Wednesday 22 December 2010

We wish you a GF Christmas...

I found out I was gluten-intolerant the day after Christmas. My mother and I had baked so many cookies - as we did every year, to give as gifts. Of course, I'd planned on taking some for myself as well when I went back to my dormitory after Christmas. Instead, I added them to the treats I had already planned to give to all my friends. My stomach was no longer miserable, at least. However, I felt horribly deprived. And after tasting some packaged sponges Tapioca Bread, I remember wondering whether I'd ever be able to eat anything good again. (I guess I was a little melodramatic...)

That was three years ago. Oh, how things have changed!

If this is your first Christmas without gluten, be assured that you don't have to go without delicious holiday treats. And even if you have been gluten-free for years, it can still be helpful to keep some things in mind as you spend the holidays with family and friends who may or may not understand your dietary needs. These are some things I've learned - I hope you'll find them useful too.

1: Baking. There are an amazing number of recipes on the internet - not to mention in cookbooks - for pies, cookies, and so on. Some gluten-free bloggers have even put together collections of holiday recipes (here and here are two great places to start). You can also find flour blends that can be substituted cup-for-cup to convert favourite recipes. If someone else in your family usually bakes the traditional treats, ask if they would try using one of these blends in a recipe or two! My mother converted all our traditional recipes - quite successfully - using a blend of sorghum flour, potato starch, and tapioca starch.

2: Parties. If you are going to a party where you know the hosts personally, make sure to talk to them ahead of time. This way, you can find out if they will be able to accommodate you - and your hosts will be spared the awkwardness of not knowing about your restrictions until you show up, and finding they have nothing you can eat. If you are going to a larger party or potluck, stick to things that are almost certainly safe: fruit & veg trays and things in packages with the label on it are good places to start. Nut mixes and cold-cuts of meat can be iffy. In any case, offer to bring something to the party; this way you know there will be something safe. (Few things are worse than being hungry and surrounded by food you cannot eat!)

3: Alcohol. This is something you may frequently encounter at parties and other gatherings. With eggnog, ask to see the ingredients list - be wary of unidentified "modified food starch" and flavourings. If you are at a bar, stick to fruit-based things (sherry, wine, vermouth, cider) and distilled things (gin, vodka, etc.). Neat fact: distilled liquor, like distilled vinegar, is free of gluten even if it is grain-based. Beware anything with added colours or flavours, though: caramel colour and French vanilla flavouring are just two examples that may be grain-based, and alcohol is not required to show an ingredients list.

4: Travel. It may seem obvious, but bring food with you when you are travelling! Airport restaurants operate with a very small food prep area, so cross-contamination is likely. In-flight snacks usually consist of pretzels or crackers, and even when peanuts are available I have found that the seasoning often includes wheat flour. (True story: on a flight last year, I asked the flight attendant if any of the available snacks were gluten free. She looked puzzled, then responded, "Gluten? Is that, like,...fat-free?" Needless to say, I stuck to my own food!)

Some good, compact GF travel foods: crackers or cookies (homemade or packaged); cereal bars like Enviro-Kids, or energy bars (make sure the label says GF); dried fruit; nuts; cheese; corn tortillas; dry GF cereal/granola. I recently took a whole loaf of homemade bread through airport security with no problem. Also, if you want to bake, make sure to bring some flours with you if you will be staying with relatives.

5: Family. This is probably the hardest one.  I really think the holidays are the most difficult time for many gluten-intolerant people, with everyone sharing baked things that are a part of family traditions. I know it will be hard to explain to your grandmothers that you cannot try their Christmas cookies, not even "just a bite."

Many people have still never heard of celiac disease, and those that have may not understand cross-contamination or even what "gluten-free diet" really means. (Someone once asked me if I could eat things made with white flour, because it wasn't "whole" wheat!)

Explain to your friends and family, if you haven't already, why you must stick to a GF diet. Though a number of people do eat gluten-free by choice, for most of us it is non-negotiable. And lastly: please, please do not "cheat" by eating gluten if you know it makes you sick. Your long-term health is more important than a cookie.

Speaking of...

Here is the recipe! Measurements are given in volume rather than weight, because the original wheat recipe gives volume measurements.

Buttery Almond Biscuits

Makes 30 pressed biscuits

1 1/4 C unsalted butter, softened (2 1/2 sticks)
scant 3/4 C granulated sugar

1 cage-free egg

scant 1 C almond flour (or grind almonds in food processor)
5/8 C (1/2 C + 2 T) tapioca starch
3/8 C (6 T) sweet rice flour
2 1/2 T Expandex modified tapioca starch
1/2 C potato starch
1/4 C millet flour
3/4 tsp fruit pectin
1/4 tsp fine sea salt
raw sugar, reserved for decoration (optional)


Combine all dry ingredients (except sugar) in a bowl. In another bowl, cream together the butter and sugar, then stir in the egg. Gradually add the flour blend, making sure there are no lumps of butter or almond in the dough. The mixture will now be very soft and sticky - it is half butter, after all - so it will work best if you chill it for at least 20 minutes before pressing it into pan.

Heat the oven to 175º C / 350º F. There is no need to grease the pans; the butter in the dough is enough to keep them from sticking. When dough is chilled, dip your fingers in tapioca starch and press it into pans, allowing about 1/2 cm for rising. You may use decorative ones, as above, or simply use round or square tins for sliced shortbread. (The results of the latter actually taste more like shortbread in my opinion...though they're not as pretty.) Prick the tops with a skewer and, if making sliced shortbread, score the dough with a knife.

Bake until edges have turned golden: 13 mins. if using dark pan with individual wells, large tins may take 20 mins. or more. Turn shaped biscuits out whilst warm and sprinkle tops with reserved sugar, or if slicing, sprinkle with sugar and carefully cut slices immediately after removing from oven (do not remove biscuits from tin until cool).

