Wednesday 5 October 2011

{Ratio Rally} Ratios by the slice

The cool weather arrived a few days ago as abruptly as the turn of a calendar page. Normally I'd welcome the smell of crisp morning air, watching the leaves turn gorgeous shades of orange, but that day it just felt too soon. Too fleeting. Almost as if I'd been expecting late summer to somehow stretch on indefinitely - as though the hypnotic ebb-and-flow of cicada song and rasping crickets had taken the place of clocks and calendars, placing time on hiatus like one long, lazy afternoon suspended in amber. I found myself daydreaming about that lingering summer, my mind drifting to romanticized images of some idyllic place; closer, probably, to one of Van Gogh's Provençal landscapes than to any actual place I could visit. Images of the late-afternoon sun slanting across golden fields and hilly vineyards and row upon row of lavender...

Yes, I suppose I do daydream quite a bit. My cooking and baking are often expressions of those daydreams - whereas some people may flip through travel books for a brief escape, or look at old photographs of somewhere they're longing to revisit, I'm just as likely to head to the kitchen, inspired by the cuisine of whatever new place has captured my imagination.

Which finally brings me to this month's Ratio Rally. Karen of Cooking Gluten-Free chose pizza dough for this month's theme. I used my dough to make pissaladière, the Provençal equivalent to pizza - partly because of the daydreaming as I explained, but partly just because it's delicious! Well, I suppose that's subjective. I think anchovies are delicious. If you are not fond of anchovies, you can of course choose different toppings - the dough itself is actually free of all major allergens, making it vegan as well. Pizza is an endlessly adaptable recipe, as you can see from everyone's creations in the roundup.

It is also, I think, one of the most difficult things to make gluten-free. It has to be chewy but not crusty. It has to hold up under sauce and toppings without getting soggy or falling apart, but it still needs to be soft, not stiff or dry. And (according to my boyfriend, who grew up eating New York pizza) you must be able to fold a slice without it breaking.

I've finally developed a dough that does all those things.

While the reference ratio in Ruhlman's cookbook, 5 parts flour:3 parts water, did produce a workable dough, the resulting bread was always a bit too stiff no matter what flour blend I used. I was frustrated that I couldn't come up with a flour blend that worked like wheat flour, until a thought occurred to me: what if a 5:3 ratio would not give me the sort of crust I was aiming for, even with wheat flour? What if the bread in that cookbook is not like the bread I was used to? I'd forgotten that the doughs for many traditional and artisan-style yeast breads use a higher hydration than 5:3, where the water amounts to 60% of the flour weight; ciabatta dough, for instance, is usually around 85% hydration. With that in mind I increased the water to a 5:4 ratio and the result was amazing. This dough, at 80% hydration, gives a crust which is pleasantly chewy, will hold up under toppings, and yes, you can even fold it - and the taste is just as excellent as the texture.

Real pizza crust. Without gluten.

Note: This is meant to be baked directly on a baking stone, rather than on parchment. If you don't have a baking stone, or if you don't feel comfortable transferring dough from a pizza peel, shape dough on parchment instead of a pizza peel when instructed.

This recipe, using a total of 250g flour, makes enough dough for a small pizza. It can easily be doubled.

65g brown rice flour
25g oat flour
15g chickpea flour
10g millet flour
10g potato flour (not starch)
1tsp yeast
150mL warm water

Combine flours and yeast in a large bowl, stir in water, and allow to ferment for 12-16 hours.

75g tapioca starch
50g potato starch
1T psyllium husks
3/8 tsp Pomona's citrus pectin (see note on my Ingredients page)
2 1/2 tsp raw sugar
5/8 tsp sea salt
1tsp yeast
All of the sponge
50mL warm water
2 tsp grapeseed oil or other high-heat oil
3/4 tsp double-acting baking powder (set aside)

Method: In a small bowl, combine starches, psyllium, pectin, salt, & sugar. Stir the extra teaspoon of yeast into the sponge. Stir about half of the starch mixture into the sponge, add the warm water, then add the rest of the starch mixture, "kneading" it with a soft spatula. After the dough has come together, knead in the oil by hand. The dough will seem very soft and slack - this is normal. Shape into a ball, cover the bowl, and set aside in a warm place for about an hour.

The dough will be very soft, but not sticky.
Meanwhile, prepare the topping:

1 small yellow onion, sliced very thinly (a mandoline is helpful here)
1 clove of garlic, minced
2-ounce tin anchovies in oil
8-10 olives, cut into halves or quarters (Not the watery black kind from a tin! Use Mediterranean-style olives. I used Castelvetrano Italian olives, which have a rich, almost buttery taste.)
1 bay leaf
1-2T olive oil

Heat the oil in a heavy pan. Add the onions and bay leaf; when the onions have softened slightly, add the garlic and turn heat to low. Let cook for 30 minutes or so over low heat, stirring occasionally - do not let them brown, just get them nice and soft and melty. (Yes, I know onions don't technically melt. But that's really the best way to describe it.)

See? Melty.

Assembling the pissaladière:

Pre-heat your oven, with a baking stone on the middle rack, to 395ºF/200ºC. Knead the dough gently a few times in the bowl and tip it out onto a work surface. Pat it flat, sprinkle the baking powder over the surface, and roll it up as demonstrated here. This ensures even distribution of the baking powder and creates a better texture. Now generously coat a pizza peel or baking sheet with white rice flour, place the dough seam-side down on it, and shape it into a rectangle - pat and stretch the dough until it is almost as thin as pizza dough. Slightly curl up the sides to create an edge crust. (Your crust will be smoother than in the picture if you do this now, rather than forgetting to do it until after you arrange the toppings as I did!) Now, gently attempt to slide the dough around on the pizza peel, to make sure it will slide off easily. If it sticks, gently lift up one corner at a time and push more rice flour underneath.

Scatter the onion-garlic mixture over the surface of the dough. Arrange the anchovies and olive pieces in a decorative pattern on top. If desired, brush the edges with a little olive oil and honey (optional). Let the dough rise for 20 minutes or so, then gently slide it onto the baking stone using your pizza peel or baking sheet (you will have to coax it towards the end of the pizza peel, but it really will slide off smoothly, I promise). Bake for about 30 minutes. It is delicious hot from the oven or after it has cooled.

