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.

Thursday, 4 May 2017

GF sourdough tutorial, part 2: Feeding and maintenance

If you started your starter on Tuesday, it is now two days old. (If you haven’t started yet, see part 1 for instructions.) You’ve hopefully been stirring it every 12 hours for the reasons I mentioned, but you have not refreshed or fed it yet. To get a healthy fermentation, you will now need to refresh it once a day for the next several days. 

Feeding your starter:
Here’s how to do it: remove half the mixture so you are left with 50 g starter. Add 50 g fresh flour and 50 g filtered/bottled water (a 1:1:1 ratio of starter:flour:water). Keep refreshing in this manner once every 24 hours, and also keep stirring it every 12 hours as before, and it should be ready in about one week from when you started. With this formula using brown rice flour, I find it starts smelling really nice around day 6, when I usually test it for baking, and continues to mature for another day or two. You may notice different things or on a different timeline depending on what flour you’re using; because of this, I’ve avoided going into too much detail about what your starter “should” be doing day by day. The following information should apply to all flours. (See below for signs it’s ready and how to tell if you need to alter your procedure at all.)

This 1:1:1 feeding ratio is a pretty standard one for starters of all types at 100% hydration, though some people like to further reduce the ratio of existing starter (perhaps 1:2:2). This ratio is what’s important, in order to maintain enough fresh nutrients for a healthy, robust fermentation - as nutrients deplete and waste products build up, the cells’ metabolism changes and can quickly turn into something that won’t make good bread as other species take over. We remove part of the mixture rather than just feeding exponentially in order to keep the starter at a manageable size. 

Waiting to refresh/feed until the 48-hour point is my personal twist - it seems to get the starter going faster and seems to help avoid some of the funkier stages of fermentation, probably (though I currently have no good way to verify this) due to allowing the lactic acid bacteria (LAB) to outcompete other bacterial species more rapidly by acidifying the undiluted mixture over those first 48 hours.

Discards: 
People have varying opinions on what to do with the removed portion (often termed “discard”). As the term might suggest, many people do recommend simply discarding it. This is because in a new immature starter, the mixture has not sufficiently acidified and balanced out to ensure that it contains only the desirable bacteria and yeasts - at first, there can be all kinds of things growing in there, not all of them pleasant. Nevertheless, some people do use the immature discards. (There are also plenty of examples of traditional spontaneous grain ferments that go for several days, though these are usually fermented at warmer temperatures which encourage desirable LAB.) It’s kind of up to you. A good piece of common sense: if it smells bad, definitely don’t use those discards. Smelling neutral or pleasant is not a guarantee of safety, but smelling bad is a pretty sure indicator that you don’t want to eat it! Even if it might not strictly make you sick, it’d probably taste pretty gross. Don’t feel too bad about being “wasteful” if you feel more comfortable discarding them - the flour has served a purpose. It’s natural that starters may go through a phase of smelling unpleasant in the first week - keep refreshing and stirring as scheduled and it should balance out.

Things to watch for:
Most GF starters will not look quite like wheat starters because they lack the sticky, elastic properties of air-trapping gluten proteins. While they will generally not have the dramatic height increase of wheat flour, there are more subtle cues to look for to gauge activity.
Hungry starter...
The starter above has cavernous bubbles that have grown large and collapsed; a couple of hours prior, this not-quite-mature starter was nicely domed on top but has since fallen. This is a sign the starter burnt through the available nutrients a couple hours sooner than expected. If you notice this, feed it ASAP even though it’s not the scheduled feeding time, perhaps even at a somewhat higher ratio than usual. When the starter gets really stressed/hungry, it may even smell unpleasantly sharp, like acetone. If this happens, immediately feed at a higher ratio than usual and stir frequently until it starts seeming healthier again. This is kind of a “danger zone” for the health of a starter - stressed cells’ metabolism changes, and these chemical changes in a stressed starter can result in an altered ecosystem where it can become difficult to return it to the desired balance.
Healthier starter.
The starter in the second picture has plentiful small, round, evenly distributed bubbles and bounces back to this same activity level within a few hours after a feeding. At this point it may also develop pleasantly tart and/or yeasty smells. Try to maintain it at this level of activity; if it looks like this around day 6-7, try using it to bake with. If you are satisfied with the results, you may refrigerate it (see next paragraph for maintenance instructions). If not, keep feeding it as above and test it again in a day or two.

