A few weeks ago we caught up with Michele Rosen, aka the “Paleo Running Momma,” an avid runner and paleo recipe blogger from Tenafly. Her book, Paleo Baking at Home, had just come out and Rosen was (reasonably) pretty darn excited. Granted, a lot has changed since we spoke with Rosen—this was before any mention of “social distancing” had hit the news cycle, let alone quarantine—but now that we think about it, the timing actually works out: as coronavirus precautions escalate, most of us are inside all day, and the kitchen has become a major outlet not only for regular meals but creativity, family togetherness, and comfort. What better time to explore some new baking projects?
Even if you’re not a dedicated paleo dieter (and no one else in Rosen’s family is), the recipes from her book are all designed to replicate classic textures and flavors. But they’re also grain- and gluten-free and tend to be both higher fat and higher protein, meaning sustained energy and less of a sugar crash. Check our interview with Rosen—who’s still blogging and updating her Instagram with new recipes, savory and sweet—to see what paleo baking is all about and how you can recreate some nutritionally-packed, tummy-comforting magic in this time of elevated stress.
Table Hopping: How did you go from a paleo running blog to writing what’s likely to be the definitive paleo home-baking cookbook?
Michele Rosen: I started the blog at the end of March 2014. At first, it really wasn’t about cooking. It was more about running. And it was just a hobby. Along the way I got more into creating recipes and that’s the direction it took. Probably two or three years into it, it was fully a recipe blog. I would say over the past three years, I got really into recipes, especially baking recipes. Page Street Publishing contacted me last years and said it was time to start thinking about doing a book.
TH: How did you get into eating paleo?
MR: Back in 2014, everyone had started talking about being gluten-free for your health. I kind of started that way, then dove right into Whole 30, which is a very strict paleo diet. I started getting used to cooking meals paleo at that point. I did a lot of experimenting to see what works. And it took a while—the older recipes on the blog are kind of like “Oh wow!” Some were good. But there were a few where I’m not sure what I was thinking!
TH: It must have been hard learning to bake paleo, where refined sugar, grains, dairy, and even some vegetable oils are all pretty much a no-no?
MR: Really, it was just a ton of experimenting. I started hitting on some good combinations and getting a hang of the flours.
TH: Speaking of the flours, what are the major differences between paleo and conventional baking recipes?
MR: Essentially it’s just grain-free, but that also includes gluten-free, and mainly dairy-free, although you can use grass-fed butter or ghee, an Indian clarified butter. I do use ghee in the book. They’re also refined sugar-free. I use anything unrefined. Maple syrup, honey. There are no legumes either. Instead of peanut butter, you’re using almond butter. I do include eggs in the book.
TH: Finding the right flour must be a major part of the challenge?
MR: Of the three flours I use the most of, probably the most used is blanched almond flour. You get the best results with it. I tend to combine almond with tapioca flour or arrowroot flour. It’s really starchy. You get a bit more of the texture you would from a gluten-type of flour. And I use coconut flour, though not alone.
TH: With things like almond and coconut flour as the base, I’d assume the recipes are higher fat?
MR: Yeah definitely, these recipes are all lower in carbs and higher in fat. But with paleo you’re not concerned really with avoiding higher fat.
TH: Is it super difficult though to stock your baking pantry for paleo recipes?
MR: Nowadays most grocery stores do carry the flours you need—almond, coconut, tapioca. I personally buy stuff on Amazon. But especially somewhere like Whole Foods, you can find everything. Even just at my local grocery store, if I need an ingredient quickly, I can usually get what I need.
TH: Any insider tips in terms of sweeteners?
MR: I love using maple sugar. I always buy that on Amazon. But it depends on the recipe. If you want to keep things light in color, like cookies you want to resemble the original version, maple sugar works well. For pumpkin bread or carrot cake, coconut sugar has a deeper caramel flavor.
TH: You have a pretzel recipe in the book, which seems like a major challenge to do paleo and gluten-free.
MR: You’re actually using the same method you would for a regular pretzel, boiling then baking. It’s just a matter of figuring out the ratio of flour. I used a lot of tapioca flour for the pretzels, along with flaxseed meal and almond flour. The combination of the three made a really goo dough that winds up being chew after you boil and bake it. You don’t have to start with that, of course—it’s not the easiest in the book!
TH: Speaking of “easy,” how different are these recipes from conventional baking recipes?
MR: Some recipes really aren’t tricky at all. Some are really simple, like making a banana bread. You’re using different ingredients but the method is the same. Baking paleo chocolate chip cookies is similar. You work your way up. At pie dough, things get trickier. But it’s pretty much the same.
TH: How close to the conventional version of baked goods do you get? Or is it about completely unique textures and flavors?
MR: My goal has always been trying to get close to the traditional recipe. The texture should be very close and the flavors might only be a little different. It doesn’t take a whole lot of getting used to. For instance, my kids don’t just eat paleo but they’re happy to bake cupcakes from my website.
TH: Speaking of cupcakes, what about icing? Can you do paleo buttercream?
MR: I do have a buttercream. I’ll use completely dairy-free fat, palm oil or shortening, with raw honey and tapioca, which thickens it up a bit. Raw honey is really thick, light-colored and creamy. It works really well.
TH: What are some of your favorite recipes in the book?
MR: One of my favorites is the Cherry Pie Bars. And they’re simple. Also the Blueberry Crumb Pie. I’m just a bit pie fan! Also the Cookie Dough-stuffed Brownies are one of my favorites.
TH: You’re a paleo eater, but have you gotten feedback from “standard” diet folks?
MR: My sister doesn’t eat paleo, but over the course of making this book, obviously I was sharing a lot of recipes with people and got feedback. They don’t get the energy crash that you typically get with regular desserts. It’s just higher fat and lower sugar. It feels like you’re eating something filling, not just a treat.
TH: This seems like a big leap into publishing. Do you plan on doing another cookbook?
MR: I hope to do another cookbook that isn’t just baking. I do a lot of different savory recipes. Meanwhile I continue to post new recipes every week.