Wednesday 7 September 2011

{Ratio Rally} Old-Fashioned Doughnuts

I've been especially excited about this month's Ratio Rally for a few reasons. For one, I have a kitchen again! We moved last month, and not just to a new house or a new city - I mean over 3000 miles. In a car. If you've ever done something like that, you know how topsy-turvy everything gets. And that's not even considering how details like "eating something other than cookies for dinner" seem to suddenly go to the very bottom of your priority list. A proper, sit-down meal seems like a luxury - doubly so when you're dealing with dietary restrictions. And blogging? Forgetaboutit.

You can imagine, then, how excited I was to finally get back to cooking and baking and sharing new recipes. This was the first chance I got to work on a big "project" since leaving our old apartment several weeks ago, and I got to do it in a new kitchen...with windows! And a pantry! In a house! And did I mention the kitchen has windows?! OK, um, I'll calm down now. It's just that after living in stuffy apartments and dorms for the last 4 years, this is a Big Deal.


On top of all that, I was excited for a second, completely separate reason - I have the pleasure of hosting this month's Rally! That also means I got to choose what we'd be making this month, which brings me to reason #3: doughnuts.

These things.
Yeast-raised doughnuts. Cake doughnuts. Fritters. We covered them all this month! How long has it been since you've had a doughnut? A real, fried, melt-in-your-mouth sugary doughnut? It had been a long time for me, that's for sure.

I remember occasionally visiting a certain small doughnut shop when I was much younger, peering into the glass case filled with row upon row of tantalizing treats, all frosted or glazed or covered in sprinkles or maybe even filled with jam. And I could pick out any one I wanted. Now, to put this in context - I didn't eat much "junk food" when I was a kid. There was no sugary cereal on the breakfast table; with the exception of some special occasions, snack foods and desserts were usually low-fat, sugar-free, or both (SnackWells, anyone?). Yet here I was, being encouraged to pick something that had been deep-fried and covered in sugar. A visit to the doughnut shop was a real treat. I always liked the simple ones best: powdered-sugar-covered doughnut holes; buttermilk bars; dense, cake-y chocolate doughnuts. They didn't need to be fancy; I just loved the way powdered sugar would melt ever-so-slightly into the golden, fried surface of the dough, forming a wafer-thin layer of crisp glaze as I bit into the springy cake. So simple, and so delicious.

Yet sometimes simple things are the hardest to get right. You see, there was an extra challenge complicating this month's Ratio Rally: while the book that introduced many of us to the concept of baking by ratio has a reference ratio for fritters, there isn't one for doughnuts (and they are quite different). So many of us wanted to make doughnuts, though, that we set out to find a ratio!

I started by referencing and comparing regular doughnut recipes. After a few rounds of experimentation, adjustments, and more research, the ratio I came up with for both yeast-raised and cake doughnuts was 4 parts flour:1 part liquid:1 part egg. (Unlike some other foods, this ratio differs from wheat-based recipes; I decided not to go into the science of why that is because that would have made this post ridiculously long, but if you really do want to know, tell me in the comments and I will do a follow-up post!)

Old-Fashioned Yeast Doughnuts (And Cake Doughnuts)

As with all ratio recipes which use eggs, start with the weight of your egg(s). To make a dozen doughnuts, I used 2 eggs, which had a combined weight of 100g - that is fairly standard. Since eggs and liquid are each 1 part, that means I need 100g liquid. Flour is 4 parts, so for me that was 400g.

My flour blend was: 100g tapioca starch, 100g potato starch, 80g brown rice flour, 50g millet flour, 40g chickpea flour, 20g buckwheat flour, and 10g potato flour.

You may use a different flour blend as long as you keep the same starch:whole-grain ratio (here, it is half starch and half whole-grain/whole-bean flour).

If you are making a double batch or a half batch, remember to adjust the amounts of your other ingredients accordingly! The following amounts are based on 400g flour.

Method for Yeast Doughnuts:

In a large bowl, blend your flours together and add in
- 40g sugar
- 1 1/2 tsp psyllium husks
- 1/2 tsp Pomona's citrus pectin (see note on my Ingredients page)
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp nutmeg
- 1 T yeast

In a smaller bowl, beat the eggs and add in
- 100g buttermilk (or mix equal parts milk and yogurt to total 100g)
- 50g melted butter

Add the wet ingredients to the dry. Mix well and knead until a soft, but not sticky, ball of dough forms. Let rest in bowl for about 20 minutes.

Method for Cake Doughnuts:

Follow the instructions for yeast doughnuts with the following changes:
- omit yeast; instead add 1/4 tsp baking soda and 1 1/2 tsp double-acting baking powder
- decrease salt to 1/2 tsp (because the baking soda adds sodium)

All other ingredients and amounts stay the same. Proceed as directed for yeast doughnuts.

Cooking the Doughnuts:
Tip out the dough onto a surface lightly dusted with tapioca starch. Pat out the dough to a thickness of about half an inch and cut with a round biscuit cutter (or, if you are just making doughnut holes, roll dough into balls approximately 1 1/2 inches in diameter). You can make a traditional doughnut shape by simply poking a hole in the middle of each circle (see picture at top of the page). Repeat until all dough has been shaped.

Now let the doughnuts rest, to rise a little bit. While they are resting, prepare the frying oil:

Heat palm shortening or high-temperature oil (e.g. grapeseed, soybean, or canola oil) in a medium pot or deep-fryer over medium heat - the oil should be at least a couple of inches deep, so the doughnuts do not rest on the bottom of the pot. Keep a thermometer clipped to the pot at all times - oil can very easily overheat if you are not monitoring it closely, and it will retain that heat for a long time.

When the oil reaches 375ºF/190ºC, you are ready to begin! Make sure you have a cooling rack ready.