**Note: for best taste and texture - wait several hours before eating.**

Sunday 5 December 2010

The Scientific Method

I admit it: I am a science geek. Although, most people who know me well are already quite aware of this - and have put up with listened to my ramblings about polymer synthesis or the elegance of a Diels-Alder reaction or the role of proteases in the autoimmune pathogenesis of celiac disease. (There I go again. Oh dear.)

That's why I'm surprised that until recently, I had never heard of the "foodie" movement called molecular gastronomy**. Or, for that matter, even given much thought to molecules when I was in the kitchen. Despite building an academic foundation in chemistry, I kept cooking the way I always had done: by look, taste, and feel, with a generous spoonful of convention. (Convention also frequently borders on superstition; how many of you were taught that salting a pot of water would make it boil at a hotter temperature? Turns out that for this to be true, you would need to add an incredible amount of salt - nowhere near what is used in cooking!)

I just finished my first quarter of formally studying food chemistry, though, and had some revelations about baking. Suddenly understanding why some breads turn out well when just minor changes can make them fail. Realising that I can figure out how to deliberately plan the chemical properties of dough. It's so exciting to come up with a completely new recipe, without figuratively crossing my fingers as I decide how much of each flour to add to the bowl. 

Unfortunately I haven't had nearly as many opportunities to apply these things as I would have liked, not to mention time to post any of the things I have made... 
I'm one quarter away from finishing college, and I'm interning as a chemistry tutor as well. It's a rigorous combination! 

I have had time for a few "science experiments" in the kitchen, though. The stuff in that picture up there, for instance: malted buckwheat. The process of malting activates the seeds' own enzymes to break down large molecules - like starches and proteins - into small ones, including an array of sugars and aromatic compounds. It adds a really wonderful flavour to bread! Very nutty and, well, malty. The process is a bit fussy, but actually it's not difficult. You can find detailed instructions on many home-brewing websites, but the basics are:

- soak the grains for about 36 hours, rinsing and replacing the water every 8 hours or so
- drain them into a strainer / mesh colander
- put them in a cool dark place for a couple of days, again rinsing every 8 hours - until the little rootlike sprouts are about double the length of a grain, and then
- spread them out on a baking sheet and dry them in a low oven. 

That's it! Once the grains are dry you can raise the temperature to roast them (just don't put them in a hot oven without drying them first, you don't want to steam/boil them). Now you can grind them up and add to flour! 

It's not much of a recipe, but now I have a month-long break before next quarter begins, so I'll post some "real" recipes very soon, I promise. Including a recipe for kneadable bread, with no xanthan or guar gum. I'm serious. Yay science!

**This term has accumulated many meanings in recent years. The original intent, though, is just what the words imply: studying food molecules and their interactions, and applying that knowledge to the way we cook and adjust recipes. A great book is Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking. The author's website has some neat information too.

Friday 17 September 2010

Austrian Bread Dumplings

The things you see in this picture are definitely comfort food (translation: composed of butter and carbohydrates). But wait, they have vegetables with them! 
...That makes it okay, right??

Oh well. I never said this blog was diet-friendly. 

Anyway, as the name implies, these dumplings are made from leftover bread. This can be dry bread or, in this case, bread that was just kind of lackluster in its original form. Considering how quickly GF bread can dry out, it's always good to know that there are other things you can do with it besides french toast!

(As an aside, there's a reason I've ended up with lots of extra bread. I won't say just yet what I've been working on, but I can tell you that soon I will have a very exciting recipe to share!)

Recipes seem to vary widely, but this one seemed most the dumpling meal I'd had in Austria - although there I had it with mushroom gravy. It was very good. However, gravy takes a little more time, get impatient when I'm hungry. If you have more patience than me (or are better at planning ahead), I do recommend trying these with some gravy.

In Austria these are called semmel knoedeln, by the way. However, I shall continue to refer to them as dumplings. Because it's easier to say. (I never did get the hang of German.) 

So here's what you do:

1) Find some dry bread. Recipes I've found call for something along the lines of a baguette - the bread I used was denser, but I wouldn't recommend using anything really hearty or with lots of seeds in.

2) Chop dry bread into small cubes until you have a total of somewhere around 2 cups (volume is more important than weight in this case). If you'd rather use a food processor, take care not to turn it into crumbs - you want the dumplings to keep some texture.

3) Melt 1/2 T butter in a skillet and lightly brown the bread cubes. Meanwhile, measure out 75-80 grams / about 2/3 - 3/4 cup of a self-raising flour blend.

I used 50 g tapioca flour and 15 g each of rice flour and sorghum flour, with 1 tsp baking powder and 1/4 tsp fruit pectin.

4) Combine the toasted crumbs and the flour blend in a bowl and add 1 beaten egg and a few splashes of milk, just enough to form a (just to warn you: somewhat unappetising) soft, doughy mass. I don't give an exact measurement because that will depend on the absorbency of your bread and flour blend. Add salt, pepper, and herbs such as parsley or sage to taste, and allow the mixture to soak for 20-30 minutes.

Dough will look like this.
(It gets better, I promise!)
Meanwhile, sauté an assortment of mushrooms and a sliced shallot in 1/2 T butter (if you plan to serve the dumplings on a plate rather than in soup). You can now either make mushroom gravy to pour over the dumplings, or simply set the mixture aside to serve with the dumplings as above. Next bring a pot of water, broth, or soup to a boil. If using water, a teaspoon of cider vinegar in the water will help the dumplings hold together.

5) Dip your hands in cold water and form a ball with some of the batter. Using a ladle, lower the ball into the boiling liquid. Repeat this until all the dough is in the pot. Keep it at a boil and partly cover. Cooking time will depend on the size of the dumplings, but will be around 10-15 minutes. They will be firm when they are done.

