TRIAL AND ERROR
The following tips have been gathered by yours truly after years and years spent experiment with any and all protein powders in my kitchen. In case you’re wondering, the answer is yes: tastebuds were harmed in the making of this list. And yes, ingredients were sacrificed and feelings were hurt. But it’s the only way one learns, you know? By failing, learning, falling, getting back up, and trying again.
I had to go through a LOT of trial and error, in the early days of Protein Pow especially. See, when I started, I was one of the only people properly experimenting with protein powders – in the world! So there was no guide for me to follow; there was no handbook or existing knowledge-base for me to consult. It was just me and endless tubs of you-name-it, getting to know one another as I pioneered my way through a whole new world of protein powder cooking. Needless to say, I made a TON of mistakes in the process: rock-hard cakes and muffins, wooden-tasting cookies, brick-like cheesecakes, pancakes that could probably seal tire holes… I made it all.
But my mistakes quickly gave way to important lessons and experts in food manufacturing and high-protein cooking started approaching me for advice, buying my cookbooks, and asking me for tips to improve existing or new high-protein foods. So I figured I was in the right track, you know? And I kept going – cooking, experimenting, and going through a ridiculous amount of aprons. Yes, I’ve had a LOT of kitchen disasters in my days. But I’m glad for all of them because it’s them that now enable me to save hundreds upon thousands – if not millions – of you from making the same mistakes that I did. So soak up these tips, jot them down, and learn from my guineapigging ways! Here are my top tips for what NOT to do when cooking with protein powder:
1. DON’T SUB PEA WITH WHEY OR CASEIN
Don’t substitute pea protein powder for whey protein powder in ANY recipe you see. They’re both protein powders, sure, but they have totally different textures, tastes, and consistencies. Which brings me to my second tip:
2. DON’T IGNORE THE CHART
Make sure you consult (and ideally, memorize) my Protein Powder Substitution Chart so you know which powders are substitutable with which. The chart is a great first step to acquaint you with the powders. If you want to then learn more about them, check out my Introduction to the Powders Article.
3. DON’T USE TOO MUCH POWDER
Never bake a batter comprised of primarily protein powder – this is particularly the case when they’re making pancakes or protein muffins/cakes. If your batter is over 1/2 protein powder, your food WILL turn out really dry and rubbery, especially if the powder you’re using is whey or casein.
4. DON’T FORGET TO MOISTURIZE
Always use a moisturizer when making protein pancakes or baking protein cakes or muffins. What’s a moisturizer? A moisturizer is an ingredient that will ‘weight down’ your protein powder and add moisture to your food. You NEED a moisturizer when you’re cooking with whey and casein (otherwise will food will come out dry and rubbery). You also need one when you’re cooking with the veggie powders (like pea, rice, and hemp) because they tend to be very dense and need moisture to start singing. Here’s a list of my favorite moisturizers: bananas, Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, quark, cooked sweet potatoes, pumpkin puree, applesauce, and (cooked) beets.
