Saturday, 25 March 2017

Bread without binders: The future of GF baking?

I transitioned away from using gums in my baking way back in 2010, but like most others baking without gums, have still found it necessary to use an alternative binder such as psyllium, chia, or flax for satisfactory results in (eggless) raised bread formulas. However, I’ve long suspected that even these unprocessed binders may not always be needed as we continue to optimize milling, fermentation, and grain cultivar selection for better gluten-free flour quality. A recent research paper further supports this with regard to milling. The researchers have apparently made a 100% rice loaf bread with no binders, emulsifiers, or other additives. They attribute this success to the wet-milling process used, which results in intact, undamaged starch granules - dry-milling creates a lot more damaged starch, causing a gummy texture that is especially noticeable with small-granule starch like that of rice. (This is the primary reason recipes specifically calling for Thai rice flour, which is wet-milled, will not turn out right with other rice flour, even if it’s superfine.) But I suspect there has to be some specific cultivar selection at play as well, because even Thai rice flour can’t be used to make loaf bread without additives. I will hopefully be able to get my hands on a copy of the full-text article soon, which details the starch chemistry central to this bread's structure, and then I’ll be sure fill you in on this exciting research!
Image credit: Hiroshima University, via Science Daily

Monday, 20 March 2017

Charlotte 2017 GFAF Event

Here’s a quick recap of the 10th annual Charlotte GFAF Event! There were lots of new (or at least, new-to-me) bakeries, brands, etc., both local and larger, in addition to plenty of familiar faces. 
My favorite new find of the day was Burtons Grill, a local restaurant in Charlotte - I got to try my first ever (!) crab cake, along with some crab soup and beet salad. All three components were tasty, but the crab cakes - which they were cooking fresh at the event - were amazing! This restaurant does serve gluten-full food as well, but they have an extensive GF menu and are able to accommodate sensitivities.

There were lots of cakes and other sweet treats to try, as usual. Corwin Cupcakery brought several creative cupcake flavors. Check out the fun one with pink frosting and sprinkles and a literal cherry on top! JP’s Pastry of Raleigh was sampling cream cheese brownies, brioche, and vegan peanut butter brownies. Also shown: Gigi’s Cupcakes, chocolate bundt cake from Namaste, and bundt cake from Abundtant Love bakery. 

Some other vendors and items included: Norm’s Farms elderberry & elderflower products; I'm a Celiac's t-shirts; veggie tacos from Loma; Healthy Home Market - a locally-owned grocer with four stores in the Charlotte area; Milton’s crackers and chips; Fruitfull frozen fruit bars; Tito’s vodka, which is made from corn; Ripple Creek kombucha juice blends; Mina’s baking blend; Open Season sweet potato butter; and Veggie Fries, one of my favorites from last year.  
Another interesting find: Meal-delivery service from The Good Kitchen. I was impressed by the ingredients and design of these meals: unlike the vast majority of packaged dinners, they don’t contain anything besides what you’d use cooking from scratch, and on the other hand they also do include good stuff you wouldn’t normally find in convenience foods, for instance the turnip mash and pickled onion in the sample shown above. All the ingredients are very “clean”/minimally processed, and all meats are pastured. Their facility is GF. Nearly all of their meals also happen to be grain-free, if that’s important to you. A meal program isn’t exactly within my budget, but if you’re in the market for one, this is definitely one worth considering.
As you might know, I take a lot of interest in the cultural aspects of living with dietary restrictions. As such, I’d also like to highlight some support organizations present at the event. First is Charlotte Celiac Connection, a large celiac support group, and their youth organization CYCLE (Celiac Youth of the Carolinas Life Enrichment). Next is PAK (Parents of Allergic Kids) and their youth counterpart ImPAKt. Both of these groups emphasize support and education for individuals and families, as well as creating opportunities for kids with dietary restrictions and other sensitivities to participate in normal social activities. Check out the groups’ pages for upcoming events if you’re in the Charlotte area.