Maintaining your starter:
Once it’s ready, it will still need some maintenance. The mature starter will still need regular feeding to stay healthy (like most other living things!) so you can either use it every day for bread, pancakes, porridge - and whatever else you can think of - and keep feeding it at the same ratio as above, or put it in the fridge to slow down its metabolism and feed it about once a week. The latter option is more realistic for most people! I tend to keep just enough starter to make 2-3 loaves before needing to replenish it, so I use it gradually until there is only a little starter left. Then when there’s only 30-40 grams of starter left in the jar, I feed it 40 g of flour and 40 g of water like usual, leaving it out on the counter for a few hours to make sure it is fermenting properly before returning it to the refrigerator.  

Troubleshooting your starter:
“My starter looks ready to use, but it’s only 3 days old!” You may see a lot of bubbles, but this doesn’t mean it’s mature - in fact, it probably isn’t even yeast producing this gas. A common culprit is any of several species of the lactic acid bacteria Leuconostoc, such as L. mesenteroides. It is a contributor to the chemical changes that pave the way for a stable sourdough. Yeasts will appear in significant numbers after the mixture has been fermented by LAB for at least a few days.
Mold on sides of jar: Carefully transfer starter to a clean jar, avoiding the mold. This is exacerbated by condensation in the jar; try moving the starter to a cooler place and/or covering the jar with a cloth or other breathable cover.
Mold on top of starter: Have you been stirring it every 12 hours? Mold does not establish easily on frequently-disturbed surfaces. It’s up to you whether you want to just remove the surface mold or start over. (Removing the surface mold is generally considered OK because whatever traces might still be in the mix are going to be both diluted by subsequent refreshments and inhibited by the fermentation process. However, if you’re allergic to mold, you may be safer just starting over.) Make sure you’re feeding & stirring on schedule, make sure your jar and utensils are clean, and avoid condensation (see above).
Starter just won’t start: With rice flour, I find it quite common for the starter to look fairly inert until day 5 or 6, when it seemingly suddenly springs to life with bubbles and begins to smell yeasty. If you’re past this point and still not noticing activity, try seeing if maybe your mixture needs a fresher source of flour (even grinding it yourself if possible), purer water (in case traces of chlorine or other chemicals might be inhibiting growth), and/or try boosting things by adding some honey or sugar. (If you’ve tried these things and are still having trouble, contact me and hopefully we can figure it out.) 


Coming up this weekend: How to use your starter to make bread, with a recipe!
Check back in a few days if you want some of this!!

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

GF sourdough tutorial, part 1

A young starter, just starting out in life.
If you were following along last year when I tried making the pasta madre from an Italian GF cookbook...it was a bit of a disaster. Though it promised to be a yeast-rich traditional leaven and even got off to a promising start, I ended up with a nearly inert paste that provided neither leavening nor character and soon spoiled altogether. I still wonder if a good portion of the fault may be with differences in flours rather than the recipe itself. For one thing, milling is different - the Italian recipe, as I mentioned, calls for a grade of fine maize flour that isn’t really a thing in the US. What’s more, the rice flour I used was on the gritty side as well (a fact that wasn’t clear until I tried baking with it). For another thing, the grain varieties have different characteristics: I brought up differences between different types of rice in the pasta madre post, and a reader in Italy confirmed that Italian rice flour is likely to be from short-grain rice. (The only reason I didn’t use short-grain flour in the first place was because I was worried flour I ground myself would be too coarse - so much for that!) I honestly don’t know if the resulting difference in amylopectin ratio was enough to make any difference in this case. Perhaps someday I’ll have the patience to try again with short-grain rice flour and the proper grind/variety of fine polenta flour (if I can obtain it). 

For the time being, though, I eventually returned to a more conventional approach to making sourdough as I’ve been doing for the past few years. My posts from the pasta madre saga do contain a lot of good information about sourdough chemistry, so they’re still worth a read - see part 1, 2, and 3 - but now I’m going to teach you how to make the starter I've been using recently. Just to be clear, this is far from the only way to make a starter! But, it’s more streamlined than some of the other starters I’ve made in the past, and I’ve found this one to be quite reliable and is consistently ready in about a week. 

