Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Reflections and resolutions

As of a few days after Christmas, it’s now ten years that I’ve been gluten-free. That’s well over a third of my life! I had fully intended to mark the occasion with not one, but two new recipes that were not only seasonable and festive, but also of the traditionally-French persuasion that has been an inspiration for my baking since the beginning. But (as life has tended to do these last weeks-months-years), life got in the way of being able to fine-tune these recipes in a timely manner (really, there are only so many failed bûches de noël one can stand to make before deciding that whatever comes out of the oven this time will be the holiday dessert, no matter how it looks!) - and so, by the time Christmas came and went (so quickly!) both of these recipes were still in something of a rough-draft stage: pretty enough to photograph, plenty good enough to eat, but not quite polished enough to post. 
Bûche de noël
Buckwheat pain d'épices
Funnily, that says a lot about how far we - the gluten-free community - have come in these ten years: back then, anything reasonably edible and presentable was cause for celebration and sharing the recipe would be a matter of course. Now, we have the luxury (perhaps even a little bit of a duty?) of being perfectionistic, because we’ve collectively proven that things made of buckwheat and beans and chestnut and millet and potato and rice and sorghum can and should be every bit as good and as real as those made from wheat and rye. And so I give you pictures for now, because while these things were good, I know they can be better. It didn’t happen in time for Christmas, but it will happen. The bar for victory is higher, and that’s a good thing. 


So, this New Year’s Day, I propose a resolution for the celiac/GF community: going forward, let’s remove phrases like “too good to be gluten-free” from our vocabulary. Clearly, if we’re saying that about something, it’s good and it is gluten-free. There was a time when that may have been surprising. Now, though, we have more than enough examples of beautiful and delicious breads, cookies, pastry, and cakes to show that this phrase has lost its relevance. Is it harder, does it take longer to fine-tune a recipe? Maybe. Is there still a lot of bad GF food out there? Yes, of course. Will baking disasters and terrible recipe attempts still happen? Oh yeah. But it’s easy for us to forget, with the larger learning curve we face with our flours, that those disasters and disappointments happen to wheat-bakers, too. And yet, still we all seem to keep being surprised when something is good even now that "too good" seems to have become more of the norm than the exception. So, GF bakers and GF eaters: this year, let’s resolve to stop perpetuating the stereotype. Here’s to a year of baking and eating and sharing things that are exactly good enough to be gluten-free, and getting even better all the time. 
Good bread. Gluten free.

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

2017 Greensboro GFAF Event

The second Greensboro GFAF Wellness Event just happened a couple weeks ago. I was hoping to get this post up before Thanksgiving due to the many tasty things that would be useful for the holiday, but I spent that week feeling awful with a cold - hopefully you'll still find this report helpful for other upcoming gatherings of the season!

There were a few new-to-me local food makers at the event. One of my favorite finds was these preserves and salsas from Yo Momma's Style (shown below). 

Another good local product I got to try for the first time is Simple Kneads bread (top left in large collage below) - it's exciting to see a GF whole-grain, gum-free, "real bread" sourdough available in the store! 


This is just a selection of some of the vendors at the event:
Pictured from top left: Simple Kneads sourdough; A Garnet Rose body butters and soaps; seasonal and infused honeys from Justin Case Bee Products; Italian olive oil and vinegars from Batistini Farms; elderberry and elderflower products from Norm's Farms; focaccia bread made using Mina's mix; Whole Foods pecan pie; grain-free granolas from PaleoLove, including some that is also nut-free.

My favorite part of these events (that's not so easy to photograph) is getting to meet people - I got to have some really interesting conversations about things like the food system, allergy accommodations in public schools, the current state of gluten-free beer, and a few different perspectives on navigating a gluten-free diet in the pre-internet age. (I am always interested to hear about people's unique experiences with living gluten-free!) 

And, at the end of the day I found plenty of neat treats in my Blogger Bag: a delicious cookie dough brownie from JP's Pastry, lovely peppermint shea butter soap from A Garnet Rose, locally-made mineral makeup from Pure and Light, beeswax lip balm from Justin Case Bee Products, grain-free granola from PaleoLove, cookies from Anne's, the latest issue of Simply Gluten-Free Magazine, a couple bags of Swerve (erythritol), a jar of Wowbutter soy butter, and some merch from Tito's Vodka. A big thank you to all sponsors and vendors!

As always, all these opinions and statements are completely my own; as an event blogger I received the above items provided by vendors and sponsors, but I was not otherwise compensated and I was not obligated to write about or feature any specific product(s) or vendor(s).
  

