Wednesday, 5 September 2012

{Ratio Rally} Norwegian potato lefse

Having lived in the Midwest, I'm pretty familiar with the food stereotypes of the region...several of which can probably be traced back to the areas with a lot of Scandinavian influence. And while anyone who's spent time in that region (or listened to A Prairie Home Companion) has likely heard jokes about the ubiquitous cream-of-something-soup casseroles and the notoriously-polarizing lutefisk, it seems some of the best foods are virtually unknown in most other parts of the country! Lefse is one of those foods, and when I saw that Brooke had chosen "Tortillas and Wraps" for this month's theme, it's exactly what came to mind.

For all two of you reading this who have heard of lefse, the title of this post probably seems a bit redundant. (Norwegian potato lefse? As opposed to....?) For the rest of you, though, let me introduce you to a new, very versatile traditional flatbread/wrap...made in a decidedly untraditional manner. 

You see, lefse is generally made by peeling, boiling, and mashing starchy potatoes with cream and butter, letting the potato mixture cool completely, then incorporating flour. As with anything "traditional," of course, every family recipe I found was different - many use just those ingredients, but others insist milk is essential, while still others add a little sugar. Even the consistency of the dough is not universally agreed upon; in fact, I was pretty surprised by just how widely the ratio of flour to potato could vary. Additionally, some people have re-worked their family recipes by making the mashed potatoes from instant potato flakes, then proceeding as usual. It saves the work and time of peeling all those potatoes, but still, most of those recipes instruct to refrigerate the mash overnight before making the dough. 

I decided to make things even lazier easier and faster - I simply used the appropriate amount of potato flour along with the rest of my dry ingredients, then mixed in the wet ingredients, and the dough is ready to go! (Potato flour is just dried potato, like instant mashed potatoes; in one batch I did try reconstituting the potato flour separately and then adding the other flours, but I couldn't tell a difference in taste or texture, and the dough was much more difficult to work with.) Whether it tastes all that different compared to the traditional method, well, I can't really remember - I haven't had "real" lefse in several years, and Jon (who is not gluten-free, and therefore is responsible for taste-testing my recipes for authenticity) has never tried it at all. However, he did think this bread tastes like naan - with its nice chewy texture and griddle-blistered surface, I can't say I disagree. 

I think it tastes pretty close to what I remember, though. Either way, I do know that this is a quick, very satisfying wrap bread, with a slightly sweet, hearty potato taste that complements all kinds of fillings. Unlike many gluten-free wraps, it is soft enough to roll up around a filling, and won't fall apart. Try it as a snack spread with butter and cinnamon sugar, or for lunch wrapped around cheese and lettuce, or even rolled up with peanut butter and jelly. (Yes, I used to take that last one to school for lunch. And got some funny looks for it. But I didn't care, because it was delicious.)

As I mentioned above, every recipe I found for lefse was a bit different, because every family has a slightly different version of the same food. The recipe below just happens to be a balance I like: not too floury or dry, a little bit buttery, moist yet not too heavy. My ratio, if I count the dried potato as part of the flour, is 6 parts flour:4 parts liquid:1 part fat

I calculated my ratio based on how many total grams of fat, rather than how many grams of butter and cream, went into it. Hopefully this will make substitution more successful for those of you who need to avoid dairy. If you try making a dairy-free version, let me know how it goes!

Lefse (the lazy way)
Makes 8 wrap-sized flatbreads

70g potato flour (not potato starch!)
70g white rice flour
55g potato starch, plus more for rolling out dough
15g buckwheat flour
2 tsp psyllium husk
1/4 tsp Pomona's citrus pectin
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar

2 T butter, melted (this contributes about 22 grams of fat) 
35 g cream (approximately 13 grams of this weight come from fat, for a total of 35 g of fat; roughly 20 grams remaining counts as liquid) 
190 g water (this plus the ~20 grams from the cream equals about 210 g liquid)