6) If you are serving them in soup, you're done! Serve them up and enjoy!

Otherwise, remove the dumplings to a plate and heat 1 T butter (yes, more butter) in a skillet. If desired, slice the dumplings into 3 or 4 pieces; otherwise, just put the whole dumplings in the pan and fry until lightly browned. Serve with vegetables and gravy, if using.

Friday 10 September 2010

My Cup of Tea (with biscuits)

Summer has evidently declared itself to be over, now that the Northwest's signature greyness has crept back into the sky. Usually I have nothing against clouds and rain, not in the least - but right now I'm not ready for them yet. It's just too soon to be sitting here in a sweater, watching the drizzle spatter on the balcony railing. 

Still, the sweater is cosy. That is something I do like about fall - staying warm, wearing sweaters and curling up beneath blankets. Comforting. 

To tell the truth, I suppose I've been needing something like that for a while now. Over the past few months I've been having to deal with some unexpected health problems. They've left me drained to say the least. Practically everything I want or need to do, even simply keeping up with things, has been hard...even baking leaves me tired. (Not to mention trying to bake something nice enough to post, though I've really missed doing so.) Everything feels exhaustingly difficult. 

A dreary day like this, then, basically reminded me to take the time to curl up in my sweater and rest. This is definitely a good day for something comforting. 

Right away I knew I needed a big cup of tea...and something to go with it. Something sweet. Something...nobbly. Have you ever had a HobNob? In case you haven't, they are a type of biscuit, sweet and, well, (as the package says) nobbly. I think the word describes the texture perfectly - crisp and crumbly like a biscuit, but with lots of oats as well. (Further posts on biscuits to follow, I'm sure. They're too yummy to only mention once! Also, I do drink a lot of tea.)

So, I set out to replicate them and satisfy my biscuit craving. However, it wasn't like trying to convert a homemade recipe (as, of course, this is a packaged biscuit I was trying to imitate). The result wasn't really what I was aiming for - it wasn't quite a HobNob. But apart from that, it was certainly a biscuit - quite a tasty biscuit at that. So even though it's not what I meant to make, this recipe is just too good to not share.

Crisp Oat Biscuits 
Makes 12 - 14 

50 g (1/2 c) certified GF oats
15 g (1 1/2 T) teff flour
20 g (1/4 c) chestnut flour
30 g (1/3 c) tapioca flour
10 g (2 tsp) rice bran
75 g (1/2 c) sugar

1/4 tsp xanthan gum
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp each of baking soda and baking powder
1/8 tsp pectin (optional, but makes dough easier to handle)

5 1/2 T organic palm shortening, such as Spectrum
30 mL (2 T) cold water

Mix all the dry ingredients together, then cut in the shortening. Rub the shortening into the mixture with your fingers until it resembles a bowl of breadcrumbs. Then sprinkle in the water a little at a time, smashing the dough together each time - it should be just wet enough to hold together, but firm enough that you can roll it out (not wet like batter).

Preheat your oven to 190 C/ 375 F. Place a sheet of parchment paper on a baking sheet and carefully roll out the dough so it is very thin. (I used the side of a glass, and did not have problems with sticking.) Cut out round shapes with a biscuit cutter or a glass. Gather up the scraps of dough in between the rounds, and roll it out to cut more rounds. Repeat until all the dough is used. Bake for about 12 minutes, or until the biscuits are slightly golden. Remove to a rack to cool.

Whilst waiting for them to cool, make a pot of tea! It is especially nice to dip the biscuits in the tea. Enjoy!

Saturday 28 August 2010

Summer, and Caprese Pizza with Gremolata

Wow, I can't believe it's been more than two months since I last posted! You know how the saying goes, though: time flies when you', really busy. (Okay, so I guess that's not quite how the saying goes...)

It seems in most places summer is at the height of its luxuriance. Where I grew up, this is the time when the air is practically throbbing with the drone of cicadas, and so thick with humidity it feels almost heavy. Those things mark the time of the summer to delight in the simplest things: a perfect peach, for instance, is so lush and delicious, satisfying enough to distract from the heat.

Here, though, it feels almost like summer is still just arriving. The days are sunny, but just warm, not what I'd call hot. We've had several small stretches of heat - some quite intense - but after a week or two it cools back down again. It seems very strange to find that, in the middle of August, the blackberries have just begun to ripen. Lately the morning air has been crisp and smelling of autumn.

Still, I've often been hungry for all the things I associate with this time of the year. Maybe it's learned; maybe it's instinct. A few times these cravings have brought to mind the time I spent in Italy. I suppose I have many fond culinary memories from that summer: just-plucked figs that were as succulent and sweet as honey. Bitter espresso tempered with a touch of tart lemon. The ubiquitous insalata caprese, a vivid combination of fresh mozzarella, tangy sliced tomatoes, and lush green basil leaves, all drizzled with full-bodied olive oil. That meal alone is an examination of simplicity; every flavour clear and distinct, in harmony with the others.

But perhaps most of all I remember the little restaurant in...I regret to say I can't recall which city. I don't frequently dine out when I travel; I have always preferred perusing open-air produce markets, small groceries, and (when I still could) bakeries. But this night I found myself ordering something off a menu - a pizza, to be exact. Pizza, in Italy, is offered at even relatively formal restaurants, and an entire small pizza serves as an entree for one. It is eaten with a fork and knife, and the crust is very thin. It truly showcases each of its ingredients. I remember mine was delicious.

What really shines in my memory about that meal, though, was what followed. Though I hadn't ordered them, I was brought a small dish of strawberries - but not normal garden strawberries. These were raspberry-sized, soft, and velvety red, the quintessence of freshness. The cameriere explained that they were local wild fruits and very special; they could not even be transported outside the region, he said, for they just wouldn't last.