Using a heat-safe flat spatula, transfer one doughnut into the oil. (I recommend frying just one at first; after that, you can do 3 or 4 at a time if they fit.) I cannot tell you the exact amount of time they will take to cook - this will vary depending on the thickness and how well the oil retains heat. Instead, take a look at the pictures below to see what happens in the first 1-2 minutes:
The one on the left has just been added - it sinks to the bottom.
As it cooks, it soon floats to the top like the other two.
Now all three are browning - time to flip them!
Gently flip the doughnuts so they cook evenly on both sides. It doesn't take long, so watch them closely! When they are evenly brown,  use the spatula or tongs to carefully transfer them to a cooling rack, one at a time. Make sure to let the oil come back up to the proper temperature before adding more doughnuts. Continue this process until they are all cooked. While they are still warm, roll them in powdered sugar or cinnamon-sugar, or dip them in a glaze. For the best texture and taste, wait about 3 hours before eating them.

Be sure to check out the links below for all the delicious, creative doughnut and fritter posts in this month's Ratio Rally! 
Britt of GF in the City | Blueberry Fritters
Brooke of B and the Boy! | Apricot Fritters
Caleigh of Gluten Free[k] | Beetroot Fritters
Caneel of Mama Me Gluten Free | Thai Fried Bananas
Charissa of Zest Bakery | Picarones (Sweet Potato & Pumpkin Fritters)
Claire of Gluten Freedom | Chocolate Coconut or Cinnamon-Glazed Vanilla Cake Doughnuts
Gretchen of Kumquat | Peach Cider Doughnuts
Irvin of Eat the Love | Roses & Pearls Vanilla Bean Doughnuts
Jean of Gluten-Free Doctor Recipes | Cinnamon Apple Fritters
Jeanette of Jeanette's Healthy Living | Pumpkin Spice Doughnuts
Jenn of Jenn Cuisine | Mini Raspberry Doughnut Cakes
Lisa of Gluten Free Canteen | Apple Butter Maple Syrup Doughnuts
Mary Fran of Frannycakes | Raspberries and Cream Doughnuts
Mrs. R of Honey From Flinty Rocks | Jelly Doughnuts
Pete & Kelli of No Gluten, No Problem | Jelly Doughnut Holes
Rachel of The Crispy Cook | Chocolate Doughnuts with Chocolate Glaze
Silvana of Silvana's Kitchen | Vanilla-Glazed Chocolate Chip Doughnuts
Shauna of Gluten-Free Girl | Glazed Yeast Doughnuts
Tara of A Baking Life | Brioche Doughnuts with Italian Plum Jam
T.R. of No One Likes Crumbley Cookies | Sweet Pepper and Pancetta Fritters

Wednesday 6 July 2011

Fresh fettuccine for the Ratio Rally

Pasta! Like bread, pasta can be found in various forms around the world: from the dozens of Italian shapes and styles, to the tiny couscous of northern Africa, to the chewy hand-pulled noodles eaten throughout Asia, it's the foundation of countless familiar meals. There's something inherently satisfying and comforting about its texture and taste. And much of it (though not all of it!) is made from wheat. A lot of people say it is one of the things they miss most about eating wheat, in fact. Personally, I've been quite satisfied with most of the dry gluten-free pastas I've found; even some that are 100% brown rice can be very good - and I guess that's not entirely surprising, since some traditional Asian noodles are made from rice alone. However, aside from possibly as a component of ravioli or tortellini, I don't think I had ever tasted fresh pasta, the kind made with eggs. Because of that, I chose to dress my pasta simply, so I could really taste it. It would also be delicious with some bright, summery marinara sauce or a hearty ragù (which is traditional with a number of ribbon-cut fresh pastas like fettuccine and tagliatelle)! If you're feeling ambitious, you can even make ravioli. If you need inspiration, have a look at all of this month's Ratio Rally pasta creations, hosted by Jenn of Jenn Cuisine!
Sun-dried tomato, olive oil, garlic, & spices pair wonderfully with fresh pasta

As with last month's Ratio Rally post, you will need to start by weighing your eggs, and that will tell you how much flour you need. First of all, decide how much pasta you want to make. Each serving of pasta requires one egg - my example recipe is for two servings.

For fresh pasta, the ratio of flour:eggs is 3:2 (by weight).

My eggs weighed a total of 110 grams. Since the eggs' weight is 2 parts, I divide that number in two and find that each "part" equals 55 grams. That means that 3 parts = 165 grams; that is the amount of flour I need.

I got the best results using a blend of 60% starchy flours and 40% whole grain flours. You can vary your choice of flours as long as you keep that basic ratio the same.

This was the blend I liked best:

20% (33 g) millet flour 
20% (33 g) brown rice flour
20% (33 g) tapioca starch
20% (33 g) potato starch (not potato flour)
20% (33 g) sweet rice flour

The weights given are based on my total weight of 165 g flour - if you want to use this exact flour blend, adjust each amount according to whatever is 20% your total flour weight. You do not need any gums or other binding agents for this recipe! The eggs provide plenty of strength.

You will also need:
Parchment paper or pastry board, rolling pin, sharp metal bench scraper or knife, wire cooling rack to dry the pasta on, olive oil, and plenty of extra tapioca starch for rolling.

Weigh your eggs into a small bowl and determine how much flour you'll need, as explained above. Weigh your flour into a large bowl and mix in 1/4 tsp salt. Make a small well in the flour and tip the eggs in. Gently begin stirring the eggs to break the yolks, and then stir in larger circles to incorporate the flour. Knead by hand for a few minutes, until the dough is very smooth - expect that it will be sticky at first, though if the dough is still sticky after several minutes of kneading, work in a small amount of additional tapioca starch. Form the dough into a ball and rub the surface with olive oil, and let it rest in the bowl for ~30 minutes (refrigeration optional, but chilling might make the dough easier to work with).