Blend all dry ingredients together in a bowl. Mix in cream, melted butter, & water, knead until dough forms a ball. --At this point I recommend putting the dough in the refrigerator for about half an hour - the dough is much easier to work with if it's cold.-- When the dough is chilled, flour your work surface and rolling pin with some starch, and heat a heavy griddle over medium heat. Divide the dough into eight balls. To roll out, press each ball flat with your hand, making sure there is plenty of starch on both sides, and gently roll as thin as you can without tearing. Picture yourself using the rolling pin to stretch the dough outwards, rather than pressing downwards on it. (If it does tear, use damp fingers to repair it - just make sure to dust extra starch on that spot so it doesn't stick to the rolling pin. Also, don't worry if they're not perfect - it takes practice, and they'll still taste just as good!) To cook, roll the round of dough up onto/around the rolling pin - so it is draped over the rolling pin - then carefully "roll" it off onto the hot griddle. It should start to bubble up after about a minute, at most - if it doesn't, turn up the heat a little more. Cook for a couple of minutes on each side. Place the lefse between folded dish towels to cool (this keeps them soft). 

Leftover lefse should be frozen for best texture (not refrigerated). Keep them in a freezer bag and thaw in the microwave as needed.

~Check out all of this month's recipes for tortillas & wraps, hosted by Brooke of B & the Boy!~

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

{Ratio Rally} More bread for the table

When I saw that Karen of Cooking Gluten Free had chosen bread for this month's Ratio Rally, I immediately thought of three things:
- I had to make some kind of bread I'd never done before (which I did!)
- I had do a science post (well, that part didn't happen. But more on that later.)
- I was really, really excited. Not just excited about baking bread - excited to see everyone baking bread, proving to the world that even without gluten, flour and water can be transformed into something amazing, something you can proudly have on your table.

After all, bread has essentially been this blog's raison d'être since the very beginning - even the name says it all. A bakery of bread - real bread - which happens to all be gluten-free. I knew from the start, of course, that I would create recipes for many other things as well, but bread in particular holds a special importance to me (a fact which has come up in quite a few of these posts).

But where to start? Since my first post a couple of years ago, I've made dozens and dozens of breads. Nowhere near all of them made it into a post of course, but the best ones did. And each of those "best breads" was posted because when I saw that loaf of real bread browning in my oven, or smelled that fresh-baked crust, or - most of all - tasted something that was truly good, I wanted to share it. There was the first time I discovered that yeast bread not only could be made without eggs or gums, but also that it was so much better that way! Then there was the delicious, authentic-tasting French multigrain bread that had no gums, eggs, or dairy (and the even simpler base recipe, from when I came up with a loaf-shaping strategy that consistently produced an attractive loaf). There was when I finally developed a truly satisfying pizza dough. And though it seems like so long ago now, it's been just two years since I made my very first best bread - at the time I knew next to nothing about food chemistry (meaning baking felt closer to superstition than science), and I still hadn't branched out beyond the eggs-and-xanthan gum formula, but at the time it was by far the best gluten-free bread I'd had. (Some of my newer recipes have what I consider much better taste and texture, but that old bread remains the most popular recipe on this blog - I will admit, the eggs do help things rise quite impressively.)

I thought about all these things as I was deciding just what kind of bread to make for this month's Rally, and suddenly I found myself feeling, well, pretty overwhelmed. And perfectionistic. Little things I brush off when baking just for myself suddenly seemed like huge issues: the crumb was too dark, or too dense; the crust didn't brown enough; there was too much whole-grain flavor, or not enough flavor at all. After several loaves of this criticism, I was growing weary of fighting the properties of gluten-less flours (and the laws of gravity) - it was time to try a different approach. Don't worry, I'm certainly not giving up on a wonderful baguette or boule or any of those other delicious things. In fact, I'll be devoting an upcoming post to exactly why those big loaves are so difficult, and what to do about it...with science!

Just...not this week. And that's where ciabatta comes in.

You see, ciabatta could be considered the odd bread out in the gluten-bread baking world (and I don't just mean its history - I'm talking about the dough itself). We tend to think of gluten dough as something that is, compared to GF dough, so easy to handle; so much more resilient and cooperative. Yet when I was looking at recipes for this particular type of bread, I noticed something odd. Nearly every one stated the dough must be worked using a stand mixer or bread machine knead cycle; they said it simply can't be kneaded by hand. A couple of recipes even went so far as to instruct "throw everything you know about bread dough out the window"! (Any of this sound familiar, gluten-free bakers?!)

