Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Coconut flour spoonbread

First of all, if the term "spoonbread" has you puzzled, let me introduce you: Spoonbread is a very old traditional American dish which is somewhat similar to corn pudding, but with a bit more substance - essentially a hybrid of cornbread and baked custardBecause of this custardy consistency, it is generally served with a spoon right out of the baking dish, which is presumably where the name comes from. The relative proportions of cornmeal, milk/cream, eggs, & butter can vary quite a bit from recipe to recipe, with some versions being almost like pudding and others with more of a soufflé texture. Some also add other ingredients such as cheese, sweet potato, or peppers. This version keeps it fairly simple, but with a twist - it's made with coconut flour and coconut milk instead of the traditional cornmeal and dairy milk! As with the conventional version, this is not a sweet dish per se; there is some subtle sweetness from the ingredients, but it's definitely savory enough to pair well with classic picnic foods like baked beans. 

That said, if you're wondering what the strawberry shortcake pictured above has to do with all this, that's one example of something you can do with leftover coconut spoonbread! So while it is not inherently sweet, it can be used for sweeter foods as well - I've included some suggestions for this at the bottom of the post. But first, let me back up a bit...

Recently I was invited to participate in a project nuts.com is putting together for the 4th of July, centered on American-themed recipes featuring coconut flour. This combination of themes intrigued me - especially the coconut flour part, as it's an ingredient I haven't used much and this seemed like a good opportunity to learn more. The learning process has been lots of fun! Coconut has some really interesting and useful properties that make it not quite like any other flour I've used.

Thus, I wanted to make something that would really feature the properties of coconut (as opposed to something that "just happens" to use coconut flour, or something that hides it under a bunch of other ingredients). Here's some of what I've learned through research and experimentation:

Coconut flour is usually made from coconut that has already been pressed for oil and/or milk - as a result, it's very absorbent and surprisingly lightweight, behaving almost more like a whole-grain flour than like a nut flour. In contrast to those other lightweight flours, however, much of its substance comes from fiber, not starch. You may see this mentioned a lot in the context of nutrition - some people select this flour on the basis of the high fiber content / low carbohydrate content / low impact on blood sugar. Personally, I tend to avoid focusing heavily on the potential health benefits of individual foods or nutrients - my approach to nutrition is a bit more...holistic, I guess? However, it's important to point out that these same traits that make coconut flour attractive nutritionally - specifically the type of fiber and the lack of starch - are also responsible for its unique baking qualities. For one thing, it won't taste pasty or gummy like some flours can in high-moisture formulas, and also doesn't stale (harden) the way many flours tend to. I am still in the process of learning the best applications for these properties, but I know these are two reasons I will definitely be using this flour more frequently! 

I do also want to bring up a different kind of health-related aspect: 

There are a lot of reasons someone might need or want to reduce or avoid certain grains, or even all grains, and this means even GF baking is frequently off-limits. Coconut flour seems to me to be more versatile than some other non-grain flours such as almond meal, and provides a slight natural sweetness without adding any other sweeteners. These qualities mean it's an especially useful ingredient for people who avoid grains or other high-starch foods, in addition to being an interesting flour in general. I'm always happy to find ingredients that not only make good food, but also make it available to more people who would otherwise be left out!

OK, so these are all good things. But what about the other theme? I was struggling to find a way to connect coconut to the 4th of July. I mean, when most people think of coconut, "America" isn't exactly the first thing that comes to mind. 

...Except for one particular part of it. Back in 1959, when Hawaii became the 50th state, the event spurred a huge increase in already-popular "Hawaiian" and "tiki"-themed things - especially food. And yes, the quotation marks are there for a reason: This trend usually meant simply taking a normal sort of recipe and adding canned pineapple and/or shredded coconut (and then, for bonus points, arranging it in some kitschy way). So, I didn't manage to find much inspiration in those retro recipes.

However, I felt the larger concept - reinterpreting a traditional American food using distinctive ingredients - had potential.

Well, OK, it wasn't actually quite that simple. I went through a few different ideas and a great deal of frustration before that train of thought eventually led me to spoonbread, and learned some important things about ingredients along the way. (Which I will save for a different post because this one's already really long! The frustration with ingredients resulted from one of those earlier ideas, a very different coconut recipe which I still want to share but it needs a little polishing before I can post it. So I will share the lessons I learned along with that recipe. For now, I'll just say please check out the note about coconut milk at the bottom of the page before you start!)

Now, on to the recipe! 