That is one of the things I love most about summer - experiencing something so simple at the very moment it is finest, enjoying it in full. I created this pizza a few weeks ago to showcase some of the freshest flavours I could find - also pairing two classic Italian combinations that are generally not found together, but the result was delicious. The first is the aforementioned caprese salad. The other is gremolata - usually used as a sort of garnish, served with meat dishes. The ingredients, though - fresh parsley, minced garlic, and lemon zest - seemed like the perfect thing to add. It gives it a delightfully unexpected bright note to the flavour overall.


For the dough, use this bread recipe. Halve the dough to serve 2 people, use the whole recipe for a larger pizza. It also works very well to use egg replacer (powdered, such as Ener-G brand) in place of the eggs.

Stretch the dough out flat on a parchment-paper-covered baking stone. Using olive oil to coat, press it very thin with your fingers.

Make the gremolata: mince 1-2 cloves of garlic and 2 T of fresh parsley, and combine with 1 tsp of lemon zest. Cover the mixture with olive oil and spread it across the pizza dough.

Thinly slice 8 ounces of fresh mozzarella and a few Roma or Campari tomatoes into rounds. Layer the cheese and tomato slices to cover the entire pizza, and scatter chopped fresh basil over that.

Place in a cold oven and turn immediately to 400 F / 200 C. Bake for about 35 minutes, or until the cheese has just slightly begun to brown.

Enjoy! (Oh, and by the way...the strawberries were wonderful.)

Tuesday 15 June 2010

Some Bread for the Table

Can you believe this is gluten-free? 

Look at the way the surface stretches apart, revealing the soft, porous bread beneath. The crust, dusted with extra flour to really bring out the artisan-loaf appearance, is crisp but not hard. The interior is tender and springy. The flavour itself is understated - at first it may seem even a little bland - but this just makes it perfect to be complemented by some rich farm butter. 

This is another bread using the cold oven technique. Thanks to the relatively large amount of yeast, the bread slowly rises as the oven heats. This results in an evenly-baked loaf - it doesn't brown too quickly or leave the inside underdone. There is another part to the method, though, that is unusual for gluten-free bread: it has two risings. This is not for the sake of kneading (as is the case with wheat doughs); rather, it helps the flavour and texture of the bread whilst giving the yeast time to multiply.

As with most wheat-based artisan breads, this bread is best when very fresh. That is no problem though - simply gather a few friends around your table and provide some butter, herbed olive oil, or cheese...this loaf will disappear very quickly! It would also be very good shaped into smaller rolls, which may help it last longer as well.

"Pain de Ménage" (Homemade Bread)

Dry ingredients:

150 g potato starch
35 g white rice flour
25 g garbanzo-fava flour
25 g Expandex modified tapioca starch
15 g buckwheat flour
10 g sweet rice flour

1 tsp each of xanthan and guar gum
1/2 tsp pectin (used for making jam; can be found with canning supplies)
1 tsp sugar
3/4 tsp sea salt
1 tsp Ener-G egg replacer (helps with binding and leavening)

Wet ingredients:

2 eggs, beaten
100 mL warm water: add 1 tsp sugar and 1/2 T yeast
30 mL oil (I used canola)


Blend all the dry ingredients together with a whisk in a mixing bowl. Dissolve the yeast and sugar in the warm water and let it foam for a few minutes. Next add the eggs, yeast mixture, and lastly the oil to the flour mixture, and "knead" with a soft spatula until dough is smooth. If the dough seems too stiff, sprinkle in a little more warm water until it is springy. Now cover the bowl with clingfilm and allow the dough to rise for 30 minutes. This allows the yeast to multiply and develop the flavour of the bread - two things GF bread generally misses out on by having only one rising. (If you want an even more developed yeast flavour, you could try adding an additional rising.) At the end of this time period, squash the dough down and tip it out onto a baking stone covered with a piece of lightly oiled, lightly floured baking parchment. Gently roll the ball of dough in the flour (I used tapioca and potato starch) so it has a visible dusting of flour. Work in some more starch if the dough seems too loose and sticky. Stretch the surface so it is smooth, and tuck any rough edges underneath the loaf. Shape it into an oval, brush it with oil, and dust with a little more flour. Now cut the slits in the top using an oiled knife.

Place the loaf in a cold oven and turn it immediately to 204° C/ 400° F. Bake for 45 - 50 minutes, until the crust is nicely browned and the loaf sounds hollow when tapped. Cool on a rack.

Sunday 23 May 2010


I made the fougasse work this time. And just in time. This weekend is the "Go GF Challenge" - an invitation to non-gluten-intolerant people to try living gluten-free for a weekend, as part of Celiac Awareness Month. And my Love has agreed to take on this feat. (And considering what an avid bread-eater he is, yes, it is a feat.) So I wanted to make something good. Specifically, I wanted to make bread that is good.

And it is.

Is it perfect? Well, no.
Is it a little dry? Yes, but not terribly so.
Will I keep playing with it, and post a revision at some point? Yes, quite probably.

Which brings me to an interesting point, one I've been considering lately.

In trying to replicate traditional breads - a standard that has been set by stretchy, gluten-y dough - I think the true potential of some of my gluten-free baking is being compromised.

Gluten-free dough is wet. Almost always. It is not the sort of thing that holds a shape well. You can turn out a perfectly good, soft loaf of bread, but to get there, you probably had to spread batter into a pan. Wheat bread shapes easily. To replicate that shape with a GF dough (and even to make a dough, not a batter) I've found the finished product often lacks moisture. I'm sacrificing texture to carry on the tradition of appearance.

Alternatively, sometimes I compromise appearance to get a more flavourful flour blend. Sometimes I give up on whatever concept I had in mind, and instead focus on creating something unique. In fact, some of my best results have come from not trying to make any specific thing, like my Honey Sandwich Bread. It will definitely be very good in its own right, but the flavour and appearance won't necessarily resemble any particular type of wheat bread. And in many cases, that's fine.