Now, don't get me wrong -- ciabatta, just like other regular breads, is definitely very much dependent on gluten for its structure and texture. But while we lack the advantages of gluten to work with, this is one case where we can also avoid its disadvantages - in the case of ciabatta, the fact that its flour:water ratio means the gluten is really sticky. My ciabatta dough may not be strong and stretchy like regular dough, but it's actually quite easy to handle if you follow the instructions. And oh, the texture! With the loaf being so flat, it's not weighing itself down as much - so you'll get an airier crumb than you usually see in (eggless) GF breads. I even included a video clip to show you just how nice the texture is. (Sorry for the poor video quality - it was filmed on a phone - but I think it gets the point across!)

See how soft and stretchy it is?! I hope that after that, you really want to make some of your own now. Just a couple more quick notes to add before I get to the recipe:

- If you want to try to get your bread to rise up more (rather than spread out), try placing something on either side of it (separated by parchment) during the final part of the rising, somewhat akin to how a couche works.
- You can use potato starch in place of some of the tapioca starch if you want the insides of the bread to be whiter (have a look at this pizza dough, which is mostly a very similar flour composition, and you'll see what I mean). You may need to add a bit more water if using some potato starch, though.

Ciabatta (Gluten-free, gum-free, egg-free/vegan)
The ratio for this recipe is 4 parts flour:3 parts water. This is fairly typical for this style of bread, even when made with wheat (whereas wheat sandwich bread, for instance, is usually a 5:3 ratio). Though there is some oil in this bread, the amount is too small to make a clean ratio - there is however a similar concept that can accommodate small amounts of oil, etc using percentages (called baker's percentage) which I will introduce in an upcoming post, or you can look it up if you want.

For the sponge:
40 g oat flour
100 g brown rice flour
12 g buckwheat flour
16 g potato flour (not starch)
12 g tapioca starch
1/2 tsp yeast (preferably "bread machine/rapid" yeast)
20 mL organic apple cider vinegar
160 mL warm water

For the final dough:
220 g tapioca starch
1 2/3 T (5 tsp) psyllium
1/2 tsp Pomona's citrus pectin
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp yeast (preferably "bread machine/rapid" yeast)
120 mL warm water
30 mL (2 T) olive oil

For shaping the loaves:
1 tsp double-acting baking powder
2-4 tsp olive oil
rice flour
tapioca starch

1. The night before you want to make bread, you'll need to make the sponge: Combine the dry ingredients for the sponge (including yeast) in a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the vinegar and warm water and stir until it forms a stiff dough - it will become more fluid as it ferments. Cover tightly, and set aside to ferment for 12-14 hours.
2. In a separate bowl, combine all the dry ingredients for the final loaf (including yeast).
3. Stir about half of this dry mixture into the fermented sponge, followed by about half the water; then add the rest of the dry mixture, the rest of the water, and the olive oil. (If using a mixer, use the paddle attachment.) The dough will be more loose and slack than usual, but it should not be sticky.

4. Prepare 2 or 4 pieces of parchment (depending on whether you are making small or large loaves). Put a generous splash of olive oil on each parchment for ease of handling the dough.
5. Divide the dough into 2 or 4 pieces, and flatten each into a rectangle as if making very thin pizza:
Be careful not to tear or poke holes in it.
6. Sprinkle 1/2 tsp baking powder evenly on each rectangle (or 1/4 tsp if making 4 smaller loaves). Then fold two of the parallel edges inward, like this:
7. Now fold those edges in once more, overlapping slightly to form a seam:
8. Prepare a baking sheet or pizza peel with a very generous dusting of rice flour.
9. Once the shaped loaves have been resting seam-side up for 15-20 minutes, you will "flip" them onto the baking sheet so they are seam-side down for the rest of the rising time. Do this by grasping the edges of the parchment paper and lifting one side to quickly (but gently!) transfer them onto the floured area:
Handle gently to avoid deflating the loaf.
10. When all your loaves are resting seam-side down on the floured baking sheet/pizza peel, allow them to continue rising for another ~40 minutes (they will approximately double in size). Meanwhile preheat the oven to 230ºC/450ºF with a baking stone on the bottom rack. (If you don't have one, you can bake on a cookie sheet.) 
11. Shortly before putting them in the oven, dust the top of each loaf with a good amount of rice flour and/or tapioca starch. Optional: place a pan of water on the top rack of the oven to create steam - this helps produce a crisp crust. 
12. Gently slide each loaf onto the baking stone - the rice flour will mostly keep them from sticking, but a dough scraper may be useful to ease the transfer with minimal disturbance to the risen loaf. (If you will be baking on the baking sheet, simply place the sheet on the bottom rack of the oven.) Bake for 40-60 minutes (the shorter time will produce a crisp crust; the longer time will give a crunchy crust but will allow more steam to escape from the bread for a lighter loaf overall). Remove from the oven and cover with a dish towel until cool - do not cut until completely cool.
Crusty bread, olive oil, pepper: Enjoy!
~ Check out the rest of this month's bread creations over at Cooking Gluten Free! ~