Now, generously flour a pastry board or piece of parchment with tapioca starch, and reserve another piece of parchment to place on top. Divide the dough into smaller balls according to how many servings you are making (in other words, how many eggs you used) - place one ball on your floured work surface, and cover the remaining dough so it doesn't dry out. Pat the dough into a large, flat rectangle and dust the surface generously with more tapioca starch. Place the other piece of parchment on top of it, and roll it as thin as you can get it without tearing. Slice into strips with the bench scraper or knife, wiggling the blade slightly to separate the strips, but do not move them yet.
Separate them just enough that they won't stick together.
Let them dry slightly for ~15 minutes, then carefully slide the blade underneath them and use it to transfer them to a wire cooling rack to dry further. Repeat with remaining dough. Let the strips dry for ~45 minutes before placing them into heavily salted, boiling water.
This allows both sides to dry evenly.

If they do not dry long enough, the texture won't be right and they will taste doughy. If they dry too long, they may break, though it's OK if that does happen because the texture and taste will still be good. Boil for about 2 minutes - this time may vary slightly based on how thick and wide your pasta is, but it will cook very quickly! Drain the pasta, but do not rinse. Toss immediately with whatever sauce or oil you want to use, and enjoy!

Wednesday 29 June 2011

Buttermilk biscuits

When I think of "traditional" bread, my mind usually conjures up images of a glorious, crusty, slow-rising loaf - the sort of bread that's been the primary focus of Gluten-Free Boulangerie since the beginning, in other words. But what about other traditions? Sure, most people here in the US are quite familiar with French- or Italian-style bread, regardless of their heritage. Yet depending on the family or community, that may not be the one that holds a special place on the table - the particular bread that makes a meal seem complete. Anthropologists often refer to it as a "staple starch" - it varies by culture of course, but in so many cuisines there is a distinct bread or other starchy food that is always on the table.

That brings me to what you see on the table above. In a few weeks we'll be moving to the Southeast, and I was spending some time the other day trying to get a good idea of the gluten-free options that will be in the area. Suddenly it occurred to me that it had been years since I'd had a biscuit. No, not this kind of biscuit - I mean the kind that is fluffy and flaky, that's most delicious eaten warm and preferably slathered with butter. And as soon as that image crossed my mind, I was then very aware of just how long it had been; I hadn't had one since well before going gluten-free. And that, I decided, needed to change.

Despite the fact that they're leavened with baking powder, are quick to mix up, and bake in a matter of minutes, when you go back to the concept of the "staple starch," you can see these biscuits have far more in common with the aforementioned crusty bread than the recipe would suggest. Although, to really complete the picture, I'm told I will have to find a good recipe for cornbread!

Basic Buttermilk Biscuits - makes 12-16

100 g tapioca flour
60 g potato starch
40 g white rice flour
25 g sorghum flour
25 g garbanzo bean flour
20 g brown rice flour

2 tsp double-acting baking powder, divided
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 T (15 g) sugar
1 T psyllium husks
1/4 tsp Pomona's citrus pectin (see note on my Ingredients page)

1/4 cup cold butter, Spectrum organic shortening, or a combination (will be a total of ~148-156 g, depending on which kind of fat you use) PLUS 1 T melted butter for brushing

145 mL buttermilk (OR, mix 130 mL milk with 15 mL vinegar)

You will also need:
A large baking sheet, parchment paper, a spatula or wooden spoon, and extra tapioca flour for rolling

Pre-heat your oven to 260ºC/500ºF. If you are making your own "buttermilk," first mix the milk and vinegar as instructed and set it aside. Combine flours, psyllium, pectin, sugar, salt, baking soda, and one teaspoon of the baking powder in a medium bowl. Cut in the butter and/or shortening using a pastry blender until it is in small chunks, and then use your fingers to lightly rub it in until the mixture looks like coarse meal. Pour in the buttermilk and stir until you have a soft dough.

Place a sheet of parchment on the counter and dust it evenly with tapioca flour. Pat or roll out the dough on the floured paper. The dough will be very soft - flour your hands or rolling pin to prevent sticking. Now, to help make flaky layers: sprinkle about half of the remaining teaspoon of baking powder over the surface and lightly rub to spread it out. Once you've done that, fold the dough rectangle in half - it may help to lift up the edges of the parchment to fold it over. Dust the bare area on the paper with more tapioca flour, pat it into a rectangle again, and sprinkle over the remaining baking powder. Fold it in half just as before.

Now roll or pat the dough to a thickness of 3/4 inch (~2 cm). If you have a proper round biscuit cutter, by all means use it; do not, however, attempt to cut biscuits with something that is dull, such as a glass - your biscuits will not rise well. I used a sharp bench scraper, which is why the biscuits are square. Cut the dough into biscuits and space them out evenly. Slide the baking sheet under the parchment. Brush the tops of the biscuits with the melted butter, and bake for 12-15 minutes or until golden.

Wednesday 1 June 2011

Flour, eggs, butter: The ratio makes the recipe

Crisp buttery puffs, with a dusting of sugar
I was so excited when I found out about the Gluten-Free Ratio Rally. As a chemistry major, applying ratios comes naturally; also, I'm always eager to bring science into the kitchen (because I'm a geek like that). Wait, don't leave! This science isn't complicated. In fact, using ratios actually makes baking easier.

You see, when you have a solid ratio for a gluten-free recipe, you don't have to guess when the recipe calls for a flour you don't have/can't find/can't eat - simply substitute an equal weight of a comparable flour, and it will almost always work. (You must do this by weight; that is the only way to ensure you are keeping the same ratio.) There will of course be some differences when you are converting a "normal" recipe to gluten-free - after all, you then have a dough that depends on carbohydrates, rather than gluten proteins, for its properties. In most recipes, the structure is bound by an added carbohydrate, such as xanthan gum, flax meal, or psyllium. Sometimes, though, the flour itself already contains what you need. 

That's when your choice of flour can be vital for some recipes, because not all starch is the same. Pâte à choux is one of those recipes. Starch actually is made of two types of molecules: amylose, which is linear, and amylopectin, which is branched. Amylopectin is what you need for good pâte à choux. The starch in sweet rice (also called sticky rice) is all amylopectin. That's why it's sticky.

Can you see why the one on the right gives 
choux paste more structure? (via

Pâte à choux can be converted to gluten-free especially well because even when it's made with wheat flour it is dependent on starch, not gluten, for its structure. The process is unusual - you actually cook the flour in water and fat before forming the dough, which lets the starch strands, which are normally packed together, to swell and form a network. 