However, I've written before about my thoughts on traditions. Food traditions. Bread traditions.

This is my dough just before I put it in the oven. It looks, I imagine, much like fougasse in Provence has looked for generations.

It's said that the slits are meant to resemble an ear of wheat, but the design arose more from practicality than pure symbolism: this originally was what bakers would make from leftover dough as their ovens cooled at the end of the day. The slits ensured that even as the oven temperature dropped, the bread would cook all the way through. Eventually it became popular in its own right, and is now a recognisably traditional French loaf.


                                                                                                           Here it is freshly baked. Just as it should look.

But I know it could still taste better in some ways. How do I choose, though, between the way the bread of my heritage looks, and how the bread from my memory tastes? I don't think that would be fair, really. To me, the idea of bread - and what it means within a culture - is nearly as important to enjoyment as the taste.

Part of me knows that I am now a part of a different culture - the one of gluten-intolerant people coming together to create (and, of course, share) good food. And the internet is such a wonderful tool for uniting this relatively new community. Yet other parts of me still feel the pull of connection to something older, as if I'm carrying on a story that's been told for generations. Which do I bring to my table? I don't think it's a choice I could make. And honestly, I don't think I have to choose; I believe I can find a balance.

So I keep baking until I find that balance. It will just take time, patience, and a lot of loaves. Many may not be perfect, but they are certainly still good. Good enough to call my own.

So in the meantime...have some bread. Enjoy.

Fougasse with Herbes de Provence

100 g potato starch
50 g tapioca starch
25 g buckwheat flour
20 g sorghum flour
20 g Expandex modified tapioca flour
15 g brown rice flour
10 g chestnut flour
5 g soy flour

3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pectin
1/2 tsp guar gum
1/2 tsp xanthan gum
2 tsp Herbes de Provence

100 mL (about 6 T) warm water
1 - 1 1/2 tsp honey
1/2 T yeast

Mix the flours, salt, pectin, herbs, and gums in a medium bowl. In a large bowl, beat the egg and oil together. Add the honey and yeast to the warm water, and let it foam for a few minutes. Meanwhile, work about half the flour into the egg-oil mixture. Next add the yeast-water, followed by the rest of the flour. If the dough is too sticky, work in an additional tablespoon or two of tapioca flour.

Place a sheet of parchment paper on a baking stone and set the dough on it. Lightly press out the dough with your hands, stretching it lightly outward as you press, and shaping it into an oval. Make 6-10 diagonal slits with a wet knife, and stretch the slits apart with wet fingers. Make the slits large enough that they will not close as the bread rises (see the picture of the unbaked loaf). Brush all exposed surfaces with olive oil. Set the baking stone in a cold oven and turn it immediately to 210 C/400 F. Bake until the loaf sounds hollow when tapped, about 30 minutes. Allow the bread to cool completely before eating.

Saturday 15 May 2010

Take Two

French fougasse with Herbs de Provence: sounds just about perfect, no?

Well. It cracked again.


I only seem to have this problem when I try to make flat loaves. Maybe it's a surface area problem - no loaf tin to restrain the sides of the bread as it puffs.

Result: more ugly bread.

This round was a little more chewy, even more flavourful, and had more air pockets than my last attempt. This dough is being very stubborn, though. Now it's a little dry instead of being too wet...yet it still split. But you know what? I am more stubborn. And it's a beautiful sunny spring day here. I'm going to walk to the Co-Op to get some more cage-free eggs, so I can try again.

And hopefully the rain stays away until well after I perfect this bread - it would be delightful to have a picnic. Herbed rustic bread, some cheese, fruit, maybe some wine...oh dear, now I'm going to be daydreaming about France. I think it's this warm sunny weather, making me fanciful - it's usually cool and rainy here!

Anyway, they say the third time's the charm, right? If that's true, I will have a recipe to share very soon!

Friday 7 May 2010

County Galway Cottage Pie

Okay, I know this is not bread. Not even remotely. But it does go in the oven, and it is traditional, simple, and most importantly, delicious. 

It also comes with a little bit of a story.

In the more rural parts of Ireland, many roads have significant stretches that are not lit at night. At. All. Combine this with the fact that further north along the western coast, all of the road markings change to Gaelic (if the road is even marked). So you may find yourself driving in the dark, across what seems to be - as near as you can tell in the dark - a huge rolling pasture with a single narrow path paved through it. (Well, part of it is paved anyway.) All you have to guide you is the reassurance that you can't have possibly taken a wrong turn, because this was the only road on the map.

So here we were, driving blindly forward towards the tiny, dim glow ahead. After a time we came to the town. (Which, much to our relief, was in fact the town we were trying to get to. This is no small feat when you have passed no signs of civilisation for the past hour!) And as we drove through this town, my mum spotted a restaurant that - surprisingly for such a late hour - appeared to still be open.

The inside of the restaurant was not what I'd anticipated. It was very quiet - there was no traditional session music like there would be in a pub, and there were actually only two other people in the place. It also was not homey or quaint like what I would expect in a small coastal town. I was sceptical, but it was really our only option for hot food. Also it was a seafood restaurant. They had to have something good. I ordered, as the menu called it, "baked cod," or something equally ambiguous.

When it was brought to the table, though, it was not just plain fish. It was a sort of pie, with mash potato on the top. And inside was...cream sauce? With fish? I was now very sceptical. I could not think of a single example where fish plus milk seemed like a good idea. But I took a bite, and my mind was changed completely. It was rich, and warming, and completely delicious. Here in this empty, unwelcoming restaurant, I had discovered a brand new comfort food that tasted like it could have come from a cottage kitchen.

And here is the recipe for you.