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Gluten-Free Montreal

I recently returned from a trip to Montreal (on my honeymoon, woohoo! Now you know one of the reasons I’ve been so busy lately!!) and the food I found there really deserves a post. 

I plan on resuming a more normal schedule of recipes with some food-science posts sprinkled in soon, but first I just have to share some stuff about the past few weeks. I’ll cover the trip first because Montreal turned out to be a fantastic city to visit as a celiac and I want to spread the word! Montreal has enough totally-GF bakeries, restaurants, and cafes that I was able to go the whole trip without ever having to ask questions/explain my needs - and there are still plenty of options I didn’t make it to yet, nor make any repeat visits! Here are the highlights of what we ate:

This was my first encounter with a Real Croissant, gluten-free (and also dairy-free, for that matter, as the entire bakery is - though I wouldn’t have guessed from the taste). What I mean by a Real Croissant is this: it’s true viennoiserie, meaning multiple separate flaky tender layers. Oh, and the chocolate croissant was still slightly warm from the oven, making it even more indulgent. 


I don’t know how they made this. Just look at the twists and turns and layers in that pastry case. Prior to walking into the bakery, I did not know it was possible. The flavor was very good as well (this was a pretty consistent feature of almost all the baked goods I ate on the trip: none of the odd off-flavors that GF baking can sometimes have; just bread flavors). 
I was so amazed by these pastries that I got a couple to eat for breakfast the next morning; unfortunately, they aren’t nearly as tasty the next day, and while reheating helps, it’s still not nearly as good as fresh. (Next time I’ll just have to make some repeat visits!)

Le Marquis
We found ourselves at Le Marquis essentially by accident. It was our last day and after finding the creperie (below) was closed, we were just about to trek over to L’Artisan again but Jon quickly looked online first just in case there was possibly anywhere else closer I could get something to eat...turns out there was yet another GF bakery in walking distance! The bakery cases contain an array of beautiful pastries, sweet and savory pies/tarts, and cookies. (It appears that earlier in the day they also sell sandwiches, but all were gone by the time we arrived.) 

And so, here I encountered my second Real Croissant, and was amazed yet again. If anything, this one had more layers and the soft inside was even more tender, much like croissants I remember. However, the flavor of this one had some noticeable egginess and was also sweeter - this isn’t a bad thing, but it does make it different from the flavor of wheat croissants, so overall I think I slightly preferred the flavor of the ones at L’Artisan while I preferred the texture of these. Both are very good!

We stopped in here for coffee and a snack, but after sampling some bread, I left with a bag of mini white rolls: I don’t frequently buy GF bread but this was the first bakery I visited in Montreal, and - not yet knowing how many delightful bakeries would be available in the city - I figured it would be good to have some bread on hand. Well! I did not realize at the time just how impressive this bread would turn out to be!

I just had to take a video to get the point across:


It’s fluffy. It’s soft. It’s bouncy and chewy - chewier than any other (non-homemade) GF bread I’ve had at room temp. And...it stays that way...for a week. Again, I don’t know how they did this

The ingredients list reveals no special secrets - it looks much like many store-bought GF breads I’ve eaten in the past, yet is somehow far better in texture and taste. According to their site, the bakery was founded by a couple of food science grads, so I suspect there may be something special about the mixing and/or baking process...I will perhaps have to think on this possibility and do some experimentation. One quibble/word of warning: this bakery lacked the “normal artisanal bakery” feel of the others - owing in large part to the fact that almost everything was individually wrapped - but I think this is for the reason of being able to separate allergens.

OK, let’s talk prices. As if the excellent quality weren’t enough, most of these bakery foods are also priced very reasonably - much more so than comparable “specialty” items in the USA. At L’Artisan for instance, a generously-sized baguette is $3.50, and they have a lunch special of a sandwich (falafel, tuna, chicken, or roasted vegetables), a coffee, and a dessert/pastry all for $10. Croissants at both L’Artisan and Le Marquis were (if I recall correctly) $2.50 and $2.95, respectively, for the plain ones, a little more for the fancy kind. (US readers, keep in mind this is Canadian dollars - converted to American money, it’s slightly less still!) The bread at Baked2Go was $7something for a bag of 6 long rolls - perhaps a little pricier, but still pretty reasonable, considering the quality and the shelf life.