OK, you're probably wondering why I'm telling you all this about the science of choux paste and how great it is to bake using ratios, rather than just telling you how to make cream puffs.

Well, I wanted to make it clear that it doesn't have to be difficult before I told you these little cream puffs very nearly kicked my butt. Seriously, I almost gave up. I went through over a dozen eggs and nearly a pound of butter before I finally got the puffs you see in the picture (and those still aren't perfect). That was the fifth batch. But I'm not trying to scare you away. Honest.

See, the other great thing about ratios is that more than one ratio can get you to the same basic result - take a look at last month's rally to see how many different ratios can turn into scones! So, below I've included the link to everyone else's choux posts - that's 18 others to choose from. And there are all sorts of things you can make with choux paste besides cream puffs and éclairs; you can use the same base recipe (er, I mean ratio) to make crisp cheese breads called gougères, or even to make a certain kind of gnocchi. So find something that looks good to you. 
Larger balls of dough make soft, fluffy puffs.

In the spirit of purely exploring the ratio, I chose to make the most basic form of choux pastry, called chouquettes. They are small, simple unfilled pastries, often eaten as a mid-afternoon treat. My ratio of eggs:flour:water:fat was 4:3:3:2, which is rather different from any reference ratios, but it's what ended up working best to get something that would "puff" properly. 

OK, here's what to do. It involves math, but it's not hard, I promise: start by weighing your eggs - this is the variable which determines how much of the other ingredients to use. I used three eggs,  which weighed a total of 160g. Since my ratio is 4:3:3:2, dividing that by 4 gave me an amount of 1 part=40g. So, since 40 x 3 = 120, I needed 120g of flour and 120mL of water (1mL of water equals 1g) and since 40 x 2 = 80, I needed 80g of butter.

160:120:120:80 is the same as 4:3:3:2. See? I told you it wasn't hard. If your eggs are a different weight, simply go through the same process with your number.

For flour, I used 60% sweet rice flour (amylopectin, remember?), 20% tapioca flour, and 20% millet flour. (For 120g, that means 72g sweet rice, 24g tapioca, and 24 g millet.) I also added 1/4 tsp of Pomona's citrus pectin to the flour, for good measure.

Method {Note: have a look at the step-by-step photos at Simply Gluten-Free to see what each stage should look like.}
1) Your eggs need to be at room temperature - take them out of the refrigerator at least 1hr before you start baking. 
2) Preheat oven to 220ºC/425ºF and set aside a large baking sheet lined with parchment. Then crack the eggs into a small bowl and weigh them, and go through the procedure above to figure out how much flour, water, and butter you'll need. Weigh the flour into a large bowl. Weigh the butter and water in a medium-sized saucepan, and add 1 T(15g) of sugar and 1/2 tsp sea salt to the water. 
3) Heat the butter-water mixture until it is boiling steadily. Now dump in the flour all at once, turn down the heat to medium-low (so it doesn't burn to the pan) and stir forcefully and continuously with a stiff spatula for a minimum of two minutes. This is what will provide the dough's structure; you will see the dough getting stringy and it will become very thick. 
4) When it has come together in a smooth, firm ball, dump it back into your large bowl (or the bowl of a mixer, if you have one). If you are lucky enough to have a mixer, just start stirring with the paddle attachment; for the rest of us, continue firmly stirring with the spatula - really stretch out those starch strands, and try to re-incorporate any butter that may have separated - but don't let it cool down. It should still be hot, but make sure you can touch it before going any further.

5) When you can touch it - but it is still quite hot - add one egg and immediately stir to incorporate it completely. You can use an electric beater for this, or do it by hand if you have that kind of endurance. Now, if you've used an electric beater, you'll notice that the dough looks kind of lumpy or curdled. You need to stir it with the spatula to smooth out those lumps - otherwise you will have globs of starch suspended in egg, and that's great if you're making tapioca pudding, but not if you want choux paste. Stir firmly - really churn it - until the dough is smooth. Repeat this process with the other two eggs.
6) Now churn firmly by hand for a few more minutes, stirring it in large circles to keep stretching the dough. When it's a smooth paste, it's ready! It works best if you form the puffs from a piping bag, rather than just putting spoonfuls on the baking sheet. Don't be intimidated by piping - you're not decorating a fancy cake here; if you can squeeze a tube of toothpaste, you can pipe choux paste. If you want crisp, dry puffs, make them slightly bigger than a large egg yolk; for softer, fluffier puffs, make them almost twice that size. Sprinkle sugar or icing sugar on them if desired. Bake at 220ºC/425ºF for the first 10mins, then turn it down to 190ºC/375ºF and bake for another 12-15mins. (For crisper puffs, use the tip of a knife to poke a small hole in the bottom of each one after taking them out of the oven - this allows trapped steam to escape.)

As an aside - if you go through all of this and they don't look like cream puffs, it's OK. They're still yummy. And if your batter is too runny and won't hold its shape, you can bake them in muffin papers or even use the batter for pancakes!

I still have a lot to learn about choux paste, but five batches was more than enough for now - I still have to make a birthday cake. Although maybe with all these puffs, I should have planned for a croquembouche!  ;)