Cod Pie

(Note: This recipe makes a serving for one person. Measurements are approximate. Increase recipe for the number of individual pies you wish to make.)

For each pie you will need:

One small glass or ceramic baking dish (holds about a cup of volume)
One small cod fillet
One potato, sliced up but not peeled
Thyme, parsley, salt, and pepper


Heat the oven to 218 C/ 425 F. Place the potato into a pot, cover with cold salted water, and bring to a boil on high. Boil until tender, about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, slice the cod into small pieces and lay them in the baking dish. Pour a little milk and cream over until the fish is about half-covered - enough to thoroughly moisten and flavour the fish, but make sure it won't bubble over the edge. Add some fresh thyme and parsley, and generous amounts of salt and pepper.

Mash the potato with a knob of butter, a little cream, and milk, and season with salt and pepper. Spread the mash in a layer over the fish. Bake for about 30 minutes, until the potato begins to turn golden. Garnish with freshly snipped scallions, if desired.


Saturday 24 April 2010

Bread not even a mother could love.

I woke up early this morning very excited to try the new recipe I'd been formulating. You see, the French bakery-café downtown (I've mentioned it before) does an artisan walnut fougasse. It looks wonderful. I end up staring every time I'm in there. Of course it's not gluten-free, though - so it was time to make my own. 

I mixed up the dough. A little wetter than I'm used to, I thought to myself, but I'll just work in some more flour and it will be better. More and more flour later, it was still somewhat too sticky and wet. I gave up and shaped it, deciding I'd see what would happen. Maybe it would work anyway, I thought.

I shaped it into a flat oval and cut the characteristic almond-shaped slits through it. It rose nicely. Putting aside my apprehension about its stickiness, I slid it into the oven. Shortly thereafter, delicious smells began to drift from my kitchen. But when I went to take it out...well. 

This is what fougasse is supposed to look like:


(These photos are from BBC Good Food, Wild Yeast Blog, and, respectively.)

's what mine looked like:

It was cracked, and lumpy, and the nice holes I'd cut were now undetectable from it swelling back together. I cringed and waited for it to cool. But when I tore off a piece, I discovered that it was good. Really good.


So now I have this very tasty dough that apparently produces very ugly bread. I'm going to reduce the liquid, among other things, and keep working on it until it looks as good as it tastes. I'll share the recipe as soon as I fix it, of course.

Have you ever baked something delicious but ugly? Or maybe you've had an utter disaster in the kitchen? I feel like there's a lot more to go wrong with gluten-free dough. (Once I had bread overflow from the pan, and end up all over the bottom of the oven!) What's your worst baking bungle?

Saturday 10 April 2010

Chelsea Buns with Ginger-Apricot Jam

Last weekend I promised the recipe for hot cross bun dough, once I perfected it. Well...two attempts later, I still wasn't satisfied. I planned to try again this morning, making simple currant buns as it is no longer Easter. However, considering how many people are averse to raisiny things in bread (my Love included, who kindly samples everything that I bake to see if it compares to the gluten-y version), I thought I would do something different.

These are Chelsea Buns, another British sweet, and there are many variations for the filling. Some do indeed have dried or candied fruit rolled up in them, and many are topped with slivers of blanched almonds. I didn't want mine to be too fussy, though, so they are simply spread with a sweet filling and brushed with sugar glaze.

If you wish to make hot cross buns, make the flour blend below and follow the additional instructions I have added to that post. The blend still isn't perfect - the crumb is too close in my opinion - but these buns are certainly good enough to post. This is probably a recipe base I will keep coming back to and adjusting slightly.

By the way - I have just discovered that baking by weight is So. Much. Easier.
No more need to rinse measuring cups between each flour, or worry about the inconsistent measurements that starches are prone to when the air is humid. If you don't already have a food scale, I absolutely recommend getting one - even a very inexpensive one (like mine) can work well.

P.S. - This recipe is long, but it is very easy to do.

Chelsea Buns

Dry ingredients:

60 g tapioca starch
60 g potato starch
25 g Expandex modified tapioca starch
25 g arrowroot starch
20 g sorghum flour
15 g soy flour
10 g chestnut flour
10 g sweet rice flour

1/4 tsp pectin
1/2 tsp xanthan gum
1/2 tsp guar gum
1/4 tsp dough enhancer
1/2 tsp sea salt
55 g sugar

Wet ingredients:

25 mL warm water
2 T canola oil
1 free-range egg, lightly beaten
75 mL warm organic milk

3 tsp dry yeast


Turn the oven to 200 C. Blend together all dry ingredients in a medium mixing bowl. Dissolve the yeast in the warm milk and allow to foam for 5 minutes. Then mix the wet ingredients into the dry and knead with a flexible spatula until smooth. Lay out a piece of clingfilm and brush it lightly with canola oil. With moist fingers, pat the dough out onto the clingfilm until it is thin.

Spread the dough with the following mixture:

A few teaspoons apricot jam and marmalade
25 g (about 1 T) organic salted butter, melted
2-3 tsp sugar syrup
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger

Starting from one end, roll up the dough so you have a long cylinder. Now use a sharp, wetted knife to slice the roll into nine buns. Place them on a greased baking tray about 2 cm apart - not touching, but close enough that they will touch once they raise. Allow them to raise for about 30 minutes in a warm place (I like to set them on top of the oven). Bake for 20-25 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the sugar glaze. Combine 2 tsp sugar, 3 tsp water, and a few drops lemon juice in a small microwave-safe dish. Heat on high for 30 seconds or so - you want it to boil thoroughly.

Brush the buns with the glaze immediately after you remove them from the oven, gently pull them apart, and transfer them to a cooling rack. Enjoy whilst still warm!