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Hummingbird Cake

It was my birthday yesterday. Of course I'm well past the age where birthdays feel like some momentous, exciting occasion - after all, waking up and remembering you've turned 23 is nothing like the feeling of, say, waking up and remembering you're now 13. Still, though, this is the first birthday in recent memory that I am neither trying to finish some massive final project nor in the middle of moving to a new home (or even worse, both at once).

So, I made myself a cake.

This was the first time I've ever attempted any kind of big layer cake, so believe me when I say that this recipe is pretty foolproof! It's also very easily adapted to gluten-free, since it's meant to be dense and moist (in a good way - think carrot cake or banana bread). The cake recipe is adapted from the "original" Hummingbird Cake recipe printed in a 1978 issue of Southern Living magazine; aside from the obvious difference in flour, I also replaced part of the oil with applesauce to keep it from being too overwhelmingly rich. The frosting, however, is my own creation. Instead of the normal cream cheese frosting, I went out on a limb and made something similar, but using goat cheese with honey and some coconut oil. Don't let that combination put you off - - it still definitely tastes like cream cheese frosting, but even better. The tanginess of the goat cheese and the subtle coconut aroma pair perfectly with this fruit-filled cake cake. (Of course you can also use whatever other frosting you like - the cake itself is dairy-free, so if you can't eat dairy simply use a different frosting.)

Classic Hummingbird Cake
35 g oat flour
35 g chestnut flour
70 g brown rice flour
140 g tapioca flour
1/2 tsp Pomona's citrus pectin
1 1/2 tsp psyllium

200 g sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon

3 large eggs
120 mL oil (I used grapeseed oil)
120 g (about 1/2 cup) applesauce
2-3 bananas, chopped into small pieces
1 can of crushed pineapple, including liquid (8-oz can)
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
120 g (1 cup) chopped pecans

1. Grease three 8" cake pans and preheat the oven to 175ºC/350ºF
2. In a medium bowl, combine flours, pectin & psyllium, sugar, salt, baking soda, and cinnamon. Set aside.
3. In a large mixing bowl, combine the eggs and oil. (If using a mixer, use the paddle attachment on low speed.)
4. Add the dry ingredients to the egg mixture and stir just enough to combine.
5. Add in the applesauce, bananas, pineapple (with liquid), vanilla, and pecans. Stir just enough to distribute everything uniformly.
6. Pour batter into the three pans. Bake for about 40 minutes (more or less, based on how well your pans heat).
7. Cool in the pans for about an hour, then tip out onto a rack to cool completely before frosting. (If you won't be frosting them right away, put them in the refrigerator after completely cooled.)
8. Frost the cake using a flat spatula. If desired, stick chopped pecans and shredded coconut to the sides of the cake using a spatula.

Creamy Honey Goat Cheese Frosting
1 8-oz package Trader Joe's Honey Goat Cheese (chèvre)
56 g unprocessed coconut oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
250-275 g powdered sugar
2-3 tsp tapioca starch (if needed)

Blend goat cheese and coconut oil until smooth (an electric beater works well). Blend in the vanilla and gradually add the powdered sugar. Beat until it resembles whipped cream cheese. If the consistency is too runny, add 2-3 tsp tapioca starch.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

{Ratio Rally} Bagels

How long has it been since you've had a bagel? And I mean a real bagel, not just round-shaped bread with a hole in the middle...which is how every commercially-available GF "bagel" I've tried is best described - some aren't bad at all, but they're also not bagels. A bagel, as you probably know, is more chewy on the outside (rather than crusty) because of the way it's poached before baking. It's also more dense inside - which means bagels adapt to gluten-free surprisingly well compared to some other gluten-heavy foods. Really! They taste like bagels! (And that's coming from my boyfriend, who spent part of his childhood in New York City, so I'll trust him on how bagels should taste.) And now you can have a bagel, too. Or several - there are quite a few different kinds of bagels in this month's roundup, hosted by Morri at Meals with Morri!