This month's Rally was hosted by Erin of The Sensitive Epicure. Here are the links to everyone's creations - go have a look!
Amie of The Healthy Apple | Pate Choux with Creamy Macadamia Icing
Britt of GF in the City |    Pâte à Choux
Caleigh of Gluten Free[k] | Savoury Paris-Brest
Caneel of Mama Me Gluten Free | Key Lime Cream Puffs
Charissa of Zest Bakery | Choux Shine: Koshi-an Filled Cream Puffs
Claire of Gluten Freedom |  Chocolate Eclairs
Erin of the Sensitive Epicure | Gougères filled with Herbed Goat Cheese Mousse
Gretchen of kumquat | Cheddar Gougères with Dates and Pine Nuts | A Danish Puff
Irvin of Eat The Love |  White Cheddar Fennel Gougères stuffed with Porcini & Shallot Goat Cheese
Jenn of Jenn Cuisine | Gruyère & Herbed Gougères
Lisa of Gluten Free Canteen | Cracked Pepper & Cheese Gougères
Meredith of Gluten Free Betty | Gluten Free Churros
Mary Fran of Frannycakes | Marillenknodel with ginger and cardamom sugar & chai cream puffs
Meaghan of The Wicked Good Vegan | Cardamom and Rose Water Cream Puffs (with Rad Whip!)   
Pete & Kelli of No Gluten, No Problem | Almond Choux Florentines
Rachel of The Crispy Cook | Cream Puffs Filled with Coffee Cream
Robyn of Chocswirl | Gruyere & Parmesan Gougeres with Sage & Thyme   
Sea of Book of Yum | Rose Vanilla Cream Puffs and Vanilla Eclairs
Silvana of Silvana's Kitchen | Gluten-Free Spinach Gnocchi Parm
T.R.of No One Likes Crumbley Cookies | Beignets
Tara of A Baking Life | Parmesan & Black Pepper Gougères | Frangipane Puffs

Tuesday 17 May 2011

Sponge cake, to celebrate.

Celebrate what, exactly? Living gluten-free, of course! Knowing you are gluten-intolerant means knowing you can care for yourself by following a gluten-free diet - and that's definitely a cause for celebration. Hopefully increasing awareness will help the many people with undiagnosed celiac disease find, and celebrate, health as well. As you might already know, May is Celiac Disease Awareness Month. At the beginning of the month, a few ambitious and talented bakers took this opportunity to create the world's largest gluten-free cake. Seriously, it's enormous. It wasn't just for yummy-ness and fun, though. In addition to pointing out that 1 in 133 people have celiac disease, this cake also had an even bigger purpose (pun absolutely intended): bringing attention to the fact that the FDA received an assignment to define gluten-free labelling standards...four years ago. That's right: there are currently no enforceable standards stating what "gluten-free" really means in this country. The European Union, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand all have standards, which means that a product must be tested and proven  safe in order to be labelled GF. In the US, on the other hand, there are still a lot of common misconceptions - for instance, people thinking it's OK to say something made with spelt flour is gluten-free. Um, no. Gluten-free is also not the same thing as dairy-free, or vegan, or (*cringe*) fat-free. Yes, I have run into all of those examples personally, absurd as they may sound...I was once sold an allegedly "gluten-free" cupcake at a coffeeshop, which  turned out to be very gluten-full - at least it was vegan, though, right?! (...That was sarcasm, in case you couldn't tell.) Unfortunately, this sort of thing happens more often than you would want to know. You can help to stop it from happening again, though - sign the petition or even write your own letter to let the FDA know just how many people need proper gluten-free labelling! 

Oh, and in the meantime, have some cake. 

This is a light, fluffy, incredibly soft sponge cake. If it weren't for the fact that I made it myself, I honestly wouldn't have believed it's gluten-free. It doesn't take too long to whip up, either, as long as you have a mixer. This is an Italian sponge cake, as opposed to French spongecake or Génoise, because the egg whites are beaten separately from the yolks, and no fat is added other than what comes from the yolks. You can decorate it however you wish - here, I have done some decorative work with a simple buttercream, but the first time I made this cake I used a boiled or "7-minute" meringue-like icing, to which I added a little heavy cream and a spoonful or two of butter so it tasted a little more like frosting and a little less like marshmallow fluff. It was very tasty, just kind of blobby - if you don't care about doing any fancy piping, though, I highly recommend it (there are recipes all over the internet, as well as many variations in the Joy of Cooking).

Italian Sponge Cake with Apricot-Amaretto Glaze

You will need:
- a scale, preferably digital
- a mixer with whisk attachment
- 3 bowls (2 large/medium, 1 small)
- 4-6 ramekins/crème brûlée dishes, if you want miniature layer cakes like the one in my picture OR a 9-inch springform pan, if you just want one flat cake OR 8-10 cupcake papers
- baking parchment, unless using cupcake papers
Simple touches of buttercream complement the apricot glaze nicely. 
(Plus, it looks pretty.) 

- a small sieve or strainer (optional, but it helps)


25 g tapioca starch
15 g millet flour
10 g chestnut flour
8 g white rice flour
1/8 tsp Pomona's pure citrus pectin
1/8 tsp fine sea salt
3 eggs, at room temperature
100 g sugar, divided

Several spoonfuls apricot jam, mixed with a splash of amaretto or 1/4 tsp almond extract+water to thin to syrupy consistency
1/8 tsp extra almond extract (optional)

Mix flours, pectin, and salt in the small bowl, and set aside. Weigh 50 g sugar into each of the other two bowls. Separate the eggs, putting the whites in one of these bowls and the yolks in the other. If you would like a bit of flavouring in the cake, add the 1/8 tsp almond extract to the yolk bowl. Pre-heat the oven to 190ºC/375ºF, and line your pan or crème brûlée dishes with parchment.

With the whisk attachment on your mixer, whip the egg white-sugar mixture until very stiff (this may take a while, even with a mixer)! Set aside, and whip the egg yolk-sugar mixture until it is thick and creamy pale yellow. Now, gently fold the yolk mixture into the whites. Then, tip 1/3 of the flour into the sieve or strainer, and shake it over the bowl so you have a light dusting of flour on the egg foam. Fold in very gently, and repeat this twice more to incorporate the remaining 2/3 of the flour. This prevents any lumps, which is important because you have to treat the batter delicately. Very carefully spoon the batter into your prepared crème brûlée dishes, pan, or cupcake papers - do not press out the air bubbles - and place in the oven. Immediately lower temperature to 175ºC/350ºF. If you are using a large pan, bake ~ 30 minutes; ramekins and cupcakes need less time, about 18-25 minutes depending on size. Cool completely in the pan.

Once the cakes have cooled, gently remove from pans and peel off parchment. Level them and slice into layers if you wish (not recommended for cupcakes, but if you used crème brûlée dishes, you can make some very cute miniature layer cakes). Now spoon the apricot-amaretto syrup over the top of each cake to glaze (and between layers, if applicable). Decorate as desired - you can frost them, pipe buttercream embellishments, or simply serve them with some lightly sweetened whipped cream.