Saturday 3 April 2010

Hot Cross Buns: An English Easter Treat

And even more quintessential when enjoyed with a hot cup of tea. These buns are lightly spiced, filled with currants and orange zest, and glazed with sugar syrup to make them sweet and shiny.

And they are pretty, too! They didn't turn out tasting entirely right, so I haven't posted the recipe yet. I've been adapting the recipe based on this one, which is made with wheat. I will share my version after I make a few more adjustments to the flour blend. (Plus, that means I get to bake some more!) I will tell you, though, that this dough is very easy to work with - I was able to shape it into buns using my hands, without it sticking to everything. And you can see in the picture that they did not spread out or flatten as they baked. As you've probably noticed, that is not always easy for a gluten-free dough...I'm excited by the potential that has for a good flour blend!

Happy Easter, and hopefully I will have the recipe for you tomorrow.

To make, follow the dough recipe and baking instructions for my Chelsea Buns, with the following additions:
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cardamom
2 tsp fresh orange zest
30 g currants

Mix the wet ingredients in with the dry, blend well, and use wet fingers to form the dough into nine buns. Place on a greased baking tray and cut crosses in the top of each bun. Cover loosely with clingfilm and allow to rise.

For the crosses:
Mix 2 T sweet rice flour with about as much water, so it is the consistency of royal icing. Spoon this mixture into a food bag.

Once the buns have risen (about 20-30 minutes), snip a corner off the bag and pipe the paste into the crosses. Bake 20 minutes; brush with sugar glaze (instructions here) immediately after removing from the oven. Transfer to a cooling rack. Enjoy whilst still warm!

Saturday 20 March 2010

Soft Honey Sandwich Bread

I've been trying to perfect a very specific type of bread for the last few weeks. The kind of artisanal bread that is flakily crusty on the outside but soft beneath, and is light, with lots of airy pockets inside. I've gotten close a few times. Each time I think to myself, I'll just make a few small revisions, and the next batch will be just right. And then I make the next batch, and it's...well...not.

Making the soda bread last weekend made me realise how frustrated I was getting with that elusive artisan French loaf. It was so nice to make something that I just knew was going to turn out well. It also made me remember how much I do enjoy a good sandwich. (Especially with cheese; I love cheese.) A nice, soft, everyday bread seemed just the thing to make. And this turned out so wonderfully!

I haven't actually made a sandwich with it yet though; I've been so excited about it that I've simply ended up eating several slices just plain! It is very satisfying and flavourful, soft and tender and not at all crumbly. The honey gives it a very mild sweetness; I personally find it reminiscent of honey-whole-wheat bread.

I should warn you: this bread has a lot of ingredients to measure, so it takes a little extra time to make. Believe me, it's worth it!

Honey Sandwich Bread

Dry ingredients:

3/4 c tapioca starch
3/4 c potato starch
1/4 c soy flour
1/4 c white rice flour
2 T sorghum flour
2 T teff flour
2 T buckwheat flour
2 T sweet rice flour
2 T "garfava" bean flour (Bob's Red Mill)
5 T Expandex modified tapioca starch
1 T chestnut flour

1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp guar gum
1/2 tsp xanthan gum
1/2 tsp dough enhancer
1/4 tsp pectin (This is commonly used to "gel" jam. You can find it by the canning supplies in many grocery stores.)

Wet ingredients:

1/4 c canola oil
1 whole egg plus 1 egg white
2 T honey

1 cup warm water with:

1 tsp sugar
3 tsp yeast


Pre-heat oven to 375° F (350° F if using a glass loaf pan). Mix together the dry ingredients. Dissolve the sugar in the warm water, add the yeast, and let it foam for about five minutes. Add the yeast-water mixture to the dry ingredients. Pour in the oil, honey, and the lightly beaten egg. After you have thoroughly mixed the batter, put it into a well-greased loaf pan. Smooth the loaf with a wet spatula. Brush lightly with milk (optional - helps browning), and sprinkle a handful of GF oats over top of it.

Let the dough rise in a warm place until it has approximately doubled in size - it should be nearly level with the top of the pan.

Bake for ~ 1 hour. Cool 5 minutes in the pan, then turn out onto a cooling rack. Allow bread to cool completely before slicing.

Monday 15 March 2010

Irish Brown Bread

It's the middle of March, and that means Irish recipes are popping up everywhere - especially soda bread recipes. Most of these are for a mildly sweet, cake-like bread with raisins. However, soda bread in Ireland is not sweet, nor does it have fruit in it (and it certainly does not have green sugar over top of it, as I've seen in some American grocery stores)! Usually, Irish soda bread has a nubbly wholemeal texture, and is plain enough that it goes equally well with tea at breakfast or with a bowl of potato soup for supper.

This bread, known simply as "brown bread," is also ubiquitous in western Ireland. It can be found at the table of nearly any traditional restaurant or bed-and-breakfast. Because many families have their own way of making it, countless recipes for this bread exist - but they all are based on some very simple ingredients: wholemeal flour, oats, and buttermilk.

I created a gluten-free version by comparing a number of (wheaten) brown bread recipes. The result is a nutty, wholesome loaf; the oats give it a nice chewy texture. It's good with butter or jam, or even topped with some Irish cheese. Enjoy!

Irish Brown Bread

3/8 c Buckwheat flour
3/8 c Teff flour
1/4 c Soy flour
1/4 c Oat flour (be sure it's certified gluten-free)
1/4 c Potato starch
1/4 c Tapioca starch
2 T Garbanzo Bean flour
2 T Sorghum flour
2 T White Rice flour
2 T Expandex modified tapioca starch
1/2 c pin-head oats (again, be sure they are certified GF)

1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp sea salt
3/4 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp xanthan gum
1 1/2 tsp guar gum
1/4 tsp dough enhancer (optional)

1 ounce unsalted butter (Kerrygold is best)
1 1/4 c buttermilk


Pre-heat the oven to 400° F/204° C. (If using a glass loaf pan, lower the temperature to 375° F/190° C.)