The ratio I used was approximately 5 parts flour:3 parts water. This is different than the ratio for wheat bagels; while some GF recipes need more liquid than wheat flour, this needed a higher amount of liquid than I was expecting to make a smooth dough. I think part of the reason may be because I used larger-than-usual proportions of some flours which can hold a lot of water, including oat flour. I haven't had a chance to try the recipe with other flour blends to see how much of a difference it makes. (Many GF flour blends are 40% whole grain and 60% starch, but for this recipe I used a blend containing 60% whole grain because I like bagels which are more hearty than an "all-purpose" type flour would make.)

Don't be intimidated by the long set of instructions - bagels are boiled before baking, so there are a few extra steps in here, but I felt like they were actually fairly easy to make.

Like most of my recipes, this recipe calls for some ingredients and techniques that may be different from the gluten-free recipes you are used to. If you're new to this blog, please take a look at this post and this one for a quick introduction.

Classic Poppyseed Bagels
Makes 12 bagels

For the Sponge:
240 g Brown rice flour
160 g Oat flour (make sure it's certified gluten-free; many oats are cross-contaminated)
80 g Buckwheat flour
2 tsp yeast
480 mL warm water

Other ingredients:
300 g Tapioca flour
20 g Potato flour (not the same as potato starch; see note on my Ingredients page)
4 T Psyllium husks
1 tsp Pomona's Pure Citrus Pectin (see note on my Ingredients page)
1 T Molasses
1 T Honey 
15 g Sea salt
1 tsp yeast
2 T grapeseed oil or other high-heat oil

2 L water, for poaching
1/2 T baking soda, for poaching
1 T sugar, for poaching (optional)
Rice flour, for dusting baking stone

The night before you want to make the bagels, combine the dry ingredients for the sponge, including yeast, in a large mixing bowl or the bowl of your mixer. Stir in the water. Cover bowl and let the sponge ferment for 8-12 hours. 

The next morning, mix together tapioca flour, potato flour, psyllium, pectin, salt in a separate bowl. Stir the molasses, honey, and extra 1tsp yeast into the sponge, then add about half the flour mixture. Mix well by hand or using a mixer on the lowest setting (I find the paddle attachment works better than a dough hook). Mix in the rest of the flour blend, then add the oil. 

The dough may look very crumbly at first, but after 1-2 minutes of mixing it should begin to come together to form a stiff dough. (If the dough crumbles or falls apart when you squeeze a handful, mix in more water 1T at a time until the dough is stiff but smooth.)

Now, on a baking sheet, flatten the dough out into a large, thin rectangle, brush the surface with water, sprinkle the baking powder evenly over it, and roll it up (all this is demonstrated here). Use a dough scraper or knife to slice the dough log into 12 pieces, as if making cinnamon rolls. Use wet hands to smooth out the "seams" of each piece as you form it into a flattened round, and use your thumb to poke a hole in the middle. Cover all the shaped bagels with a damp cloth or damp paper towels and set the tray in a warm place to rise for about an hour.

After the bagels have been rising for about 45 minutes, pre-heat the oven with a floured baking stone to 230ºC/450ºF, and heat 2L of water in a wide pot over medium-high heat. (It is important to measure the water, to ensure you are using the right concentration of baking soda - this is necessary for bagels' characteristic taste and texture!) When the water begins to simmer, add the baking soda (and sugar, if using). With the water still simmering, use a spatula to transfer 3-4 bagels to the pot. Let them simmer for 1-2 minutes, flip them over and poach for an additional minute. (The bagels will appear to keep rising the longer they are in the pot, but don't let them poach more than 1-2 minutes per side or they will soak up too much water!) Use a spatula to remove them from the water and allow them to rest on a rack for several minutes before putting them in the oven - use this time to sprinkle with poppyseeds or other toppings. (If they are too wet when you put them in the oven they will stick to the baking stone.) Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until they appear nicely browned and easily come off the baking stone.