We were at Jean-Talon intending to just get produce for dinner - I certainly wasn’t expecting a delicious hot lunch to be part of the trip. I had initially not even noticed this place when it came up in my search results because usually a crêperie is unsafe for me due to cross-contamination. Imagine my pleasant surprise when I realized all the crepes were gluten-free! 


The owner explained they only use buckwheat, rice, and chickpea flours for the batter and to thicken sauces. I got one with mushrooms, cheese, ham, and bechamel sauce; Jon’s had ham, cheese, apples, and maple syrup. Both were wonderful. We wanted to come back later in the week to sample some more of the many varieties on the menu, but for some reason they were not open. Hopefully next time!

Bonus photo: Farmer's market loveliness.
The name Zero8 refers to the fact that the restaurant excludes 8 major allergens (gluten grains, milk, eggs, peanuts, nuts, sesame, fish/seafood, soy). Let me assure you, though: despite the lack of all these ingredients, the food is the furthest thing from austere, with an enticing menu featuring plenty of variety. Between the two of us, we tried the duck confit (amazing!), wild game burger, and thick-cut fries with house-smoked duck and gravy (not truly poutine per se due to the whole no-dairy thing, but still tasty). 


In short, Montreal has really got it right when it comes to making a celiac feel normal: No matter the part of town, I was never more than a brief metro ride away from being able to go in somewhere cozy, sit down, and get a pastry and coffee, a sandwich, or some other kind of meal or treat like a civilized person, and the food is all good enough, varied enough, and reasonably-priced enough that your non-GF companions will not mind at all to join you. And really, when it comes to food, what more could I want? 

Saturday, 28 October 2017

GFAF Event coming up in Greensboro NC!

Hey North Carolina friends, the 2017 Greensboro GFAF Event is coming up soon: Saturday, November 11th at Guilford Convention Center! I will be speaking about how and why to make your own gluten-free sourdough bread at 1:40 pm! And as always, there will be lots of good food to sample from local bakeries/restaurants as well as larger companies. 

I have 6 tickets to give away, so if you'd like to win a pair of tickets to attend, email me or leave a comment on this post - I just need your name. I will notify winners by November 5th. 

P.S. This is the final GFAF event for 2017, so if you're in the area, be sure to check it out!

Monday, 21 August 2017

GFAF Event recap: Raleigh 2017

Of all the GFAF events I’ve been a part of, I’m pretty sure this was the biggest and busiest! I’m going to do something a little different this time and focus mainly on new (...or at least new-to-me...) vendors and products from this event.  
Local/NC bakeries, restaurants, and other companies
My favorite find of the day was Neomonde, which has been around since long before I moved to the area (1977!) yet somehow I’ve never tried their food before. This is not a dedicated GF restaurant, but their mediterranean menu includes plenty of traditionally-GF options. Their hummus was so good that I gladly ate it by the spoonful (they were serving it up as a sort of savory parfait with the quinoa tabouli!), and the mjadarah - a rice and lentil dish with caramelized onions - was deliciously savory as well. I was very excited to learn there will soon be a new location in downtown Durham in addition to the original Raleigh restaurant! 
Neomonde's hummus: tasty AND pretty!
Some other local highlights:
Top rowAda’s Cupcakes, located in Garner, bakes treats that are all vegan/dairy- and egg-free in addition to being GF. I was really impressed by the chocolate strawberry cupcake I sampled (as well as the lemon poppyseed muffin, shown below).
Primal, Durham’s dedicated GF restaurant, had some really good pineapple upside-down cake muffins. (I really must check out their brunch sometime if these muffins are any indication!)
I have mentioned JP’s Pastry plenty of times, but this was the first time I’ve gotten to try their doughnuts - which were quite good, and also happen to be vegan.
Bottom row: A Garnet Rose Soap Co always has a lovely assortment of handmade soaps, lotions, etc.
Justin Case Bee Products, who I met last year in Greensboro, brought some new types of honey.
Patton’s Pride was sampling some catfish bites made with their GF breading mix.
National products
Whole Foods Bakehouse had some truly tasty layer cakes, cheesecake, and even cherry pie to sample. I had never seen some of these products before in my local stores, so I didn’t know about the fancy cakes - they told me any of these items can be ordered through any of their locations. 
Perfectly Free dairy-free coconut ice cream bites are a fun little treat and come in several flavors.
Lundberg, long known in the GF community as a producer of California-grown rice (and more recently quinoa!), had a variety of snacks made from these ingredients. 
Veggie Fries now has cauliflower and bean rings in addition to their fries and tots. I liked these.
Education
I also got to hear a very informative talk from Dr. Nicole DiNezza about the low FODMAP diet - specifically, why it’s often treating a symptom rather than the underlying cause of these food reactions and so may be more useful as a diagnostic rather than a good long-term solution. I think education like this is really important because I meet so many people who are living with a very restricted diet indefinitely, without being told that addressing underlying things such as issues with gut bacteria may eventually allow them to eat a much wider variety of foods.
Goodies
In my Blogger Bag I found all kinds of good stuff: a vegan lemon poppyseed muffin from Ada’s, a very pretty rose-shaped marbled soap from A Garnet Rose, a bottle of elderberry extract from Norm’s Farms, some bean- and nut-based mixes from Neat (the burger mix has now been reformulated to work without egg - when I get a chance to try it I will let you know how it goes!), beeswax lip balm from Justin Case, free pizza from Zpizza, Wowbutter soy butter, chips and snacks from Lundberg, Loma soy “tuna,” and a hot/cold pack from Verve (...useful after carrying all this around!) I also picked up some other samples from vendors, including a new flavor of Plentils (Thai Chili, yum!) and other snacks from Enjoy Life, Kind bars, Pamela’s, and Lundberg, to name a few. Thank you to all vendors and sponsors!
As always, all these opinions and statements are completely my own; as an event blogger I received the above items provided by vendors and sponsors, but I was not otherwise compensated and I was not obligated to write about or feature any specific product(s) or vendor(s).