5. DON’T TREAT COCONUT FLOUR LIKE YOU WOULD OTHER FLOURS
Use coconut flour sparingly. If you use too much coconut flour, whatever you’re making will turn out ridiculously fibrous, dry, and compact. Too much coconut flour makes things hard to swallow too! And I mean this literally – it can be dangerous. So use it carefully. Contrary to what it’s name may suggest, it is NOT like most other flours – e.g. oat, tapioca, buckwheat, rice, or even wheat flour. Gram for gram, you get FAR more fiber from coconut flour than you would from another flour. It’s FAR denser and lower in carbs. So don’t treat it like you would any other flour, OK? If conceptualizing it as ‘coconut powder’ helps you avoid its conflation with other flours, go for it. Call it coconut powder. Call it ground coconut. Just don’t call it late for dinner. *Insert sad trombone sound to flag up pitiably bad quote-unquote-humor.*
6. DON’T FORGET THE FAT WHEN YOU’RE MAKING PROTEIN COOKIES
If you’re baking Protein Cookies, you MUST use fat. This can be coconut oil, nut butter, actual butter, or even lard if you want to go ‘paleo’ on your cookies. Personally, I like using either coconut oil, nut butter, or a combo of the two. Here’s a good example of a Protein Cookie recipe using nut butter AND coconut oil. What I want you to remember is that, if you want to end up with a moist and crunchy cookie, you NEED to use some sort of fat. If you don’t, they’ll end up like ‘cookie-breads’ instead of cookies and they’ll never be crunchy. They won’t even be soft. They’ll just be like… thick cardboard. Mmmm, right? No. 7. DON’T FLUFF BY HAND
You cannot make Protein Fluff without an electric apparatus like one of the ones drawn to the left here. In other words, you can NOT whip up protein fluff by hand. I don’t care if you see yourself as a ‘Speedy Gonzalez of the Whisker’ or think of yourself as having a jacked-up arm that can whip things up at supersonic speed. You can’t make protein fluff by hand; it’s just humanly impossible (unless, of course, you have a specially-designed bionic arm whose sole function is electrical blending and whisking).
8. DON’T FORGET TO USE FROZEN FRUIT/VEG
You can’t make Protein Fluff with fresh fruit or vegetables. Your fruit (or vegetables) have to be frozen. If your fruit or veg isn’t frozen, you’re in for a smoothie, not fluff. What kind of vegetables can you use to make protein fluff? You can use frozen (cooked) cauliflower, frozen (cooked) sweet potato or butternut squash, or frozen carrots (if you use vanilla whey and then top it with cinnamon, you can make a pretty gnarly carrot cake protein fluff using frozen carrots!)
9. DON’T LEAVE YOUR EGG POW ‘UNCONSTITUTED’
When cooking with egg protein powder, remember that you HAVE to ‘reconstitute’ it. That means adding enough liquid to it to turn it into liquid egg whites. If you don’t reconstitute it (i.e. bring it back to ‘life’), whatever you’re making will end up like a weirdly rubbery and salty ‘thing’ that’ll leave you with sadface and nothing else.
10. Never bake a Protein Cheesecake until it’s solid and your knife comes out clean.
As with every cheesecake, you have to take it out from the oven while it’s still a bit wobbly in the center. The reason for this is that the cheesecake will continue cooking once it’s out. It’ll set as it cools. So you don’t want to bake it until it’s all solid because then a lot of its creaminess will have been obliterated. How do you know how wobbly it should be? Just eye it up: if it wobbles just a bit (kind of like a set panna cotta), it’s done – take it out. If it wobbles like crazy and looks wet in the center, leave it in. You basically want a subtle wobble – not a sludge.
11. DON’T ADD EGGS TO YOUR CHEESECAKE BASES
Since we’re on the topic of cheesecakes, remember to never add egg – or egg whites – to your cheesecake bases. You don’t want to make a cake out of the base mix, you want something that’ll be densely packed and ‘crumble-cookieish’ in texture. I swear by my Three Ingredient Cheesecake Base and I recommend you try it too because it’s the best cheesecake base I’ve ever come up with; it’s comprised of three ingredients: 1. nut/seed butter, 2. honey/agave, 3. ground nuts. That’s it. You don’t need anything else. Just mix those three ingredients together, press them onto the bottom of a springform pan, and kapow-POW! You got yourself the best protein cheesecake base on the planet.
12. DON’T FORGET TO ENJOY YOURSELF AND HAVE FUN!
To end a more positive note, consider my approach to protein powder cooking in general:
1. Don’t be overly rigid or scared about experimenting with your powders, ingredients, and flavors. 2. Throw your hat into the air. 3. Turn up your music. 4. Dance +/- The Funky Chicken (while, for example, waiting for your pancakes to cook or your cake to be ready) 5. Sing or whistle while you bake. 6. Sample your batters. 7. Listen to your tastebuds. 8. Draw outside the lines and think outside the shake!