And, of course, goodies! In my Blogger Bag I found a nice little gift pack from Healthy Home Market with some goji berries, fancy sea salt, and herbal tea, among other things; a cupcake from Corwin Cupcakery; a pasta dinner kit from Namaste; Neat egg replacement (made from just chickpeas and chia); a jar of Wowbutter (nut-free soy butter); elderberry juice from Norm’s Farms; a lot of Kind bars; and a gift card from Blue Apron (I do notice on their site they say they accommodate dietary “preferences” but “don’t recommend ordering if you have a serious food allergy,” so I’ll need to look into this one - do any of you have experience with ordering from them?) I also was generously given some additional products to try out from some of the vendors, including some intriguing-looking meat substitute mixes made of nuts and beans from Neat, and a variety of Milton’s chips and crackers. (I will be posting a review of Milton’s soon! I’ve never done an actual review before, but they asked if I would and I really do like these.) A big thank you to all vendors and sponsors!

The next event will be in Columbia, SC on April 29 - check it out if you are in the area!

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).

Friday, 17 March 2017

Adventures in brown bread

Adventures?’, you may be questioning. Well, sure: for a little loaf of bread, this one’s come a long way. I’ve posted a recipe for brown bread before - twice, in fact. The first was way back when the blog was brand-new - that one was “old-school” gluten-free, with egg and gums and far too many flours for what should be a quick and simple bread. Then, a few years later, I made a ‘simplified’ recipe which, although updated to be egg-free and gum-free, still has more ingredients than it really needs (and several of those key ingredients are rather out-of-place in a homestyle Irish recipe). 

I wanted to revisit this recipe yet again in a way that would better reflect the true character of this bread. Brown bread, at its heart, is a very simple food, traditionally comprised of little more than whole and white wheat flours, buttermilk, butter, and often some oats, oat flour, and/or oat bran for flavor and texture. This recipe is really rather more of an experiment than a fully polished recipe, but it’s an experiment certainly worth sharing. I’ve made several test loaves over the last few weeks, trying to see just how simple I could get it. As it turns out, the answer is pretty simple, and very different from those previous versions. Eventually, I settled on a combination of just oat, sorghum, and flaxseeds which come together for the right nutty-sweet grain taste. The rolled oats and flax meal are cooked together in a porridge that helps bind the loaf together. Is it perfect? Not quite - maybe I’m just being picky, but I think it’s a little too crumbly, and I’m also curious if it could be made even simpler still - so I’ll be sure to keep experimenting along these lines because brown bread is one of my favorite things. That said, this version is still definitely good enough to mix up a quick batch for dinner or tea! And it comes together quickly and easily enough to experiment with your own adventures with the formula, if you so wish. 

Brown Bread
This recipe makes quite a small loaf - if you double it, you may have to use your own judgment for the baking time.  

20 g rolled oats
20 g oat flour, divided (see method)
8 g golden flax meal
35 g pearled sorghum flour (see note in this post)
30 g sorghum flour
5 g oat bran (optional, but recommended for texture)
7 g (about 2 tsp) sugar
½ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp baking powder
⅛ tsp salt

80 g milk, water, or a mixture of the two (I used a mixture)
14 g bean broth (also known as “aquafaba” - this helps as a binder and improves texture)
7 g (½ T) butter
60 g buttermilk, kefir, or thin yogurt (do not use greek yogurt - it is not sour enough)

Preheat the oven to 375ºF/190ºC. (Recommended: heat a baking stone or lidded dutch oven to bake the bread on/in.) Whisk the oats, 10 g of the oat flour, and the flax meal in a microwave-safe bowl. Stir in the bean broth and the milk/water and set aside to thicken slightly.
In another bowl, combine the remaining flours, bran, sugar, salt, soda, and baking powder. Cut the butter into this dry mix and lightly rub it in with your fingertips. 
Optional: dust loaf with oat flour for an interesting appearance.
Microwave the porridge mixture for around 1 minute, stirring several times - when you start, it will have a flax-gel consistency, but by the end of the cooking time, it should resemble cooked oatmeal. Beat this hot porridge in a mixer for several moments, then mix in about half the buttermilk, followed by the dry mix, then the remaining buttermilk. Shape the dough into a round loaf on a piece of parchment and smooth with water. Cut an “x” in the loaf just before baking to help it expand evenly.