~Check out the rest of this month's Rally recipes at Meals with Morri!~

P.S. - Want to see fresh, gluten-free, real food more widely available? You can help make it happen! Simone of Zenbelly Catering is trying to open a 100% gluten-free shared kitchen, which would serve as a community work space for people who want to use certified gluten-free ingredients, as well as a space for an organic, celiac-safe catering company and a coffeeshop serving locally-made gluten-free baked goods. And I think it's a really, really wonderful idea. Visit Simone's Kickstarter page to contribute, or to learn more about how you can help. Below is a short video from the Kickstarter page which explains Simone's vision for the project more fully:
This project will only happen if the funding goal is reached by May 20th! Remember that even if you're not in the San Francisco area, opening this kitchen could help pave the way for more recognition of gluten-free needs everywhere, and help demonstrate that there is a market for local, sustainably-produced food.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

How MythBusters made me a better baker (Or, Why I put baking powder in yeast bread)

If you've spent more than 5 minutes on the internet, I'm sure you're familiar with Diet Coke + Mentos. More specifically, what happens when you drop the latter into a bottle containing the former. 

(This. This is what happens.)

What you may not be so familiar with, though, is why this happens (and how you can apply it to baking).

Well, it turns out that the surface of a Mentos candy is actually covered in tiny pits - pits which trap carbon dioxide when the candy is submerged in the carbonated liquid. Now, to be fair, with the specific combination of Mentos mints and Diet Coke, there are also some chemical factors contributing to the extreme nature of the reaction - but you can see a somewhat milder effect using even plain carbonated water. Plus, the same underlying physical principle of the trapped gas applies to many other things, too - like a fingertip:

Thanks, Wikipedia!

See how the bubbles gather around the rough surface of the finger? That's because the carbon dioxide dissolved in the water is forming bubbles in the small irregularities on the fingertip. As more tiny bubbles combine, the areas of trapped carbon dioxide grow bigger. This same principle is why when you open a new bottle of a carbonated drink, the carbon dioxide (which was dissolved in the high-pressure environment of the bottle) suddenly forms large bubbles; providing a rough surface (like a fingertip, or a small scratch inside a glass) just allows this to happen more quickly. These pits are known as nucleation sites, and the very rapid bubble formation when you add Mentos to Diet Coke helps cause that dramatic eruption above when the gas pushes towards the surface. This animated clip from MythBusters illustrates the process up-close:

You're probably wondering by now what on earth this has to do with bread. Well...a lot, actually. Now of course I'm not going to tell you to put Diet Coke or Mentos in your bread - that would just be silly. And gross, and messy. But you do already put something into bread which creates carbon dioxide: yeast produces this gas as part of its metabolism, and the bubbles that form help create that wonderful airy, open-crumbed texture of rustic bread. That texture - or rather, the lack of it - was probably the first thing you noticed when you tried gluten-free bread for the first time, too. Gluten, as you know, is stretchy - when gas bubbles form as gluten dough rises, the elastic network stretches, like a balloon, and does not collapse when steam further expands these bubbles in the oven. 

The binders we use in gluten-free bread, though, are not as strong or as stretchy as a gluten network. Combine that with the fact that gluten-free breads tend to retain more liquid, and you can probably see why the bubbles seem to sort of collapse, resulting in a small, dense loaf. 

But there are ways to help compensate for this! For one thing, we can make it easier for these bubbles to form and grow larger. (This is where the "nucleation" concept comes in.) 

Try to imagine blowing air into a balloon. It's hardest when you first start, right? That's when you have the highest resistance to push against. It's a similar situation in the dough: the bubbles start out very tiny, with very little surface area, and a lot of pressure from the surrounding dough pushing in from all sides. If adjacent bubbles combine to form one larger one, though, it can withstand the pressure a little bit better - and in the oven, it is easier for water to turn into steam in an area that's already filled with air than when it's surrounded by water. This also means that if steam expands where there's already a bubble, that bubble becomes bigger (if the dough hasn't "set" yet). Steam formation from water in the dough actually has a much bigger impact on expansion than the air bubbles alone.