You may use just about any starch-rich, whole-grain (or blend with at least half whole-grain) flour(s) to make a sourdough starter. The simplest, most economical option for most people will probably be brown rice or a mixture of brown and white rice, both of which I’ve used successfully in this formula, but more suggestions are below. I am able to grind my own short-grain brown rice flour (see note above), which I’ve been getting good results with, but I know other people have also used standard brown rice for sourdough starter with no issue. The pasta madre used a blend of rice and maize/corn, and I have used this same blend for the following sourdough as well. In the past I have made sourdough with buckwheat, fine cornmeal, and also with cooked potatoes and sweet potatoes (however, these last two are not flour, which complicates things due to unpredictable moisture content and other factors - for today we’ll stick with flours). Others have had success with quinoa, millet, sorghum, amaranth, teff, and more.

Keep in mind that each flour will have its own somewhat different fermentation signature - this is due to the natural surface flora of the grain/seed as well as differences in chemical composition of the flour supporting different organisms. Also keep in mind that you must use a starch-rich flour (grains and pseudocereals) - almost anything will ferment, but starchy flours are needed to support the distinct community of bacteria and yeast that defines a sourdough. I also recommend using whole grain because the fiber and trace minerals help support a diverse sourdough community.

Method:
Stir together 50 grams of brown rice flour or other GF whole-grain starchy flour (see above) and 50 g water in a glass jar. (Please use filtered or bottled water - chlorinated tap water will kill some of the fragile sourdough organisms.)
Optional addition: a small teaspoon of raw honey can help get the fermentation going by contributing some free sugars and possibly also some enzymes. This is a tip I got from the pasta madre formula which I have found to be helpful.
Stir at 12 hours, again at 24 hours, and again at 36 hours. In other words, if you start it at 8 pm, stir it at 8 am the next morning, 8pm that night, and 8am the following morning. Don’t add or remove anything for now, just stick with the stirring. It probably won’t seem like it’s doing anything yet, but there are in fact all kinds of organisms in there that are slowly but surely beginning to ferment: stirring redistributes nutrients, introduces fresh oxygen, and helps prevent mold spores from getting a chance to grow.

At 48 hours, you will (finally!) do something different - Come back in 2 days to learn what to do next and how to get a mature starter! (Also, for a sneak peek of where we’re going with this, see here!)

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Columbia SC GFAF Event

Yesterday I was down in Columbia SC for the GFAF Wellness Event, where I spoke about how and why to make GF sourdough bread. I also got to share some of my homemade GF sourdough, which was a joyful experience. (When was the last time you saw a bunch of celiacs getting genuinely excited over the texture, flavor, and delightful aroma of a loaf of bread?!)
This is the honey-oatmeal sourdough I took to share!
My favorite new-to-me find was the local Puckerbutt Pepper Company. They have a diverse range of hot sauces, from fairly mild all the way up to intensely hot. I’m not afraid of spicy food, but for tasting by itself on a spoon, I stayed on the milder side of things! I especially liked the strawberry hot sauce - the fruitiness of the strawberries really comes through to nicely complement the heat of the peppers without being sweet. They sell dried peppers and seeds for pepper plants, too. 
Simple ingredients: Just vinegar, fruit, and peppers.
Here’s a sampling of the many other sights and tastes from the event! Some of them I’ve mentioned before, but several were new and local too. If you’re in central SC, you especially might want to check out the pasture-raised beef and chicken from Boss Farms. (They were selling some there, but I had a long drive home!)
In my Blogger Bag, I found a chocolate cake mix from Mina’s, some Norm’s Farms elderberry syrup, Wowbutter soy butter, and handmade goat milk soap from A Garnet Rose. (This particular soap has patchouli and lavender - it smells just lovely!)
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).


Saturday, 29 April 2017

Gluten-free sourdough: Sneak peek!


Today I’m at the Columbia SC GFAF Event and I will be giving a talk on gluten-free sourdough at 12:45! We will go over the hows and whys of making and using a gluten-free sourdough starter, including some of the science behind why sourdough makes better GF bread than yeast. If you can’t make it, though, don’t worry - check back this coming week for a brand-new sourdough starter tutorial and an upcoming recipe for BREAD! In the meantime, here are some pictures to pique your interest (and your appetite):




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!