Put the loaf on the hot baking stone or in the dutch oven and cover with an upturned bowl, upside-down roasting pan, or put a lid on the dutch oven; after 6 minutes, uncover the loaf. (Starting the baking in this covered, steamy environment helps the loaf expand better and form a good crust - but make sure to uncover it after the 6 minutes are up!) Bake for a total of 40-45 minutes, until the crust is firm but not too hard and the bottom of the loaf sounds hollow when tapped. Let cool before cutting.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Rock buns

Recently, in between test batches of soda bread, I thought of another lovely thing from the Irish bakery - one which I haven’t had in many years, not since pre-gluten-free: rock buns! In case you’ve never had one, they are a simple homey sort of pastry, crusty on the outside but a bit softer beneath, fluffier than a cookie but firmer and less flaky than a scone, and named (presumably) for their rough craggy appearance. The particulars of their appearance and even the formula are also pretty forgiving. Rock buns, then, are a natural candidate for something to easily make gluten-free. So much so, that when I had the thought to make them, I wondered why I’d never done them before. Almost immediately, the answer became clear.

Back when I first began creating my own recipes, I liked to aim especially for the most challenging and impressive things - gorgeous loaves with elegantly airy cross-sections and perfectly crackly crust; in short, things that, upon looking at them and tasting them, would make one think there’s no way it could be GF. Rock buns, on the other hand, look much the same whether they are made with wheat flour or some other kind: rough and plain, not much to look at. Most recipes for the buns include something to the effect of instructing the baker to put the dough on a baking sheet in “rough heaps.” My first several years of baking GF, I’d had quite enough of rough heaps, rock buns or no. 

But, as time has passed and gluten-free is no longer so commonly assumed to mean frumpy, lumpy baked goods, I’ve become much more OK with making such a humble treat. Sure, it’s plain-looking and a bit crumbly, but that’s how it’s meant to be, and it’s tasty just the way it is. All it needs is a cup of tea. 

Irish Rock Buns
Makes 12 buns

30 g oat flour
70 g sorghum flour, divided (see instructions), I recommend Nu Life Market 
70 g pearled sorghum flour (see Note below)
20 g almond flour
1 tsp double-acting baking powder (I use Bob’s Red Mill)
Scant ¼ tsp salt
Pinch of ginger powder (optional)
70 g butter
80 g sugar
70 g currants or raisins
75 g (about cup) milk
1 large egg, lightly beaten

Note: Pearled sorghum flour is analogous to white rice flour, in that the outer part of the grain has been polished off before the inside is ground into flour. This flour has different textural and water-absorption properties to those of regular whole-grain sorghum flour. I tried this recipe with several combinations of whole sorghum flour, pearled sorghum flour, and/or potato starch; using half pearled sorghum and half potato starch produces buns that are whiter than these, which was the track I initially started on, but we liked the flavor of the 50/50 mix of whole and pearled sorghum (and no starch) that appears above. If you cannot get the pearled sorghum, I recommend using potato starch in its place, as I think using whole sorghum flour for all of it would give too much whole-grain flavor and texture for this sweet cake.

Combine the oat flour, 10 grams of the sorghum flour, and milk in a microwave-safe bowl and set aside. In another bowl, whisk the remaining flour, salt, and baking powder (and ginger if using). Cut the butter into small pieces and lightly rub it into this flour mixture with your fingertips until the mixture looks crumbly - it’s OK if there are some larger bits of butter. Then stir in the sugar followed by the currants/raisins. 
Microwave the milk mixture for 30-45 seconds until cooked stiff, stirring a couple times in the process. Put the hot mixture into the bowl of a mixer and beat to cool down a little, then beat in the egg. When these are well combined, add the dry mixture. Chill the dough for around 2 hours (this ensures all the flour is fully hydrated for best texture), then use a fork to scoop the dough onto a baking sheet - do not smooth them or shape them too much, simply plop the dough onto the sheet in 12 mounds. Bake at 400ºF/200ºC for 14-16 mins, until golden. 

Enjoy with hot tea! Leftovers will keep for days covered at room temperature, though they will become more cakey and lose their crusty outside.

Saturday, 25 February 2017

Coming up: 10th annual Charlotte GFAF Event!

