powder should never be more than 1/4 - 1/3 of the total recipe. I have ventured into experiments with 1/2 or more of the ingredients being straight up protein, and all of those have been filed under “G” for Garbage.
- Your recipe needs a moisturizer that’s preferably not water. The creamier the better, so feel free to venture beyond milk. Greek yogurt and full-fat coconut milk are two of my favorites but coconut cream is by far the gold standard. If you can tolerate the additional carbs, pumpkin, and banana puree work just as well as unsweetened applesauce.
- Add a “real” flour as well. Protein powder may look like flour, but it behaves very differently when baked, so you need to combine it with a real flour product. I like to use coconut, almond or a chickpea and fava blend from Bob’s Red Mill because they’re all gluten-free, grain-free, high in fiber and low in starch. Oat flour is fine if you can tolerate grains, but doesn’t provide as much nutritional density. A small amount of arrowroot or potato starch can lighten up these dense flours, so for every 1/4 cup of coconut, almond or bean flour, add a tablespoon of these non-inflammatory starches to keep things light and fluffy.
- Add a flavor. When producing commercially, I would work only with unflavored protein powders as I didn't like artificial flavors in my product. If you are okay with this, work with the flavor of your protein powder (this brand is great for baking and I love the flavor). If it’s chocolate, you may want to use some cocoa powder to increase the flavor intensity. If you’re working with vanilla flavored protein powder, add a little vanilla extract to the final mix. Cinnamon and pumpkin pie spice is a great option as well.
- Make it sweet. I was vigilant about not using sugar in my products. Sugar, whether it’s unprocessed, organic or blessed by Buddhists monks, is still sugar.1 It’s processed in the liver the same way as table sugar and it will cause an insulin spike which can lead to lethargy and overtime, causes weight gain. I opt instead to use stevia or xylitol, two natural, low calorie and carbohydrate sweeteners derived from plants, that have been scientifically proven not to have the same insulin impact as sugar. Xylitol is also great for preventing tooth decay and ear infections; a random, but cool benefit. Raw honey is another option that won’t spike insulin as much as sugar, and also has many antibacterial and antifungal benefits as well, but you have to use a lot of it to achieve the same sweetness as stevia or xylitol (and it's still a form of sugar).
- Use a binder. A binder will keep everything together and prevent a big crumbly mess on your plate. Eggs are the best option (and pasture raised, free range is optimal), but egg whites will work as well. Vegans can try flax or chia seeds, although they are generally less sticky. I have heard that refrigerating the raw dough for a few hours before baking vegan protein goodies helps to keep it together, but I haven’t tried that yet myself.
- Add a texture. Depending on what you’re making, this is optional. Blueberries are great in protein pancakes, chocolate chips are fabulous with pretty much anything, and chopped nuts and seeds give protein cookies a great crunchy texture. The world is your oyster (just don’t use them in baked goods, because that would be really gross).
- Timing is everything. Don’t over bake. Nothing should take longer than 15 to 20 minutes, and most baked goods cooked around 350 to 385 degrees should be done in 9 to 12 minutes. Overcooking will lead to a rubbery end result, so less is more here.
What's the best protein powder to bake with?
Hands down, I believe whey protein is the easiest protein powder to bake with. That said, pea and hemp protein powders can also work, although you want to use a different ratio. With whey protein, you can use up to 50% of the dry ingredients in a recipe as protein. With pea or hemp, you'll want to keep that ratio lower - more like 25% of the dry ingredients (or less). The reason is that plant-based proteins tend to have a texture that's more granular and less smooth.
My favorite popular brands of protein to bake with
- Orgain Why Protein
- Trutein Protein - these guys have super interesting flavors
- Vega Plant-Based Protein
What to watch out for when baking with protein
Make sure when you're selecting a protein, that it's not a full meal-replacement shake. There is a significant difference and the meal replacement shakes will give you unpredictable results. Plus, they're higher in calories and more expensive!
A Few Protein Baking Recipes to get you started!
That’s it! With these rules in mind, you should be able to come up with all kinds of amazing, gluten-free protein treats. Good luck with your protein adventures!