Have you ever seen food falsely labelled gluten-free? Are you doing anything special this month to raise awareness of celiac disease? Share your stories in the comments!

P.S. - I'm working on some extra-special projects for future yeast bread baking lessons - stay tuned!

Thursday 28 April 2011

Yeast Bread Techniques, Lesson 2: Baguette aux Céréales - A Theme and Variations

Somewhere in central Paris, perhaps even at this moment, people are lining up outside a certain boulangerie to buy freshly-baked bread. (This applies to many, many bakeries, actually - but there is one in particular that I am thinking of.) Supposedly one can find the best bread by looking for the boulangeries with the longest queues, which seems logical enough; it also very well may be why I happened to end up at this one. You see, generally fresh bread comes out of the oven twice a day, and that is when people start gathering around the bakery doors: first in the morning, and then again in late afternoon before supper. This was mid-day, though, and the small bakery was packed as tightly as a New York subway train at rush hour (though it of course was far more calm and quiet, and smelled much better). I, being rather shorter than everyone clustering near the front counter, didn't get a terribly long look at the array of baked goods. One bread in particular did catch my eye, though - in contrast to the ubiquitous floury, golden baguettes, there were a few long loaves labelled "baguette aux céréales," which were wonderfully brown and flecked with all sorts of seeds and grains. Yum
With its slightly denser crumb and rich whole-grain flavour, this less-known traditional French bread can be made gluten-free with very satisfying and delicious results! Yet while "gluten-free" seems fairly well-understood in France, gluten-free bread is apparently uncommon. That's unfortunate, because I think this certainly measures up to its gluteny counterpart - go ahead, give it a try! This makes a small loaf; if you want to double the recipe I recommend forming two small loaves rather than one large one.

The recipe I've created is actually a variation on my "Whole Wheatless" bread in the first yeast baking lesson. If you haven't read that lesson, please do that first - it explains some of the techniques you will need to make this bread. If you have made that recipe, you will notice that this looks very similar;  some of the proportions are different, though, so read carefully. And without further ado:

Baguette aux Céréales

Step 1: The night before you will bake, combine in a mixing bowl:
1/4 c each brown rice flour, buckwheat flour, & chickpea flour
2 T teff grains (not teff flour)
1 tsp yeast
140 mL water

In a separate small bowl or cup, measure: 
2 T millet grains 

and add just enough water to cover. Let the flour mixture (called the poolish) and the millet soak for 12-16 hours. (The millet grains need to absorb water, but you want to keep them separate from the yeast for now.)

Step 2: Combine in a bowl and blend well:
1 1/4 c tapioca starch
2 T sweet rice flour
1 T + 1/2 tsp psyllium
1/4 tsp Pomona's pure citrus pectin (see note on my Ingredients page)
3/4 tsp sea salt
2 tsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp yeast

Combine in a small dish:
1 T certified GF rolled oats, such as Bob's Red Mill (set aside additional 2 tsp for crust)
1 tsp flaxseed (set aside additional 1 tsp for crust)
2 tsp sunflower seeds (set aside additional 1 tsp for crust)
1/2 tsp poppyseeds (set aside additional 1 tsp for crust)

You will also need:
Water (up to 80 mL)
2 tsp grapeseed oil or other light oil (plus a little more for brushing crust)
2-3 tsp buckwheat honey or other dark honey (plus a little more for brushing crust)
3/4 tsp double-acting baking powder
Parchment paper, a baguette pan or baking stone, another oven-safe pan or baking dish, & a few ice cubes (those last two items are not absolutely essential, but very helpful. It will make sense in a minute, trust me!)

Step 3: Work the flour mixture from Step 2 into the poolish from Step 1, first with a soft spatula and then knead by hand. You will need up to 80 mL extra water, but add it gradually as you go - remember, you can always add a little more water if you need to, but you can't take water out if you add too much!
Do not be alarmed if the poolish looks like dijon mustard!

Once all the flour is incorporated, knead in the seed/oat mixture from Step 2 and the soaked millet from Step 1, then knead in the 2 tsp grapeseed oil. Cover the bowl and set it in a warm place to allow the dough to double, probably about 2 hours.

The dough will be smooth and somewhat stretchy.
Step 4: Once the dough has risen to approximately double, knead in the honey (3 tsp will make the bread just slightly sweet). Now take a look at the dough:
See how the dough is a little crumbly and stiff, sort of like
cookie dough? That means it needs a tiny bit more water.
Add water 1-2 teaspoons at a time, kneading it in well.
After working in a couple of extra teaspoons of water,
the dough is smooth and stretchy again.
Learn to recognise the difference between the smooth dough and the slightly dry dough. Small differences like this can have a big impact on your bread! Now press the dough into a flat rectangle on a piece of parchment, sprinkle with the baking powder, and roll up as demonstrated in the previous lesson. Brush with honey & oil and sprinkle on the extra seeds.
A lot of the seed mixture will end up scattered around,
rather than on, the bread. That's ok...
Just gently press the seeds on top to make sure they stick,
and roll the loaf so more seeds stick to the sides.
Now set the bread in the baguette pan, with the parchment still underneath it. (Trim away any extra parchment.) Use a wet knife to cut a single slit down the length of the loaf. Cover the loaf with plastic wrap and let rise for at least an hour (in the meantime, preheat the oven to 220ºC/425ºF).
Keep the knife wet for a clean cut.

When the loaf has risen, place a few ice cubes in a small baking dish and place this on the bottom rack of the oven. Let the oven get nice and steamy for 10 minutes before putting the bread in the oven. (The steam helps form a nice crisp crust!)

Put the bread on the middle rack of the oven and immediately turn down the temperature to 205ºC/400ºF. Bake for at least an hour, until the loaf is nicely browned. Let cool for about 3 hours before cutting. 

Fresh from the oven!