Yeast is not the only way we can get these bubbles, though. Baking powder produces gas too - in the case of double-acting baking powder (which is what I use), there's actually an initial chemical reaction and then a second, heat-triggered reaction which occurs in the oven. By rolling in the baking powder right before the final rising, I'm providing extra "starting points" for bubble formation - ultimately making it easier for bubbles to expand and hold their shape both during the final rise and after the bread is in the oven. This results in a loaf which is larger, less dense, and also lighter, because more water was able to "escape" in the form of steam. 

In the picture at the very top of the page, you can see the split along the top of the loaf from where it expanded during baking. And in the one below, you can see the holes in the crumb of that same loaf (you may also notice the seam from where I rolled up the dough, a possible sign that slightly more water is necessary). This bread is, of course, 100% gluten-free - but it's also free of the major food allergens (making it vegan by default as well). But it looks like real bread, right? Well, that's because it is. Real bread, gluten-free. 
You don't need eggs to get this kind of rise in a gluten-free loaf...just a bit of science!

Friday, 17 February 2012

There is something I need to say

Hello again.

It hit me that as of a few days ago, this blog, Gluten-Free Boulangerie, is 2 years old. But that is not what this post is about. This post is about why I've been away for nearly six months - and not just from the blog, or the comments that went unread until yesterday (for which I offer sincere apologies to all those asking questions I did not reply to). I've been away from everything. Emails sat unopened and unanswered. Those of you on Twitter maybe noticed I didn't make a peep. And for every day that ticked by, it became harder and harder to come back - you see, my life had been changed in a huge way, and it felt increasingly impossible to bridge the gap that formed between the "before" and "after," the "then" and the "now."

All of you with celiac disease already know all too well the stress of a chronic illness: the worry and fear prior to a diagnosis; the pain and exhaustion in parts of your body you didn't even know could hurt or be tired; the pain of not being believed by doctors, family, and friends - and maybe you even begin to doubt yourself. You know that a diagnosis will bring relief, in some ways, but that it also brings new kinds of fear, and worry, and pain. You know those desperate questions you ask yourself: How am I supposed to get used to this? When will this ever feel normal? 

Well...that's what I've been trying to figure out myself, all over again. And this time it's a lot harder to adjust to than celiac disease was. 

I had been in a holding pattern of uncertainty and lab tests for quite some time, up until a few months ago - over the past few years I was tested for things ranging from devastating autoimmune disorders all the way to easily-treated ailments, and a lot of things in between, and the only answers I got amounted to little more than "we still don't know." I had no idea what was making me sick, or how long it would last.

And then, partly thanks to the sheer luck of choosing a doctor who happened to have seen a "nearly identical" case a few years before, we were getting somewhere. I found out I met the criteria for "generalized hypermobility" - that means many joints all over my body are more flexible than normal, and not in a good way. (Unlike some very flexible people like, say, ballet dancers or gymnasts, my muscles cannot compensate enough to support my joints, meaning my joints are loose and unstable.) It was not a diagnosis in itself, but rather a central piece of the puzzle. That was October. Since then, all the medical evidence has confirmed my doctor's initial suspicion. There's still a piece or two that needs to be filled in - I'll be seeing a geneticist before the "finished" diagnosis ends up in my chart - but after all this waiting, I finally have a name for this thing that turned my life upside-down: Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. It's a genetic disorder which affects collagen, a protein which plays an important role in muscles, ligaments, tendons, blood vessels, and skin, among other things. There are several types, depending on where the gene mutation is and which type of collagen it affects (that's where the genetic testing comes in). In my case, the effects are extreme fatigue, muscle weakness, chronic joint pain (and frequent injury during normal activities because the joints are unstable), and circulatory issues which leave me frequently out-of-breath & lightheaded with sluggish, foggy thoughts (this makes things like communicating, reading, and writing difficult, and things like driving downright dangerous). There are other complications too, but the ones I've just described have the biggest impact on my life.

And they've been impacting my life for longer than I've let on - it's true I've gotten more ill over the past year or so, but I've known something was wrong, and had been searching for a diagnosis, since well before I even started this blog. (Technically, I was born with it; however, like a lot of people with Ehlers-Danlos, my symptoms - despite being present on some level since I was very young - did not become glaringly problematic enough to demand medical attention until my late teens.) And, as you can probably understand by now, over the course of trying to come to terms with all this I also became pretty depressed.