It's that time of year again: the first GFAF Event of the season is March 18th - that's just three weeks away! This will be the 10th annual event in Charlotte NC, so I bet there will be some especially cool stuff going on. (Check out my post covering last year's event for a taste of what you might find.) As always, there will be lots of delicious food to sample, all 100% gluten-free and often free of one or more other allergens as well. This is a great way to find out about local allergy-friendly food businesses in the area as well as plenty of larger brands and products, and to meet all sorts of other people who have experience living with food sensitivity. Don't have a ticket yet? Not to worry, I have 6 tickets to give away!  For a chance to win tickets, leave a comment on this post or contact me by email (I will need your name so you can claim your tickets at the door). I hope to see some of you there!

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Cocoa crepes

Guess what today is? Yes, of course, it's Valentine's day...but it's also my Blog-iversary! Today, my blog turns 7! I wanted to mark the occasion by making something special. And because it is also Valentine's day, after all, maybe something also a little romantic to share. 

The very first recipe I posted was for crepes, so when I found a recipe for cocoa crepes, they seemed fitting for the occasion. No, these are not traditional by any means...but they are sweet and simple and rather festive. 

These are adapted loosely from the teff flour cocoa crepes in Alice Medrich's Flavor Flours. Changes I made from the original:

- I replaced half of the liquid (originally milk and a little water) with cherry juice, inspired by this recipe, for flavor and a touch of red color
- I replaced approx. 10% of the flour (originally all teff) with glutinous rice flour for extra tender texture
- I reduced the sugar substantially due to the sugar in the cherry juice
- I cut the recipe in half; normally, one wouldn't halve a three-egg recipe, but since I already had half an egg hanging out in my fridge left over from an experiment the other day, I decided using 1 1/2 eggs would be just right since I was cooking for just 2 people. If you want to use 3 whole eggs like the original, just double the other quantities written below.

Full disclosure: These didn't turn out as nicely as the book indicated they should - the batter did not spread neatly despite being the proper consistency, so the crepes were smaller than they were supposed to be and also quite fragile. I am not sure if this is due to the recipe itself, my changes (i.e. less milk protein), my teff flour being not fine enough, smaller-than-average eggs, my pan, an overall lack of crepe skills... Normally I would insist on working out these kinks before considering a recipe blog-worthy. But they were pretty tasty and (let's be honest) I'm not likely to make these again soon, so I'm just sharing this experiment as-is! Feel free to adjust it if you have any ideas!   

Red Velvet Cocoa Crepes

58 g teff flour + 7 g Thai glutinous rice flour (or just use all 65 g teff flour, as per the original)
6 g cocoa powder
15 g sugar
1/8 tsp salt
1 1/2 eggs, room temperature
1 T (14 g) butter, melted
90 g milk
90 g cherry juice

Combine all dry ingredients in a bowl. Beat in butter and eggs until smooth, then gradually add milk, then gradually add cherry juice. Cover and refrigerate batter overnight.
Stir batter well before cooking and in between each crepe. Cook crepes on a lightly buttered pan, about 1 minute on the first side, then flip and cook another ~20 seconds. (The book instructs to use 2 T batter per 8" crepe - I did not find this possible even though my batter was very thin! I got the best crepes using about 3 T batter, but even then they were much smaller than they were supposed to be.) Serve with toppings of your choice: powdered sugar, whipped cream, fruit, jam, etc., according to whether you want them for breakfast or dessert.

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Single-flour ginger cookies from an heirloom GF recipe

I have previously mentioned the wealth of historically-GF recipes that stemmed from wheat rationing during the first World War. Though these recipes were widespread just a century ago, few of them survived the 20th century's changes to our food system and eating habits. And, like early versions of many recipes, quite a few of these formulas were not quite perfect - the rationing only lasted a couple of years, and changes in wheat production and distribution led to our GF flours falling sharply in popularity shortly after the war. (While there are vast numbers of traditionally-GF recipes that were popular for decades or centuries preceding this time, the GF formulas in vogue during rationing were primarily all-new, all-modern approaches designed to use only techniques and ratios similar to those used with wheat, so these new formulas just didn't have time to get the kinks worked out.) But! With these recipes now being in the public domain, it's easy to find potential gems worthy of attention and fine-tuning!  