Coconut Spoonbread

100 g coconut flour, divided
3 g (1/2 tsp) sea salt
320 g coconut milk, divided (**see note at bottom of post**)
40 g coconut oil
20 g arrowroot starch 
5 eggs, room temperature

1. Put 40 g of the coconut flour in a small pan and toast over low heat, stirring frequently. This brings out a biscuity, savory quality that really complements the subtle sweetness of the bread. Once it begins to lightly brown, remove from heat and combine with the other 60 g coconut flour. Mix salt into flour, & let flour cool before proceeding. 

2. Put the coconut oil into a mixer bowl and set aside. 

3. The silky texture of traditional spoonbread is due in part to recipes commonly involving partially pregelatinizing (pre-cooking) the starch in the cornmeal, either by cooking it in milk like mush or by stirring boiling liquid into it. Coconut flour, though, has none of this starch - that's
where the arrowroot comes in. The arrowroot is cooked into a sort of pudding which helps stabilize the mixture and keep the bread moist, in addition to contributing to the texture. 

To do this, put the arrowroot into a small bowl and stir in 20 g coconut milk to make a smooth paste, then heat the remaining 300 g coconut milk in a small saucepan, stirring constantly. (You can use the same pan you toasted the flour in - it's OK if there are a few crumbs of flour still in there.) When the milk is very warm, stir a couple spoonfuls of it into the arrowroot mixture, then add that mixture back into the saucepan, stirring constantly over low heat until thickened. Immediately add the milk-arrowroot mixture to the mixer bowl. 

4. Using paddle attachment, slowly increase speed so the oil does not splash out - then beat until the mixture is well combined. (I recommend doing it this way, rather than cooking the oil together with the milk, because I had trouble getting the arrowroot to incorporate smoothly with the latter method.)

Continue beating until the mixture is homogenous and sticking to the sides of the bowl, and it has cooled down enough that you can comfortably put your hand on the bottom of the bowl. Then add the eggs one at a time, stirring well after each addition. When all eggs have been added, beat on medium speed until it becomes noticeably light and foamy, but not too dry - about 2 minutes. Then add the coconut flour a little at a time, mixing until there are no lumps, but stirring gently so as not to deflate the mixture too much.

5. Gently pour the batter into an oiled casserole dish. Carefully spoon a little thinned coconut milk over the top and, if desired, grate a little nutmeg over it (optional, but traditional). 

Bake on center rack of oven at 375º F/190º C for 10-15 minutes (depending on how deep your baking dish is), then reset oven temperature to 350º F/175º C and continue baking another ~20 minutes, until the center is set but still soft. The bread will be puffy when you first remove it from the oven, as shown at the bottom of the post. 

It will fall a bit as it cools - that's OK.

Serve warm or cold. Leftovers should be refrigerated.  

Bonus "recipe" for shortcake: Cut cold leftover coconut spoonbread into slices. Add strawberries, peach slices, or other fresh summer fruit. Top with a big dollop of coconut cream, whipped cream, or thick yogurt. I've been eating this for breakfast! (To get coconut cream, simply refrigerate a can of full-fat coconut milk overnight - the thickest, creamiest part will rise to the top.)

**Note on coconut milk: Be sure to use a brand of coconut milk that does not have guar gum or other added stabilizers - ideally the only ingredients should be coconut & water! This is important for both the texture and flavor of the recipe. (Guess how I know.) You might have to go to an Asian grocery to find one without gum - that was the only place I could find it.
And this probably goes without saying, but definitely don't use that watery "milk substitute" stuff.

*Notes on substitutions

- Regardless of what kind of flour it's made of, the characteristic texture and rich flavor of spoon bread is very much influenced by eggs. I have not found a satisfactory egg substitute here - I think a different recipe would be needed for an eggless bread, as opposed to using a substitute. (That said, if you do come up with an eggless adaptation of this recipe, please let me know in the comments!)
- Because of the arrowroot in this particular recipe, this bread does contain some starch; however, it's still much lower in starch than cornmeal-based bread. I recognize that for some people, even this minimal amount of starch is a problem. If you want to try making an even lower-carbohydrate version, please let me know how it turns out!

All the opinions here are my own - I was not compensated for this post. I simply thought the project sounded fun!

Wednesday, 29 April 2015


I know a few weeks ago I promised some recipes to follow up this post - so far I've made a couple of things with the peel, but both still need some work. These are the "rough drafts," though:
Lemon almond...thing...using the peel and the leftover syrup.
Cranberry citrus scones/cake - no pic of finished product, but the ingredients sure were pretty! 

Things have been pretty hectic around here lately for a combination of reasons, so I haven't exactly had time to revisit these particular recipes - or, for that matter, any of the other half-written posts I have laying around. Trying my best to finish up some of them soon!