By this point you're probably wondering why I'm telling you all this "personal" information. That's a reasonable thing to wonder and, to be honest, the same question has flitted across my own mind. These are not easy things to say. Yet I feel it's something I need to do, for a few reasons. 

When I was still undiagnosed, I kept telling myself that the illness, whatever it was, could still be something "fixable." That once the doctors figured out what it was, I'd be able to repair what was broken and get back to my life. Sure, some plans had to be put on hold for a while, but I didn't really see it as a big deal; I kept trusting things would get back to normal, because the idea of not getting better was unfathomable. Instead, I found out that I will have this for the rest of my life, and that some of the complications will likely get worse with time. That I may not get to do all the things I had set aside for "when I get better." Unlike with celiac disease, there is no special thing I can change to make the symptoms go away. Of course I'm trying to be optimistic, but all the optimism in the world won't change the fact that some things are, at least right now, not physically possible. And the things that are possible are really, really hard - I can't even bake the way I used to. I got a mixer for Christmas, which does help a lot by taking over the strenuous stirring and kneading, but baking - which used to be my "therapy," the activity I could always count on for a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction - still requires energy that these days, I often simply don't have. Now, I'm trying to figure out if going to grad school - the main reason I moved here in the first place - is even a realistic option at this time. 

I went so long without mentioning the problems I was having because I didn't see them as part of my reality. It just didn't fit with how I saw myself. Even when I started having to walk with a cane, I was still in denial, of sorts. The cane may have made it obvious in the "real world" that something was wrong, but online, I could keep that denial alive - all I had to do was omit the unpleasant stuff, I reasoned, and I could continue to be me as I saw myself. Yes, I know just about everybody does that on some level; lots of people make their life sound a little more interesting or exciting or glamorous than it is, especially when they're doing it on the internet with the intention of getting people to actually read it (aka blogging). After all, no one wants to read a lot of complaining unless the writer manages to be really funny and snarky in the process. There are of course some bloggers who have that gift; however, I am not among them. (Which is really too bad, because the ability to pull off more snarky jokes would probably help me cope with the whole need-a-cane-and-I'm-only-22 thing.) (Actually, now it's a pair of canes, per the physical therapist's recommendation; since my wrist, elbow, & shoulder are just as hypermobile as my knees & hips are, putting all the weight on one side was causing new problems.) 

But the point I was getting to is that I am neither able nor willing to hold onto that denial anymore. Doing so would be dishonest, and what's more, I have no reason to. Either way, I am still just me.

Which brings me to another point. 

As it turns out, there's still a lot of stigma associated with chronic illness and disabilities in general, whether physical or mental, visible or invisible. On the internet in particular, where someone can speak from behind the veil of anonymity, I've seen some downright hateful statements. I haven't experienced any intentionally mean comments out in the "real world" in the relatively short time that I've been visibly disabled, but I know some other people with disabilities who have. More frequently, I encounter ignorance and misunderstanding: for instance, some people are quick to say things like "just get more sleep and you'll be fine" (it's not that kind of fatigue), or "it can't hurt that much" (yes it can, and it does), or "you're probably just too stressed-out" (don't even get me started on that one). These often-frustrating, occasionally-insulting experiences leave a lot of people, myself included, very reluctant to be open about having a chronic illness. 

...And that's exactly why I finally decided to go ahead and just be open about it. It hit me that if I want to help change how healthy people view people with chronic conditions, hiding my condition was one of the worst things I could do; on the other hand, one of the best things would be to just be myself plus a little extra honesty. Yes, I have a chronic illness. Yes, I am physically disabled. And I am still also a gluten-free baker, a food lover, a tutor, and a scientist, and a lot of other short, the stuff you already knew about me is still all true. When I put it that way, I know it seems like common sense. But given the way some people act, I think sometimes people forget that. 

That's really all I wanted to say for now. I'm really hoping I'll be able to start posting recipes again soon. But now, if I go a long while without posting, now you know why. If I take a while to respond to your email or comment or tweet, please know that I'm not just ignoring you. I'm still getting used to this, and I still have a long way to go, but I've put my life on hold for long enough now - I may not be able to "get back to normal" in the way I'd hoped, but I am ready to start living again, in whatever way I can.