Whisk together the dry ingredients. Cut the butter into small pieces and rub it into the flour mixture with your fingers. Gradually mix in the buttermilk. The dough will be wet but stiff; beat it until all the ingredients are thoroughly blended.

Spoon the dough into a buttered loaf pan. Smooth the top with a wet spatula. Make 3 - 4 diagonal slashes across the top of the loaf. Bake for 35-45 minutes, until it is lightly browned and the centre is no longer wet. Let it cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then turn it out onto a tea towel. Wrap it up in the tea towel (this keeps the moisture in) and do not cut it until it has completely cooled.

Saturday 20 February 2010

Have Your Crêpes and Eat Them, Too: Two Recipes

It was a Monday holiday, and the morning after Valentine’s day at that, so I can be forgiven for feeling a little decadent. Chocolate at breakfast: why not? Strawberries? Absolutely. How about strawberry crêpes with fresh cream and a little chocolate sauce? Well. Okay. More than a little decadent.

My fixation with crêpes had begun a few days before, when I’d happened upon a delicious-looking photo of some over at Book of Yum. I instantly was reminded of Paris, where they are made-to-order by street vendors, and handed to you wrapped up in paper. The sweet type make a lovely snack, while the savoury buckwheat ones serve as a complete meal. Both are delicious. I had not had either in over well over two years – not since I still ate wheat. It was due time to try something new.

I couldn’t help but be nervous, though. I’d never made crêpes before – never mind making them gluten-free – and I didn’t know if such a delicate thing would work without wheat to hold it together. Oh, but they did. And they were so soft. So light and tender and lacy, just like they should be.

A few days later I tried the savoury variety, and they turned out at least as well as the sweet ones had. I wish I could show you a picture. The thing is, though, I’m as new to food photography as I am to blogging, and the pictures just don’t do them justice at all. The best I can do for now, I suppose, is give you the recipes and let you see for yourself!

Crêpes Sucreés (Sweet crêpes)

¼ cup sweet rice flour

¼ cup chestnut flour

¼ tsp sea salt

tsp guar gum

tsp sugar

1 cup milk

2 eggs

1 ½ T melted butter

Whisk together the flours, salt, sugar, and guar gum. Pour the milk into a 2-cup (or larger) measuring cup, the kind with the lip to pour from. Lightly beat the eggs into the milk to ensure even blending. Pour the liquids into the bowl, whisking constantly, and add the butter. Let batter stand for 20-30 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare the strawberries.

Slice into a bowl:

1 cup thawed-from-frozen organic strawberries (or use fresh when in season)

Stir in:

¼ tsp real vanilla extract

2 tsp sugar

Allow these to sit while you make the crêpes.

Heat a cast-iron frying pan (or something similar – it must have a handle!) to medium heat. It is not necessary to use oil; the butter in the batter is enough. Once pan is hot, transfer the batter back into the measuring cup – this makes it much easier to pour. Give the batter a quick whisk to make sure everything is still blended.

Now, lift the pan off the burner. Hold it with one hand, and pour a small amount of the batter in with the other. (This should be only enough to coat the pan; they should be very thin.) While the pan is still in the air, quickly swirl it around so the bottom of it is coated. Now set it back down. The crêpes will cook very quickly. As soon as the batter seems to have set, loosen the edges with a fork and flip with a slotted turner to cook the other side. Fill crêpes with strawberries and top with freshly whipped cream.

Crêpes Saleés (Savoury crêpes)

2 T sweet rice flour

2 T chestnut flour

¼ c buckwheat flour

¼ tsp sea salt

tsp sugar

tsp guar gum

1 ½ T melted butter

2 eggs

1 cup milk

Follow the same procedures as above for preparing and cooking. Fill with mushrooms, below. For something more substantial, scramble an egg with some cheese and pepper directly onto a crêpe as it finishes cooking, and fold it up.

Champignons (mushrooms)

8 ounces crimini mushrooms

1 – 2 cloves garlic, minced

Splash of white wine

2 T cream

1 T mild white cheese

A little butter

Black pepper, fresh parsley, and fresh thyme to taste

(Dash of sweet rice flour)

Sautee sliced mushrooms in butter and wine until slightly soft. Add garlic and cream over low heat. Melt the cheese into the mixture and add in the herbs and pepper. If necessary, sprinkle in a little sweet rice flour to thicken the cream.

Sunday 14 February 2010

Bread: A Little Manifesto

"It isn't tradition that assures the survival of bread; it is bread that assures the survival of tradition."

So reads a quote on the wall of a cosy French bakery downtown. I go there just to drink the rich, dark coffee and linger among the aromas given off by hot ovens, those of buttery pastries and warm, crusty loaves. I can't eat any of them, of course, as they are all laden with wheat flour. I must be content to simply smell, to look, and then attempt to coax the palette of flours I can use into a decent recreation of the things I remember. It often takes a lot of coaxing.

Some say that, to be satisfied with gluten-free food, one must learn to appreciate the ingredients for what they are, and stop trying to make them into "the real thing." This is where I must disagree. This is why that quote feels so relevant to me. It isn't just about texture, or taste, or appearance. It's about the way food - bread, in particular - represents so much more than sustenance or even indulgence. It's representative of culture, of tradition. It is universal, iconic, yet intimate. This is why we need bread. We can nourish our bodies with hundreds of delicious, wonderful foods. Yet it is bread that has always brought people together at a table. It is bread that so often represents home and heritage. We don't need to relinquish that simply because we must live without gluten.

Admittedly, it often takes a lot of effort. That's why this blog is here. It's for the recipes I develop, and things I discover, in my quest for good food. Not simply settling for "good, considering it's gluten-free." I mean just plain good. And I'd love for you to join me.