First and foremost, we have been MOVING! (Again.) Thankfully, in town this time, actually only about 5 miles away (instead of, you know, 5 days...) Also thankfully, we have family and friends nearby enough to come help this time, so we had basically a big moving party and managed to get all the heavy stuff moved in one day. I'm pretty much useless as far as lifting/carrying, so my job was taking care of the food for that night! Got the kitchen set up enough to test out the oven and cook a big dinner. That means I've been able to make time for some baking, at least, even if the heavy-duty recipe-development has been on hold (because chocolate-chip cookies are essential to the moving process, obviously).
New oven appears to be functioning properly. (Photographer not so much, sorry!)
Still, the whole process has been a huge heap of stress: paperwork, inspections, waiting, more paperwork, delays, more waiting...and did I mention paperwork?! And then there's the actual moving part, with all the disarray that generates. We're done with that part now, at least, and things are steadily taking shape as we figure out where everything needs to go. The kitchen is almost totally set up, and I am so excited about it, and can't wait to start seriously baking in it (still figuring out the gas range though)!

On a note which may or may not be related, there might be a sudden proliferation of recipes for sweet things being posted in the near future. (Hey, don't judge...everyone has their own ways of dealing with stress, and at the moment, my way involves pastry.)
Part of a balanced breakfast?

P.S. On top of the house stuff, I've also been continuing to work on the big projects I've been hinting about for a while now. Some of them are getting to the point where I'll be able to share some seriously exciting developments/announcements soon-ish, hopefully! Stay tuned!

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Honey-Candied Citrus Peels

February is a time for stirring. The flutters of restlessness after winter's excitements have worn off, the tiny signs that the outside world is waking up and preparing to grow again - readiness for change, both inside and out. A time of transition, where nothing is content to stay still. At least, that's what I feel every year at around this time. Call it cabin fever or simply instinct - something begins to urge me to think about spring cleaning, to seek out fresh air, a bright spot, a change of scenery. It seems to always be the time for plans and ideas, the start of new things. One of those "new things," 5 whole years ago now, was the start of this blog. I'd planned a larger, more exciting, more special (and timely) post to mark this occasion (...blogiversary? ...blogday?) but, funnily enough, more new things got in the way. Exciting things. (Well, aside from a cold - that was neither exciting nor good...) 

But even good news has a way of upending everything when it unfolds so suddenly. Hopefully I'll have time to get to those bigger plans and new recipes pretty soon. For now, though, something simpler. 

OK, I know what you may be thinking: simple? What's simple about making something you could just buy at the store? 

Well, a lot of things. For one thing, ingredients - the store-bought stuff is generally going to contain a lot more than just citrus peels and sugar (and not in a good way)! The recipe is actually quite simple to make, too. You can find a bunch of recipes online for candied peel with just sugar and water. I wanted to give it a more interesting flavor, so I replaced part of those with honey and lemon juice. The procedure is just as straightforward as the all-sugar method, though. 

I originally wanted to replace all the sugar with honey, but chickened out at the last minute because I was worried it would change the texture too much. If you do try that, though, please let me know how it goes! 

I actually made this with the intent of using it in a specific project - one that actually involves, well, baking - which I haven't gotten to yet, as mentioned...but it's also a good recipe in its own right, whether you want to use it in baking, as a decorative touch, or even on its own (perhaps dipped in chocolate?) as a small sweet. 

The finished product seems a little more sticky than the standard recipe, but for most purposes this won't really matter - it might be too wet for certain kinds of garnishes or dipping in chocolate, but I haven't tested that yet. 
The flavor is indeed more complex, and the leftover syrup...well, I had to stop myself from eating spoonfuls of the stuff - it tastes like pure essence of marmalade!  

Honey-Candied Citrus Peel

**Note: Please make sure to use organic fruits - as with any recipe using citrus zest or peel. Seriously, you don't want to eat the peels of the conventional kind, because they're usually coated with antifungals or other things that really aren't meant to be ingested! The organic ones may still have a very thin coating of wax, but it will be food-grade vegetable wax and should come off without much trouble.**  

Select several citrus fruits with unblemished skins (I used 5 small lemons and 1 medium-sized orange, which gave me 145 g of peel - a little over a cup). Wash and scrub them very well (just because they're organic doesn't mean they're clean!) 
Cut off a small piece at the stem end. With a sharp knife, score the top layer of peel as if you were cutting it into wedges, but try not to cut into the fruit itself. Quarters work well for small lemons and limes, while anything bigger should probably be scored into sixths or eighths. Now, use the tip of the knife to lift up the edge where you cut off the stem. Slip your thumb underneath this edge and gradually separate each wedge of peel from the fruit, one at a time. Repeat with the rest of the fruits. 