Monday, 17 July 2017

Raleigh GFAF Wellness Event 2017

Hi everyone! I know I've been absent lately - it's because I've both been 
1) Hard at work on some big things, and
2) Hardly at home (and thus, without a kitchen) - I've been on the road for basically three weeks out of the past month!

Things will probably continue to be pretty busy for a little while, but I do have a few new posts lined up for the near future. Meanwhile, I'm stopping in to let you know about the upcoming Raleigh, NC GFAF Event! The main event is Saturday, August 12th, starting at 10 a.m. (see here for full details and directions). I will be speaking at 2:20 p.m. on Gluten-Free Sourdough: Recipes, Science, and Nutrition. I will have samples for you to try and you will learn all about how to make your own! I have 4 free tickets to the event to give away - leave a comment below or send me an email with your info and I will notify the winners shortly. Be sure to also join us for the webcast on July 31st at 7:30 p.m. for an intro to all the speakers and their topics (more info here). 

I hope to see some of you there!

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

The difference fermentation makes: GF sourdough from an older bread recipe

Recently when I was preparing a talk on gluten-free sourdough baking, I advised evaluating a new sourdough starter’s activity and flavor by using it in a variety of trusted yeast bread formulas. Wanting to demonstrate my own advice, I tried my starter in several yeast recipes, both other people’s and my own. With one recipe in particular, the results were so good I just had to share!  
The yeasted baguette aux céréales as it appeared on Food52.

To be clear, there are about as many ways to make bread as there are to eat it. Some other sourdough recipes I’ve developed in the past were not adapted from existing recipes and were rather different from any of the ways I make yeast-raised bread. The following is indeed a recipe for a good loaf of bread, but it’s also a demonstration of the difference sourdough makes in a loaf compared to plain baker’s yeast. My original base recipe and the multigrain baguette variation that follows were posted 6 years ago. Recent years have seen gluten-free baking tend towards fewer or single flours and less or no added starch; I too have developed plenty of recipes that reflect these changes, but as the point of this experiment was to use a familiar recipe, this formula remains as it was. 

That said - in the many times I’ve made this bread over the years, my preferred base formula has in fact evolved and changed a little from the version on the blog, including some simplifications and tweaks, but at its heart, it’s definitely still the same recipe. The major changes are as follows:
Chia instead of pectin: I’ve found that chia meal provides a similar function to the pectin I used to use, and is also superior in some ways. (There will be much more information on the starch interactions and other functions of these molecules in my upcoming book - more on this to come!) Because of chia’s mucilaginous properties, I also find it’s most effective when mixed with the water rather than added to the dry mix as the pectin was. Either one will make the dough easier to handle (among other effects), but you can also experiment with leaving it out altogether since this loaf shaped as a boule requires less handling than the original elongated loaf. 
Teff flour instead of grain: teff grains are small enough that they can be used whole in bread, as I did in the old recipe. However, the flour gives a smoother crumb. Flour absorbs water differently than intact grains, so the water’s been adjusted accordingly as well.
Sorghum option: the original recipe calls for brown rice flour, but these days I prefer sorghum. Either one should work fine in this recipe. 
Covered bake: this is a technique to trap steam in the early stages of baking, which helps the loaf expand better and form a nicer crust compared to baking normally in a home oven (it mimics the steamy conditions in a professional bakery oven). I started doing this a few years ago and now bake nearly all my bread this way - the difference is impressive. (You’ll also notice the sourdough version omits the baking powder in the original; a combination of the sourdough and the covered bake produces plenty of expansion - aka oven spring - without it.)