The original, unspiced version with maple.
One such gem: Buckwheat Cookies. Three versions of a buckwheat cookie recipe appeared in the periodical American Cookery in 1917-1918; Maple Buckwheat Cookies, using maple syrup in place of (also rationed) sugar was given in October 1918, and Buckwheat Cookies made with plain sugar appeared two months later in December. The earliest prototypical version, using no leavening or salt, was printed in April 1917, as part of an article containing some insights on working with buckwheat flour. All three versions instruct to simply roll out and cut the dough. For this to work with the maple version, the syrup needs to be boiled until quite thick. I decided this seemed too fussy - too much guesswork about just how much boiling - so for my first trial, I made a hybrid version using mostly sugar with a little maple, following the instructions for mixing and beating the eggs. Still, rolling and cutting was not really an option with this thick sticky batter, even after chilling.

The magazine's photo of the maple recipe proves it must be possible in theory. There are, however, a number of variables at play - most notably, the fact that eggs have gotten larger in the intervening decades, and the inevitable impreciseness of volume measurements for flour. Several test batches later, I still hadn't gotten it to be worth the trouble of rolling and cutting. (You'll see some successfully cut cookies in my pictures, but it was just too fussy and messy compared to simply pressing flat balls of dough.) But in the meantime, each successive batch became tastier, so I decided to give up on the rolling part and just make round cookies. 
I will share my interpretation of the original recipes some other time, but for now - because it's Christmas - I'm sharing a delightfully spiced gingerbread spin on this cookie! Now, I have tweaked the recipe quite a bit by this point - for this version, instead of my original combination of sugar and syrup, I've used sugar and buckwheat honey to complement the buckwheat flour. Also, to combat the overly-sticky/battery nature of earlier trials, I have reduced the quantity of liquid by replacing the egg with a smaller quantity of my favorite egg substitute: bean broth, AKA the stuff from a can of chickpeas (if you've never heard of this, I have a very in-depth post in the works covering all the particulars of this ingredient and why it's way more than merely an egg sub; in the meantime, you can look up "aquafaba" as some people call it). 
I really like using an egg substitute like this because I'm not limited to the size of pre-existing eggs, making recipes both endlessly adjustable and extremely scalable! (Much nicer and simpler than ending up with those little jars containing 1/4 or 1/3 of an egg populating the fridge. ...What, surely I'm not the only one who's done this in the name of science?!) I've also simplified the mixing procedure a bit compared to the original, as with no actual egg, there is no need to develop the egg protein structure by beating. And of course, this conveniently makes the recipe all ready to go to accommodate those with egg sensitive or vegan dietary needs. Yay, cookies for all!

Makes about 20-24 small cookies - scale up or down as desired!

56 g natural palm-coconut shortening or butter, room temperature
140 g buckwheat flour (I tested with Arrowhead Mills, as it is widely available and certified GF)
74 g sugar
30 g buckwheat honey (you may also use molasses, beet syrup, or maple syrup for fully vegan)
40 g bean broth, room temperature (see note above)
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
ginger and cinnamon and other spices (i.e. allspice, cardamom, cloves) or mixed spice / pumkin pie spice / etc to taste (use at least 1/2 tsp total)
optional: currants/raisins and/or candied citrus peel

Combine the flour, baking powder, salt, and spices in a bowl. In the bowl of a mixer or other bowl, cream together the shortening or butter and the sugar, then mix in the honey. Beat in some of the bean broth, then part of the dry mix, then the rest of each and mix until uniform. Chill the dough for a couple of hours (optional, but makes it easier to handle and improves texture). Roll the dough in small balls, press flat on a parchment-lined sheet, and if desired, decorate with currants and/or candied peel. Bake at 350ºF/175ºC until lightly browned at the edges (exact time will vary based on the size of your cookies - about 11-15 minutes).

More GF Christmas cookies and cookie tips:
The above recipe can be iced for a more festive cookie. The round one in this picture is an earlier version of this recipe made with beet syrup instead of honey; these are iced with a vegan royal icing made from the same bean broth used in the cookies! 

"Magic cookie bars" or "Seven layer bars" are conventionally made with graham cracker crumbs - you can use GF cookie crumbs, but you can also easily make a from-scratch crust, such as this one, for a simple, economical, and slightly different treat (this is how I always make them now)! A couple hints:
- You do not need to pre-bake the crust when using it for these cookies. 
- Instead of the mixture of oats and oat flour the crust recipe calls for, you may also use all oat flour in the cookie crust.

Assorted cookies from last Christmas, made with various mixes
Spritz cookie recipe from last Christmas