- Cut the peel into thin, even strips. Length of the strips can vary depending on what you want them for - I cut them fairly short since they'll mainly be used in recipes, but long strips would probably look more elegant for decoration or dipping in chocolate. (You'll now also have several naked citrus fruits, which should be refrigerated for some other use.)

- Put the strips of peel into a pan and cover with cold water. Add a pinch of salt and bring to a boil.

- Boil 10-12 minutes, then drain and discard the water. Repeat the boiling process, depending on what kind of peel you're using - lemons and limes should be ok with 1-2 boils, while oranges need 2-3 and grapefruit even more. The aim is to get rid of the unpleasantly bitter components, without making the peel too soft and mushy. 

- Next, set the peels aside while you make the syrup (you can use the same pan). 

For the syrup you will need: a fairly mild-flavored, light- or medium-colored honey (clover, wildflower, etc); sugar (I used unbleached / evaporated cane juice); water; and lemon juice. I'm giving ratios because the amount of syrup you need is not based entirely on the amount of peel - it will also depend on the size and shape of your pan. You need enough to keep the peels completely covered. It's better to have too much than not enough; there are lots of uses for the leftover syrup! 
The basic ratio is 2 parts honey : 2 parts sugar : 2 parts water : 1 part lemon juice. (For example, I used 120 g honey, 120 g sugar, 120 g water, & 60 g lemon juice, which was just enough to cover ~1 cup of peel in an 8-inch saucepan.)

- Combine all syrup ingredients in a pan over medium heat. When the sugar/honey have completely dissolved and the mixture has come to a simmer, add the peel. Cover and continue simmering for an hour - a glass lid is useful here, so you can keep an eye on it. Check occasionally to make sure all the pieces stay submerged in syrup, and to adjust temperature if needed.

- Strain the peel well (keep the syrup!) and spread the pieces in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with wax paper or parchment. Let dry for several hours or overnight. 

- Toss with sugar and spread out on a fresh piece of wax paper or parchment (the first one will have a coating of sticky syrup which will make the sugar clumpy) and dry for a few more hours before putting in a jar - this will reduce stickiness. Store in the fridge or freezer. It should keep for at least a few weeks refrigerated, more if frozen. 

Coming soon: recipe(s) using the peel, the syrup, or both!

Friday, 23 January 2015

Yeast bread techniques, Lesson 3: Density

In the quest for the perfect crusty, open-crumbed loaf for sopping up olive oil and making sandwiches, it can sometimes be easy to overlook the other kinds of bread out there. There are so many kinds of delightfully dark, flavorful breads to be discovered in European baking traditions - they may not have caught on here in the way that lighter French or Italian bread styles have, but they're no less delicious. 
People accustomed to whiter flours tend to equate "dense" with disappointment. Gluten-free bakers, especially, are all too familiar with that association: a slab of bland starch, a crumbly dry sandwich that falls apart when you try to bite it. We've all choked down more than a few slices of that kind of bread.

This is not that bread. 

It's true it may not be as multi-purpose as a lighter bread, but that's not a bad thing. It's somewhat akin to aged cheese, or dry sausage - slice it thinly, pair it with the right things, and you're in for a treat. Yes, dense bread can be a very good thing indeed! 
This particular recipe is a German-style loaf. Vollkornbrot simply means, literally, "whole grain bread." So, while it is most commonly a rye-based sourdough, there's nothing that says it has to be - it just needs to be composed completely of whole ingredients. 
This recipe certainly meets that definition. That's right - it doesn't need any refined starch at all. It also doesn't need any single-function binders or thickeners, not even pectin, or any baking powder. All of its structure, substance, flavor, and binding capacity comes from whole-food ingredients. In this case, that's just grains, seeds, legumes, and sweet potato...and one more, um, unconventional ingredient. You see, I was looking for a way to make good bread while waiting for my sourdough starter to wake up after we'd been out of town. I've had good results using yogurt and kefir for makeshift sourdough in the past, but this time I decided to try something new: sauerkraut! Or rather, sauerkraut juice. Don't worry, it's not enough to taste anything unusual in the bread - just enough to get some fermentation going. And I think it works even better than the yogurt! 
This is a very high-hydration bread; while it does definitely come together as a dough (as opposed to a batter), don't expect to be shaping this one with your hands! On that same note, you really don't need a mixer for this one - in fact, it comes together quite easily with just a spatula.

This bread is also very simple to make. There are no complicated techniques or skills required - the recipe is long because I've included so many notes and pictures to make it as clear and approachable as possible. 