These above changes are still just tweaks and details - the real star of this recipe modification is the sourdough. Why? The key is the mixed fermentation by a variety of lactic acid bacteria and wild yeast, which break down molecules in the flour in a way that creates different texture, flavor, and structure than domestic yeast. This is true even of wheat breads, but the difference is especially striking in GF formulas. I believe that in the case of the properties of many GF flours, this mixed fermentation is a better fit than that of baker’s yeast.  

Gluten-Free Sourdough Boule

Part 1: Sponge
50 g sorghum flour or brown rice flour
35 g light buckwheat flour (see this post for more about the difference between standard and light buckwheat flours)
35 g garbanzo flour
25 g teff flour
120 g filtered/spring water, slightly warm 
40 g GF sourdough starter (see part 1 and part 2 of starter tutorial)
[Optional: 4 g (1 tsp) sugar (recommended if your starter has been in the fridge)]

Combine sponge flours in medium bowl. Stir together the water and starter (and sugar if using) and let sit for 15 minutes. Stir into the flours. Cover and set aside at room temp for 12 hours.
The sponge won't rise a whole lot, but it will be split on top and bubbly underneath.
Part 2: Dough - 12 hours later
125 g tapioca starch
25 g sweet rice flour
7 g psyllium husks (not powder)
3 g (½ tsp) sea salt
125-135 g filtered/spring water, slightly warm (start with 125 and add more if needed - see below)
¼ tsp chia meal
[Optional: a little sugar (2-4 g)]
[Optional: a tiny pinch (like 1/16 tsp) yeast (see Note below)] 
6 g (about 1 ½ tsp) olive oil
2-5 g honey, to taste

Combine the tapioca, sweet rice flour, salt, and psyllium in a large bowl. Stir together 125 g water and chia (and yeast and sugar, if using) and stir this into the fermented sponge, making sure there are no lumps. Pour this mixture over the dry mix and stir/knead with a spatula until it comes together, then knead a little by hand. Cover and set aside for 30 minutes. Mix in the oil and honey. Knead again by hand and assess the stiffness - add up to 10 g reserved water if necessary to make the dough smooth, silky, and slightly elastic. Shape the dough into a smooth ball. (If you have a banneton/brotform/rising basket, this is a great time to use it! You can even try using a well-floured bowl to rise the loaf. Otherwise, just let the loaf rise on parchment.) The dough will need to rise 2 hours. After about an hour or so, preheat the oven (with a baking stone or dutch oven) to 450º F to make sure it is thoroughly heated. Once the dough has risen for about 2 hours, turn it out from the rising basket/bowl (if using) and cut slashes in the top crust. Put the loaf on the heated stone (or in the dutch oven) and cover with a large metal bowl (or lid). Bake covered for the first 11 minutes, then uncover; total bake time 50 minutes.

Let the loaf cool completely (minimum ~4 hours) before cutting. (I know, I know! It smells so good you’ll want to tear it open right away! But trust me, you’ll be glad you waited - the starch structure of the bread needs to set for you to enjoy its texture.) Thanks to the sourdough, this bread should stay soft for at least a couple days if you store it cut-side down on a wooden board...but if it gets a little stiff, it will also make excellent toast!

Sourdough toast with honey: simple, yet delectable.

Note on added yeast: Dry baker’s yeast is a particular strain of Saccharomyces cerevisiae that has been selected for certain traits, including plentiful production of carbon dioxide to make bread rise rapidly. S. cerevisiae is far from the only yeast species useful for bread, though - in fact, when it comes to sourdough other yeast species are far more likely to occur as S. cerevisiae doesn’t thrive well in many starters. The wild yeasts produce better flavor and texture, but you might find the rise produced by your starter is slightly less than expected. If so, try adding the suggested pinch of yeast to your bread - you’ll still get all the benefits of the sourdough, plus just a little boost from the baker’s yeast.