Friday, 14 April 2017

Simnel torte

Simnel cake is a classic English springtime spiced cake, lighter than the fruitcakes of the winter holidays. Its formula as well as its occasion has evolved pretty significantly over the past two centuries or so - while it’s more recently become an Easter cake made from a quick batter, it was originally a yeast-leavened rich bread dough and made for an earlier spring holiday (typically Mothering Sunday). A few features have remained constant throughout those changes: the mixed fruit, the spice, the egg- and butter-enriched but not-too-sugary base, and - perhaps most distinctively - a layer of almond paste baked inside the cake and one more layer atop the cake. 

I wanted to pay homage to the many varied forms this cake has taken, yet also reinvent it further. The result - a Simnel torte, if you will - is a sort of deconstructed version, more relaxed and effortless than the classic cake, and with added elements of some other light European cakes that might be considered its distant cousins. Rather than layering with almond paste, I’ve incorporated ground almonds into the batter itself, as featured in so many classic tea cakes, sponges, and other pastries. (The apricot jam that conventionally moistens the top of the cake simply goes in the batter of my version also.) I use potato starch and a little buckwheat for the rest of the flour - both also appearing in numerous traditional European cakes. And as an acknowledgement to the original Simnel formula, I’ve returned the yeast to the cake to make it pleasantly light and bready. It’s a nice accompaniment to tea or coffee for a springtime afternoon.

Notes: Like most spiced cakes, this tastes even better when it’s rested for a day - so if you want it for Easter, I suggest making it tonight or tomorrow. 

Simnel Torte
60 g milk + 60 g water, warmed
15 g buckwheat flour
⅛ tsp yeast

100 g almond flour
60 g potato starch
¾ tsp mixed spice (or ½ tsp ginger plus a pinch each of nutmeg, cloves, and cinnamon)
30 g brown sugar
35 g butter, soft
½ tsp salt
2 eggs, separated, room temperature
18 g (a good tablespoonful) apricot preserves or ginger preserves (I used a combination!)
80 g currants, raisins, or a combination
15 g candied peel (you can make your own if you like)
40 g sliced almonds, for the top

For the glaze:
30 g powdered sugar
2 tsp brandy
1 tsp rosewater
½ tsp apricot preserves

Combine the buckwheat flour, yeast, milk, and water and set aside in a warm spot for about an hour. (If the flour settles, give it an occasional stir.)
Combine the almond flour, potato starch, and spices and set aside. Lightly whisk the egg whites. Cream together the butter, sugar, salt, yolks, and preserves. Beat in about half the dry mix, then the milk mixture, the beaten whites, and finally the remaining dry mix. Fold in the dried fruit and peel. Pour the mixture into a buttered 8” tart pan or springform pan and sprinkle the slivered almonds on top. Let it rise for 45-60 minutes (depending on how warm it is in your kitchen) - meanwhile heat the oven to 350º F / 175º C. Bake the cake for about 45 minutes. When the cake is almost done, whisk together the glaze ingredients. Pour the glaze over the cake immediately after removing it from the oven. Let the cake rest for several hours before serving.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Columbia SC GFAF Wellness Event

The Columbia SC GFAF Wellness Event is coming up on the 29th of April! This is the first time the event has come to Columbia, so I’m excited to meet some new people and discover (and of course share with you) some of this city's GF foods and resources. I’m also very excited to announce I will be speaking at this event - the topic will be Gluten-Free Sourdough: Recipes, Science, and Nutrition! Come find out why sourdough is better than yeast for GF bread and learn about how to make and use your very own sourdough starter.

I have four tickets to give away, so if you’re in the SC area, be sure to leave a comment for a chance to win a pair of tickets to the event! Hope to see you there!

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.