A few notes:
- This recipe is very flexible. Just be sure to keep roughly the same basic proportions of whole grains and seeds (i.e. things you'd normally cook), soft seeds (i.e. those that can be eaten raw), and flours. Using an assortment of small, medium, and large grains/seeds will make the bread more interesting and attractive, but it should still work if you use (for example) all millet for the whole grain or all sunflower for the soft seeds. The chia, flax, and sweet potato are the essential constants - these each contribute unique properties, so changing any of them may change the result significantly. (I'd love to get into the chemistry of this, but this post is long enough already!)
- You need raw sauerkraut for this to work. This means not the canned/shelf-stable kind; it needs to be fresh with live, active cultures. Full disclosure: the kraut I used contains a little bit of ginger, which is known to increase yeast activity, but I really don't think it's enough to make a difference to the amount of yeast required in this situation.
- I touched on the difference between light and dark buckwheat flours in this post, and it may sound like I'm contradicting myself here. In this case, I recommend specifically using dark buckwheat flour from Anson Mills - the color comes from some of the hulls being milled with the grain, as with any dark buckwheat flour; the difference is, the hulls in AM's flour are toasted to bring out the aromatic aspects, and (like all their flours) it's been specially processed and stored in a way that prevents undesirable oxidation. This results in a flour that is complex and flavorful rather than harsh-tasting. However, it's still capable of overwhelming other flavors if used in high quantities, and with this recipe there's a lot of flavor complexity from the other grains and seeds that I don't want to cover up. That's where the other type comes in. Light buckwheat flour is milder, as it does not contain any hull fragments. The easiest way to get it is probably to just grind it yourself from whole buckwheat in a coffee grinder or food processor. If for whatever reason you don't want to use both, I recommend either: using the dark buckwheat in the amounts called for and adding more garbanzo or pea flour in place of the light kind, or using the light kind for all the buckwheat called for. 
- I make sweet potato puree in large batches for feeding my sourdough starter - this batch came out a bit watery, definitely much thinner than regular mashed sweet potatoes, so you may need to water yours down a bit to match the consistency shown. (It should be about the consistency of baby food...I think? It's been twentysomething years since I've encountered baby food, and I wasn't exactly in a position to evaluate it objectively, ha!) Here I used a yellow/white-fleshed variety, but the more common orange types work just as well.
- You will need a Pullman loaf pan or other bread pan with an oven-safe lid/cover (even a makeshift lid will do). Just make sure there is plenty of room for the loaf to rise without hitting the lid! 

Multigrain Vollkornbrot
As written, this recipe makes a smallish loaf. If you would like to use a full-size Pullman pan, you may double the recipe.

Grain soak:
20 grams each: whole millet, whole buckwheat, whole amaranth, GF steel-cut oats, whole teff, short-grain brown rice.
120 g mineral water, hot
1/8 tsp salt

35 g dark buckwheat flour (source)
35 g teff flour
30 g garbanzo flour or pea flour
20 g GF rolled oats
110 g mineral water, hot
15 g sauerkraut juice
1/8 tsp yeast

Combine all grain soak ingredients in a small bowl. In a large bowl, stir the hot water into the flours and oats, and add the kraut juice and yeast once it's cooled a little. Cover both bowls and set aside at room temperature for about 14 hours. 

Dry mix:
50 g light buckwheat flour
30 g pea flour or garbanzo flour
20 g dark buckwheat flour 
25 g pepita (pumpkin seed) meal (grind in food processor/blender)
5 g chia meal
5 g flax meal
4 g sea salt

25 g pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
25 g sunflower seeds
15 g hemp seeds
15 g flax seeds
50 g chia seeds

Additional ingredients:
180 g sweet potato puree
40 g mineral water, or more as needed

Next day, mix the chia seeds, flax seeds, and 40 g water into the grain soak and set aside to thicken for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Then add in the remaining seeds. Stir the sweet potato into the sponge, then the seed/grain mixture. 
Gradually add the flour. The mixture will seem pretty runny at first, but it will become more cohesive as the chia and flax polysaccharides become more hydrated - set it aside for a few minutes to prepare the baking pan. 
Cut a piece of parchment that is large enough to line the entire inside of the baking pan, plus enough extra to come a couple of inches over the top. Fold it so it will lay smoothly against the sides of the pan, including in the corners - essentially, you're folding a paper box to nest neatly inside the baking pan. It is important that the sides be fully covered, and that the paper is folded so it overlaps to form "handles" at the short ends of the box - you will need to use these handles. (This probably sounds much more complicated than it is - the picture below should clear up any confusion.)
Remove the paper box and set it, slightly unfolded, on a flat surface.
Lightly knead the dough with the spatula for a moment - see how much more cohesive it's become? Now, scoop the dough onto the paper, aiming to put it only on the bottom part of the paper box, like so:
Forming the loaf this way produces much neater results than trying to scoop thick dough directly into a lined pan.
Now, re-fold the paper "handles" at the short ends, grab onto them, and lift the loaf into the baking pan. Adjust the paper as needed to straighten wrinkles, scraping any stray strands of dough off the paper with a spatula. Fold the excess paper over the sides of the box, like a collar.      