Sunday 17 April 2011

Gluten-Free Yeast Bread Techniques, Lesson 1: Roll up your sleeves

In the past few years, gluten-free baked goods have improved immensely both in quality and accessibility. There are even 100% GF bakeries in some cities! And I know that for every person buying gluten-free foods, there are at least as many who are baking at home. I've noticed, though, that despite all the gluten-free cookies, cupcakes, and brownies, good yeast breads are still much harder to find.

At first I assumed people just missed the sweet things more - after all, cafes sell scones and muffins to go with the coffee, not dinner rolls. But as I met more gluten-intolerant people, I noticed something else: many people feel that gluten-free yeast bread is too hard to make. It is more complicated than pancakes, of course, but it really doesn't have to be difficult. At all.

Since bread is what I most enjoy baking, I decided to post a series of lessons on gluten-free yeast bread. If you have felt daunted by the idea of making your own bread, I hope you will give it a try! And even if you bake frequently, I hope some of these lessons will still be helpful.

When I was learning to bake gluten-free, all of the mixes and recipes I found made bread from batter rather than a dough. I missed the "hands-on" aspects of baking: kneading, shaping, stretching the dough. I also missed the simplicity: flour, water, salt, maybe a little sugar or honey or oil. Instead, the GF versions required eggs, and often milk, along with fussy flour blends and gums. I (fortunately) have no problem with milk or eggs; that wasn't the issue. I just wanted bread to feel simple again.  

Well, this is that simple bread, made gluten-free. This bread is also one that just about anyone can enjoy: it is free of all the "Top 8" allergens, and is even safe for those of you with sensitivities to potatoes! And did I mention it's delicious?

The taste and texture are nearly indistinguishable from whole-wheat bread. Seriously, look at that crumb!
And it's not at all dry or crumbly - just a nice slice of bread.

If you are used to making batter-based bread, this recipe might seem surprising - especially some of the techniques involved. First of all, put away your mixer! This dough is stiff, so you won't need to beat it vigorously like batter (and it is not strong enough to use dough hooks). This is a completely hands-on process; all you need is a bowl or two, a spatula, and a little time. Like many traditional wheat breads, this bread starts out the night before you'll actually be baking it - this starter is often called a sponge, poolish, or preferment. It will give you the complex, yeasty flavours that make bread so yummy.

First, the ingredients for the sponge (poolish):

1/4 c buckwheat flour
1/4 c brown rice flour
1/4 c chickpea flour
2 T teff grains (not flour)
1 tsp yeast
140 mL water

Combine these ingredients in a large-ish bowl, cover, and ferment for 12-16 hours.

Other ingredients, for adding after the fermenting time:

1 c tapioca starch
2 T sweet rice flour
1 T psyllium husks
1/4 tsp Pomona's citrus pectin (see my "Ingredients" page for an explanation)
2 tsp sugar
3/4 tsp salt
1 tsp yeast

3/4 tsp double-acting baking powder

Water - 30-45 mL, as needed
2 tsp grapeseed oil or other light oil - - plus a little more for brushing top crust
2 tsp buckwheat honey** - - plus a little more for brushing crust (Buckwheat honey is a dark, strong honey; it is not like regular clover honey. You can usually find it at a health-food store.)

**If you are vegan, you might try substituting brown rice syrup or molasses for the honey - let me know how it goes!


After the sponge has fermented for 12-16 hours, whisk together the rest of the dry ingredients except the baking powder, and gradually work the dry mixture into the sponge. Start out with a soft spatula, but once most of the flour is worked in - when it looks like the picture below - you will need to use your hands.

Knead by hand to incorporate all the flour. I know it looks
more like cookie dough right now - trust me though, it works!

Sprinkle in a little water as you knead if you cannot get all the flour into the dough. The amount you might need will vary, mostly depending on how well the sponge absorbed its water, so be conservative here - the dough should not be sticky!

Keep kneading...

Soon you will have a smooth, stiff dough.

When the dough looks like this, knead in the grapeseed oil. Cover the dough and allow it to double - about 2 hours.

At the end of that rising period, knead in the honey (and a little more water if necessary). The dough will probably seem a little crumbly when you first touch it; it hasn't dried out, it's just because the network formed by the psyllium and pectin weakened as the dough rested. A few moments of kneading should make it feel cohesive and smooth again. Now press the dough into a flat rectangle on a piece of parchment. This is where the baking powder comes in: sprinkle it over the surface of the rectangle. You will be rolling the dough so the baking powder is on the inside.

My weird, windowless kitchen makes everything look yellow.
No. matter. what. I. do.  
...Anyway. Spread the baking powder evenly, like so. 
Now, you may be wondering what on earth I'm doing. After all, squashing the dough and then rolling it up is hardly a normal step in breadmaking!

Well, this technique actually serves two purposes in getting a better loaf of gluten-free bread:

1) Rolling up the baking powder in the dough will provide extra leavening. Adding it this late in the recipe means it is still very active when you finally shape the loaf - it will start forming tiny air pockets, helping to keep the bread from being dense! (I will go into this in more detail in an upcoming lesson.)

2) Rather than just squishing the dough into a loaf shape, the rolling method will "align" the crumb - creating a springier slice of bread and a more even crust.
Starting with a short side, roll up
the dough. Just like cinnamon rolls!

Once you have rolled up the dough, gently shape the ends so the spiral does not show. If you are putting the loaf into a pan, lift it in to the pan parchment and all. You can also bake it as a free-form loaf on the parchment if you have a baking stone (place on middle rack of oven). Brush the top of the loaf thoroughly with a mixture of grapeseed oil and honey. Drape a piece of plastic wrap over the loaf and allow it to rise for the final time, about an hour. In the meantime, preheat the oven to 200ºC/400ºF. 

After the loaf has risen, place the pan in the oven or carefully slide the loaf with parchment onto the baking stone. (If you are using a glass pan, lower the temperature to about 190ºC/380ºF once you have put the bread in.) Bake for one hour or so, until the top crust is nicely browned and the loaf sounds hollow when you tap the bottom. Let it cool completely before slicing.

Even though it's whole-grain, this bread is very soft and flexible.
It's also especially yummy spread with honey.