Smooth the top with a wet spatula or pastry brush, making sure to moisten all exposed surface. Cover the loaf and set it someplace cozy. After one hour, repeat the moistening process, taking care not to tear or squish the surface - don't worry if it hasn't risen visibly by this point. Cover again and let rise another hour. By this point you should notice a slight increase in height - it won't be dramatic, just enough to prove that the yeast is active. Most of the increase in volume will happen in the oven. Make sure your lid/cover allows enough room for that!
Score the top with a sharp paring knife to allow it to expand in the oven. You may notice the top of the loaf has formed a sort of filmy skin - cut carefully so you don't tear this skin too much. Place the pan, covered, directly on the baking stone with oven pre-heated to 475F/245C and bake covered for 6 minutes. Remove cover, continue baking at that temp about 4-5 minutes, then lower the temperature setting to 440F/225 C (this makes sure the oven has returned to the starting temperature before then gradually lowering). After 40 minutes, lower the temperature once more to 425F/220C. Remove the pan from the oven, and -- carefully! -- grab hold of the folded paper "handles" on both ends of the loaf, lift it from the pan, and quickly return the paper-wrapped loaf to the baking stone. Continue baking another 20-25 minutes, until all sides of the loaf are firm.
Once the loaf is cool enough to handle, place it in a paper bag to finish cooling (this helps distribute moisture evenly).
Wait, there's still one more thing you need to do! This is the hardest step: wait 18-24 hours before cutting the loaf. Yes, I know it smells wonderful! I know warm, fresh-baked bread is tantalizing, and you will have the impulse to immediately slather it with butter. But believe it or not, even after all that baking time, it's actually still not "done" yet - the carbohydrate structure needs to finish setting, which happens gradually as it cools. This is true of any bread that gets most or all of its structure from polysaccharide chains - even 100%-rye breads, while they do of course contain gluten, actually get much of their crumb structure from carbohydrates, and as a result will be sticky and pasty if cut too soon. The amount of time this takes depends on many factors in the bread's composition - some breads are OK to cut as soon as they're cool, but others (including this one) take longer. This waiting period also gives some time for the flavor to mature.
Store the bread wrapped in a paper bag. It can be kept this way for a few days at room temperature - past that, it should probably be refrigerated. 

Friday, 16 January 2015

C is for colors...and cookies!

As of a few weeks ago, I've been living gluten-free for 7 years. 7 years!! That's a long time! A lot has changed in the gluten-free world since then. I've previously mentioned how my own approach to baking has changed and evolved over that time - why I became less and less interested in duplicating the properties of gluten, per se, but have instead been increasingly drawn towards finding the inherent properties special to our ingredients, and applying them in ways that make the best foods. (There is a difference, especially in the context of bread - something I will elaborate on very soon, with a loaf bread recipe!) I've already shown you a bit of how I've been applying this...but it goes beyond just the flours and baking techniques. I promised I'd keep you updated on the bigger picture - so here's one of the pieces I've been working on these past several months. 

It all started with a cookie.

A repertoire of chocolate frostings, white fluffy buttercream, pearly royal icing, and lemon glaze will go a long way towards covering most things that require decoration of the sugary persuasion. But a little over a year ago, I got the urge to make sugar cookies for Christmas - meaning colors would be required. So festive! So pretty! I was excited to have an occasion to get a bit fancy. Now, at this point I should mention that I don't use synthetic food coloring in my kitchen. Surely there would be suitable alternatives, though...right? Yet, the (horrendously expensive) natural colors obtained from a certain (notoriously overpriced) natural food store chain turned out to be a bit...underwhelming. 

Sure, they were pretty. But the initially-bright colors faded noticeably as the icing dried, and because of the chemical nature of these vegetable pigments, the color range is very limited by what kind of recipe you're adding it to (they are very pH sensitive, among other things). Neither of these things were surprising, from a chemistry perspective - it was something else that was still bothering me.

Maybe it was frustration with hearing GF baking referred to as "imitation" or "a substitute for the real thing" that spurred me to become more critical of my choice of ingredients. Maybe it was annoyance at seeing the egregious misuse of the term "artisanal" on the packaging of one too many clearly-mass-produced food products. (Artisanal tea bags? Really? What is that even supposed to mean??) In any case, when I really thought about it, I realized it wasn't just about the results of the colors themselves, or even the expense. I was bothered by the idea of buying food coloring.

I cared about more than just what the product is made from. I realized what I really wanted was the aspect of craft. I guess that's become a bit trendy these days, but I don't think that makes it any less important. Artisanship, in the actual definition of the word - a combination of skill, knowledge, and artistry - gives the end product meaning beyond just the sum of its ingredients, much more than a vague "all-natural." I could do better than a bottle of cabbage juice concentrate - both in the sense of better results, and in the sense of fitting much better with that from-scratch philosophy. 

So, that's what I did. Using actual foods and some science, I've been working on making my icings just as special as the cookies. No recipe today, but here are some more pictures of the process: 

At first, I had two colors...then three...

...Then four...and more!
A few favorites from this year's Christmas cookies: Hedgehogs, owls, a goose, and a moose!

Saturday, 22 November 2014

For Thanksgiving: A Savory Apple Cobbler

The other day I stumbled across a recipe for savory oatmeal cookies. I thought it was a clever idea, and was particularly intrigued by the nice balance of novelty and familiarity it evokes - something that manages to feel traditional, yet at the same time is fresh and new. That same approach, I realized, could go beyond simply creating delicious food; it could also provide an elegant solution to a dilemma that becomes especially apparent as holidays approach: how to reconcile the desire to keep with tradition, and the need to change tradition that sometimes goes hand-in-hand with food sensitivities. I don't mean just swapping sweet and savory, or using alternative ingredients; I'm talking about that larger idea - something that's not quite familiar, yet somehow seems to belong, with all the appeal of the other well-loved traditions on the table. Sometimes we directly adapt the old recipes; other times, we replace them with something entirely different. And sometimes, there is something in between - a bit from both, a bit from neither - which neither replaces nor competes, but rather adds. It takes the focus off of dietary restrictions, and instead allows food to be simply food - with all of the enjoyment that entails.

This is one of those foods. With its roasted squash, apples, savory herbs, and nutty cornmeal-oat topping, this cobbler even tastes like Thanksgiving - all autumnal and cozy, homey but by no means homely. There's just a hint of sweetness to complement those flavors - it's definitely a side dish, not a dessert (though it would fit in wonderfully as an accompaniment to a cheese course, too). The recipe is designed for flexibility: almost everything can be done a day in advance, and the quantities/types of filling can be varied as needed. Best of all, the grain ingredients - just cornmeal and oats, no added starch or binders - are easy-to-find (and all "normal" ingredients, for those family members who may be skeptical of GF baked goods!).

Savory Apple Cobbler
For the crumble topping:
80 g GF rolled oats, divided
70 g cornmeal
30 g brown sugar
60 g EV olive oil and/or butter (I used 30 g of each)
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
3 g (1/2 tsp) salt
1 large egg (approx. 50 g)
80 g water, boiling hot
35 g hazelnuts, coarsely chopped

several fresh sage leaves, minced
sprig of fresh thyme, or a good pinch of dried
small sprig of fresh rosemary
black pepper & sea salt, to taste

1. In a small bowl, combine brown sugar, salt, and about half of each of the herbs (save the rest for the cobbler part). Rub the mixture between your fingers to help release the herbs' oils. 
2. In a larger bowl, stir together the cornmeal, 40 g of the oats, baking soda, and baking powder. Pour in the water and stir well. Cover the bowl and set it aside for a few minutes.
3. Meanwhile, add the remaining 40 g oats to the first bowl. Then add the oil and/or butter (butter, if using, should be cut in as for pie crust before adding oil). Add pepper to taste.
4. Add the egg to the large bowl, stirring well, and then stir in the hazelnut pieces, followed by the other mixture. It will form a soft dough. Cover tightly and refrigerate overnight. 

For the cobbler:
These measurements are approximate, and for the most part are very flexible as far as proportions and substitutions go. Don't be afraid to improvise!
1 large butternut squash, cut into smallish pieces - or about 2 pounds precut squash
3-4 apples, preferably a mix (suggested varieties include Stayman, Granny Smith, Jonathan, Braeburn, Cortland, and Gala)
1 yellow onion, sliced thin
a few handfuls cremini mushrooms (about 5 mushrooms), sliced very thin
1-2 garlic cloves, minced
a handful or two of walnut pieces
olive oil
1-2 tsp real maple syrup (not absolutely necessary, but I think it really enhances the mix of flavors)

1. Toss butternut squash pieces with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper. Roast at 400º F until moderately tender, about 45 minutes - stir occasionally to prevent burning.
2. Sautee onions in oil until just softened. Add remaining herbs, garlic, and mushrooms (and more salt & pepper, to taste). Lower heat and cook for a couple more minutes.
3. Combine the cooked squash pieces, onions, and mushrooms with the raw apple pieces, then add the walnuts and stir in maple syrup.  
4. --If you are preparing ahead of time, this is the point to pause - cover and refrigerate mixture until needed. Otherwise, continue.--
5. Preheat oven to 400ºF. Put above mixture into baking dishes (two 8x8" dishes or equivalent would do nicely - I used one 8x8 and one 11x13, but the topping was spread a bit thin). Break up the chilled dough until crumbly, and drop small spoonfuls evenly over the surface. Sprinkle a little more pepper and salt on top if desired. 
6. Cover the baking dishes with foil. Bake 30-40 minutes covered, then remove foil and bake another 20-30 minutes. After removing from the oven, loosely drape the foil over the dishes again and let it sit for just a few minutes. Serve warm.
Have a happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Pizza? Pizza.

The picture says it all: gluten-free pizza that's easy to handle. You might even say it's...easy as pie (pun entirely intentional).  Easy to shape - no more dough stuck to the baking sheet. Easy to transfer directly to a baking stone, no parchment required. Easy to top with anything you like, without having to worry about the crust tearing or the sauce leaking through. Easy to enjoy - crisp and chewy, no soggy crust, no fork needed. It even keeps its texture after a night in the refrigerator. (And if cold pizza's not your thing, don't worry - it reheats beautifully too.)

The best part: it works with almost any recipe. That's right. This isn't a recipe per se - it's a process I've been using for a while now, and it's made pizza go smoothly no matter what kind of dough I'm working with. Don't worry about the strength of your dough. In fact, a relatively soft dough will be easiest to work with here, and will create a better texture in the pizza. As long as you're using a dough that can be handled - meaning actual dough, not a batter - it will work with this technique! Even for thin-crust pizzas! 

So are you ready for the secret? OK, here we go:

Yep. It's spring roll wrappers. Simply press out the dough on one of these rice-flour wrappers, and you have a small-ish pizza that stands up to everything pizza dough should. (OK, most things. Don't go trying to spin it over your head or anything silly like that.)

Is it cheating? Maybe a little. 
...Oh well, I'm too busy enjoying pizza night to let it bother me much! 

So here's how to do it:

Start by mixing up some dough. Personally, I really like using a multigrain sourdough, but a lighter dough (as shown in these pictures) is great too. If you're in need of a recipe, something along the lines of this, this, or even this will do just fine.

Next, weigh your dough and divide it up. For a standard wrapper, based on my experience, 190 grams of dough will make a thin crust, and up to 250 grams for a thicker crust. You may need slightly more or slightly less depending on how wet your dough is and how workable it is; don't worry if it's not quite exact. Press each portion into a disc shape.

Get out a spring roll wrapper. They are quite thin - make sure you're getting just one! Dust a work surface (countertop, baking sheet, pizza peel, whatever) with some cornmeal, and set the wrapper on it. Brush the entire surface of the wrapper (just one side!) with a little water, taking care to avoid letting any water get underneath the wrapper - that will make it stick. It doesn't need to be very wet, just moisten it enough that the dough will adhere to it.

Now, put one of your dough portions in the center of the wrapper. Using a gentle rocking motion, use the heel of your hand or the side of your hand to roll the dough to the edges. It may take a minute to get the hang of this motion, but once you get it, the process goes pretty quickly. Don't push or spread it, or anything else that will put a lot of force on the dough - this will stretch out the wrapper and possibly tear it. For this same reason, don't use a rolling pin. Just gently rock your hand to gradually squeeze the dough from the center outwards. 

Repeat for the rest of your dough portions.

At this point, you can move them to a cornmeal-dusted pizza peel/baking sheet to let them rise and add toppings now, or you can put them in the fridge for a few hours before topping them (if refrigerating, drape some waxed paper over them so they don't dry out).
When you're ready to bake them, preheat the oven to 450º F with a baking stone on one of the lowest two racks. 
Put on whatever toppings you like.
When the oven is at a stable temperature, simply grab the edge of each pizza and drag it onto the stone. I didn't get a picture of this step because it's very hard to take a picture while standing in front of an open, hot oven. But it's essentially the same move as this - just don't lift the edge so high, obviously, or the toppings will fall off!

Bake time will vary depending on crust thickness, topping types, and amount of toppings. Generally, though, the pizzas will take 20-30 minutes. If they are done, it should be easy to slip a pizza peel or baking sheet underneath them.

Let cool for just a few minutes before cutting. I find it easiest to cut them with kitchen scissors. 

I realize you're probably wondering where the pictures of the finished pizza are. Sadly, I didn't manage to get any of those either. By the time the pizzas came out of the oven, it was dark, meaning the lighting was terrible. (Also, it was late, meaning we were hungry.) The good news is, since making pizza is so easy now, I make it pretty frequently. So, don't worry, I promise I'll take some pictures the next time! For now, enjoy your pizza!